The High Court & Culture
Guest Post by Chad E. Graham
When the high court rules, the people listen. Yet, the people do more than simply listen when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) decides a case that shakes the very foundations of American public life. Landmark cases become decisive in matters of public debate over important issues like self-incrimination and due process (Miranda v. Arizona, 1966), free speech (Tinker v. Des Moines, 1969), and abortion (Roe v. Wade, 1973). These rulings have immediate impact on the moral framework of the public square. With each ruling, public opinion and dialogue transition as court findings become objects used to help justify or condemn certain actions within our society. The law, and the interpretation of law, serves the public as a teacher of right and wrong. The need of the hour is for the Church to help the American public see that there is a law above the law, which all laws are held accountable to.
The findings of Roe v. Wade had a significant impact on American sensibilities toward abortion. Gallup reports, “In the initial years after the Roe v. Wade decision, roughly equal percentages of Americans said abortion should be legal under any circumstances vs. illegal in all circumstances, about 20% each.” But that quickly changed as “attitudes gradually shifted toward the solid pro-abortion rights position, so that by 1990, those who favored legalization in all cases outnumbered those who would oppose all abortions by a more than 2-to-1 margin. This trend peaked in June 1992, with 34% saying abortion should be legal in all cases and 13% saying it should be completely banned.”
Judicial interpretation of the law greatly impact on the morality of our nation. Planned Parenthood has had the legal and social space necessary to participate in selling the organs of aborted fetuses as a direct result of the Roe v. Wade ruling. Aside from having the legal right to perform abortions, Planned Parenthood is acting in logical lockstep with the ruling of the court by denying the humanity of the unborn and selling their organs for research. Upon discovering the videos exposing Planned Parenthood’s complicity in selling fetal organs, some lawmakers were more concerned with how the video was obtained than the content of the video itself. A Chinese proverb applies here: “If you want to know what the water is like, don’t ask the fish.” Rather than protect our most vulnerable citizens—the unborn—some flock to protect their assailants who are literally out to dismember them, all in order to preserve a sense of liberal legal homeostasis.
The exposure of Planned Parenthood has come at a time when yet another landmark case has jolted America. On June 26, the case of Obergefell v. Hodges resulted in a federal mandate for state officials to recognize marriages between two people of the same sex. According to a poll taken by the Associated Press-GfK not three weeks after the ruling, only 39% of those polled approved of the court’s decision while 41% disapproved. The polls also seem to indicate that support for same-sex marriage has been declining, even before the case was decided. Washington Post correspondent Emily Swanson writes:
“The poll found no surge in support for same-sex marriage since the court’s ruling June 26. If anything, support was down slightly since April, when 48 percent said they were in favor in another AP-GfK survey. An earlier poll, conducted in January and February, found 44 percent in support of same-sex marriage.”
It is hard to foresee what impact Obergefell v. Hodges will have on our culture in the next five to ten years. This past Monday, the Boy Scouts of America ended its ban on openly gay adult leaders in an effort to satisfy dissent and lawsuits waged against them. Throughout the months to come, there will be an increased burden upon organizations to change similar policies perceived as discriminatory. The ruling also impacts culture by means of judicial activism—a way for judges to evoke social change through legal interpretation suited to social causes. Justice Scalia noted this directly in his dissent:
“The strikingly unrepresentative character of the body voting on today’s social upheaval would be irrelevant if they were functioning as judges, answering the legal question whether the American people had ever ratified a constitutional provision that was understood to proscribe the traditional definition of marriage. But of course the Justices in today’s majority are not voting on that basis; they say they are not. And to allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.”
Whatever legal and cultural consequences arise from past, present, and future SCOTUS rulings, it is important for the Church to remember her allegiance to God and the mission of spreading the gospel. The great social critic, Os Guinness, writes:
“The [church is] befuddled over the difference between success and faithfulness, hesitant to buck the going trends, fearful to stick her neck out and find herself in the minority, and reluctant to risk the loneliness of pursuing the true and excellent regardless of all outcomes—in short, a church fatally weakened because worldly.”
Christians must not yield to the mounting pressure of cultural norms that would have us forsake God’s word to join the spirit of an age debased from moral anchors and objective right and wrong. As Christians, we must remember to live out 1 Corinthians 3:18-21:
“Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” So then, no more boasting about human leaders!”
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