Russell and Duenes

The Plastic Reindeer Rule

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In the midst of some conversation today down at the law school, we had occasion to discuss what may be generally referred to as “The Reindeer Rule.” What is “The Reindeer Rule,” you may ask? My basic understanding of it is this: If a governmental entity wants to put up some kind of nativity scene for their city’s Christmas, er, holiday display, then there needs to be a sufficient number of “secular” symbols mixed in with it; you know, a bunch of Santas and Rudolphs and Frostys and the like. For only then, apparently, can the government maintain religious neutrality and not violate the “separation of church and state.”

Now the problem here is  not so much the result that this doctrine brings, troublesome as that may be, but rather, the reason beneath it. The reason seems to be this, to use the words of Justice Brennan: “The primary effect of including a ‘nativity scene’ in the city’s display is…to place the government’s imprimatur of approval on the particular religious beliefs exemplified by the creche (i.e., nativity scene). Those who believe in the message of the nativity receive the unique and exclusive benefit of public recognition and approval of their views.

But the good justice here seems to envision a world where mixing up a bunch of secular items together constitutes some kind of religious neutrality where no one religious viewpoint is favored, where no one gets special government public recognition. Unfortunately for Justice Brennan, such a world has never existed. Let’s not kid ourselves, when the government mandates that displays must be secular, they are establishing a religion, complete with rituals, high priests, dogmas, excommunications, and the whole nine yards. Does Brennan imagine that when the government gives it’s “imprimatur of approval” to secularism, it somehow isn’t giving the “unique and exclusive benefit of public recognition” to someone’s or some group of someone’s beliefs, and disfavoring others’ beliefs (namely, Christians, or Muslims, or Mormons, or Jews, or Buddhists, or…)?

This is the real problem with all of the “secular tests” that the Supreme Court has invented out of thin air, rather than out of the Constitution. Secularism is a religion that is currently favored by our government, and as such, it is an establishment of religion. Secularism is not some kind of religiously and morally neutral stance in the midst of a religiously pluralistic culture, where somehow our government entities can “favor all viewpoints equally.” The reason such neutrality is not possible is because Jesus’ claim to be Lord is total. Jesus does not claim to be Lord over the realm of “religion.” He is Lord of everything in heaven and on earth and under the earth. As such, secular religion is a direct affront to His Lordship and reign, and is therefore not neutral in any sense. The “Reindeer Test” endorses the religion of reindeers and Santas and Frostys and Jack Frosts and the notion that Jesus is not Lord. It is in no way neutral, and the sooner we, and our Supreme Court justices, acknowledge this truth, the better.

This is what needs to be told in every corner of every inch of public life, as often as appropriate opportunity arises.



Written by Michael Duenes

December 12, 2011 at 5:06 pm

One Response

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  1. Yup. The universe just happens to exist, without any purpose or meaning. Squirrels, starlings, sharks, and slugs (and all their buddies) just mate, reproduce, eat, and die without worrying their pretty little heads about it. Somehow, some creatures (humans) evolved to be self-conscious and aware of our own existence, and while we were mating, reproducing, eating, we realized, “Hey, someday I will die. How can that be! How can such a wonderful creature as I cease to be?” So they began to make up stories about imaginary beings called deities, and about how we really wouldn’t really die when our physical form stops operating.

    However, we also discovered the rules of science and cause and effect. While science is useful for growing food and curing (some) diseases, it doesn’t answer questions such as “Why do I die?” and “Is there a purpose to my brief existence?” Thus, while religious belief has lost a lot of its hold on humanity, especially in areas where it does not work as well as empiricism, it still plays a huge role in human thought, emotion, and behavior. However, the wide variety of different religious beliefs over time and space is a pretty strong clue that we invented it. Probably the next step is to refine human religion so its worst defects are sanded off and its best features are polished and refined. In an awkward, clumsy, stumbling fashion we seem to be moving in that direction. I hope you will pitch in. As the old trite saying goes, “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” I hope you will use your legal skills and knowledge to help with the improvement of religious belief.

    For example, during the history of the United States, Christians moved from participating in and winking at slavery, to accepting black people as full members of the human race. There are other areas that still need work. There will be plenty for you to do as a lawyer, but you will need to be careful about getting stuck in some of the harmful old prejudices and paradigms, such as hysteria about homosexuality. I just realized over the last few months that my daughter and her partner are not satisfied with Washington state’s “civil union” law and will not settle for anything less than full marriage. Now if you work on making gay marriage a full civil right throughout the United States, you will be putting your legal skills to good use. I am not holding my breath.


    December 12, 2011 at 9:21 pm

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