Worshipping Caesar

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Once again, Christians are erring on the side of Caesar worship.

The forceful resurgence of the Christian right in America in the early 1980s paved the way for the post-Carter conservative renaissance in America. Hurray for the home team! But it has led to a fetishism of the Republican Party and a mum's-the-word approach to criticism of GOP presidents. As this relates to the ongoing war on terror, it's become especially worrisome.

While a recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll shows the majority of Americans are beginning to express fears of losing civil liberties because of the war on terror, the American Center for Law and Justice – Pat Robertson's legal advocacy group – is attacking the ACLU for criticizing the USA Patriot Act, the hastily passed, post-9-11 legislation that Bob Barr called "the most massive assault on our civil liberties since our history began," when it was being debated in Congress.

Rather than consider the charges of critics as politically diverse as Barr and the ACLU, however, the ACLJ is ticked that anyone would dare challenge the sweeping legislation at all.

"[A]t this critical time, when we must stand united, one group is launching an aggressive attack against our own leaders," runs an ACLJ radio ad. "The American Civil Liberties Union is spending millions trying to tear down the Patriot Act and our government's bold and constitutionally sound plan to root out terrorism."

With that, listeners are told to sign a petition and "tell the ACLU and the Congress that we will not allow personal attacks to weaken America's war against terror."

The ACLU's attacks on the Patriot Act haven't been personal, nor are they unjustified. While certainly "bold" – dangerously so – the Patriot Act is hardly "constitutionally sound," as the ACLJ seems to think.

The Patriot Act allows previously unthinkable encroachments into individual privacy, including "clandestine 'black bag' searches of medical and financial records, computer, Internet and telephone communications and even a list of books Americans borrow from the library." So notes Rutherford Institute founder John Whitehead, summing up just a few of the law's startling provisions. (See his full critique here, PDF viewer required.)

Liberties watchdog Nat Hentoff specifically points to the threat of secret searches:

[T]he USA Patriot Act … permits pervasive electronic surveillance with minimal judicial review. … FBI agents with a court order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is a secret court, can enter people's homes and offices when they are not present. Then they can look around and take what they like. They can examine a hard drive and install in your computer the magic lantern, known less metaphorically as the keystroke logger, which means they can record while you are not there everything you have typed on your computer, including stuff you have never sent. Then … they can come back when you are not at home and download whatever information of yours they so desire.

Even worse, says Hentoff:

[T]hey have been working on a device so they can accomplish their clandestine objectives from a remote location, which means they won't even have to enter your home once the magic lantern is installed. This makes a prophet out of Justice Louis Brandeis. … During the first wiretapping case back in 1928 [Olmstead vs. U.S.], he said in his dissent, "Ways may some day be developed by which the government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home."

In short, kiss the Fourth Amendment's protection of privacy goodbye. Your home is no longer your castle, and the ACLJ's "constitutionally sound" comment becomes an extremely unfunny joke.

"Personal privacy, the sine qua non of liberty, no longer exists in the United States," said Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, in June, warning that, because of the far-reaching nature of the Patriot Act, "Ruthless and abusive use of all this information accumulated by the government is yet to come."

Toss in the threat to habeas corpus and "enemy combatants," and things look dim indeed for traditional American liberties.

Says Whitehead, "The power and authority now possessed by the U.S. government to investigate the average citizen is unparalleled in history." It's the stuff of which Stalin could only dream and drool.

According to Hentoff, people in government "say everything we do for security will be within the bounds of the Constitution, which has increasingly not been the case, to say the least. What they are really effecting – whatever their intentions are based on, be it ignorance or a delusion – is a weakening of why we are Americans. If we are going to defend ourselves against terrorists by adopting ways of defeating them but instead defeat our own liberties, who wins that battle?" (emphasis added).

Certainly not Americans.

But the ACLJ leaps to defend this hideous law and its enforcement by Attorney General John Ashcroft, even taking swipes at people who question its validity. The whole notion that Americans "must stand united" with their government, regardless of what it does, is idolatry – the worship of government, of Caesar.

No relationship between humans – in this case, the state and the people – can be made absolute. Only God can claim that kind of relationship; no authority but His is beyond question. Criticism of government is vital to protect citizens from political absolutism – hence the reason the founders included the First Amendment to the Constitution, to protect dissent.

When the government is wrong, Christians have a duty to oppose it. Not criticizing a government that robs its citizens of their God-given rights is tantamount to collaboration, and attacking others for doing so shows a dangerous misunderstanding of where true loyalties should lie.

By supporting this assault on the Constitution and America's traditional liberties, the ACLJ – which usually stands for the right – flirts with becoming the American Center for bad Law and Injustice.