Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Not Above the Law

I had the privilege of attending the press conference yesterday in which the Iraqi judge who issued the arrest warrant for Muqtada Al Sadr took questions. He explained how Al Sadr ordered the murder of a rival cleric, tellings his followers to take the cleric and two other men and to kill them in your "special" way.

What was striking was the response of the Iraqi reporters. They repeatedly asked questions which began, "But he is a religious leader . . . ." Just as police training in Iraq had to emphasize that law enforcement is not above the law, the rest of Iraqi society must learn that even those of high political and relgious positions are subject to the laws.

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Perhaps a consideration of how Abraham Lincoln dealt with "rebellious" churches is in order. Lincoln observed:

"The U.S. government must not . . . undertake to run the churches. When an individual, in a church or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest, he must be checked; but let the churches, as such take care of themselves."

Lincoln explains his policy regarding military intervention in alleged "rebel" churches without any discussion of religion. Instead, he reduces the problem to a question of civil disturbance. Neither a church as such nor a preacher should constitute the focus of military attention, but rather the "individual" and the danger he may pose to "the public interest." His being "in a church or out of it" makes no difference.

Lincoln would later remark: "If there be no military need for the [church] building, leave it alone, neither putting any one in or out, of it, except on finding some one preaching or practicing treason, in which case lay hands upon him just as if he were doing the same thing in any other building, or in the streets or highways." By referring to a Memphis church as merely a "building," he demonstrated a single-minded concern that only "military necessity" dictate a general’s treatment of churches.

Lincoln sought to respect the rights of people of faith, which included the leaders and laypersons of southern churches, without turning a blind eye to subversive conduct. As commander-in-chief, President Bush should do the same.

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