John Krull used to be the executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, now named the ACLU of Indiana. In a piece for TheStatehouseFile.com, he recalls a time when conservative legislators tried passing an obviously unconstitutional law to permit a stand-alone Ten Commandments monument on the Statehouse lawn.
This wasn’t some ambiguous legal question. Even if they passed the law, there was no question the courts would find it illegal. So why were these conservatives so hell-bent on passing it? It’s like writing an essay for school that you know is going to get a failing grade.
Krull says that the conservatives knew all this. And in private, they admitted the real strategy.
They told jokes about the Ten Commandments bill violating the Constitution.
Many of them called it “the ICLU appropriations act,” because they knew the ICLU was going to sue and the state was going to lose.
But that didn’t stop most lawmakers from voting for it.
In a quiet moment, I asked one of them why he did it.
“That’s the way the game is played, isn’t it?” he said. “We avoid taking a hit with the thumpers” – Bible thumpers, his term for the religious right – “and the courts clean up after us.”
He shrugged his shoulders, as if to ask, “what’s the harm?”
It was all just a big game to these Christians. They got to pass a bill they knew was wrong in order to appease their ignorant Christian base. Then the courts cleaned up after their mess. And the conservatives got re-elected. It’s a win for everyone!
Except, says Krull, there was lasting harm. Fighting these lawsuits took time (even if the ICLU’s money could be recouped). It took money from the state, since the ICLU’s legal fees were ultimately paid for by the taxpayers. It took the ICLU’s and attorney general’s attention away from more pressing issues. And it led conservative voters to believe their legislators were doing useful work, when they weren’t.
And on top of all of that, if some wayward activist judge decided the law was justified, it would have caused legal chaos.
Keep in mind there are times when politicians may work on legislation that stands no chance of passing — like House Democrats who recently passed a major voting rights bill that Mitch McConnell will never allow the Senate to vote on. But unlike the Indiana Republicans, those bills serve a purpose. It’s a sign of what Democrats will pass when they get the opportunity. They want the bill to pass; for now, they’re just sending a message.
The Ten Commandments bill is nothing more than Indiana’s Christian Republicans making a giant mess in a cafeteria, then laughing it off by saying, “Well, those janitors need something to do.”
This isn’t uncommon. It happens all the time when conservatives get elected. They think politics is a game, not a vehicle for making people’s lives better, and they use idiotic stunts to convince their even more idiotic voters to keep them in their jobs.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)