Iowa Inquisition: Should Judges Enforce ‘God’s Law’?

Bob Vander Plaats, who heads the Family Leader, opened the forum by announcing that God had ordained three institutions, “the church, the family and government,” according to video posted by Right Wing Watch.

Four candidates vying to represent Iowa in the U.S. Senate declared their support for the notion of biblical law during a forum last week. The event, hosted by a Religious Right outfit called the Family Leader, was held at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa, and moderated by controversial right-wing blogger Erick Erickson.

Bob Vander Plaats, who heads the Family Leader, opened the forum by announcing that God had ordained three institutions, “the church, the family and government,” according to video posted by Right Wing Watch.   

“As we have a culture that runs further and further from God’s principles, His precepts, from God’s heart, it’s only natural consequences that we’re going to suffer,” Vander Plaats said. “You cannot run away from the heart of God and expect God to bless the country.”

That theme continued throughout the event as participants vowed to impose a sectarian litmus test on judicial nominees. One candidate, state Sen. Joni Ernst, declared that all court hopefuls should have to understand that American laws “come from God” and explain how they’ll issue rulings based on that criteria.

Another, Matt Whitaker, demanded that judicial nominees be “people of faith” and added, “As long as they have that worldview, then they’ll be a good judge. If they have a secular worldview, where this is all we have here on earth, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge.”

Not to be outdone, Sam Clovis told the crowd he would use biblical standards as a “litmus test” for nominees.  

The idea that American laws are based on the Bible is one we encounter often at Americans United; it’s a consistent feature of fundamentalist rhetoric because it so successfully galvanizes this particular political base.

The claim may stir up Religious Right activists, but it’s false. The Family Leader forum provides us another opportunity to point out, once again, that the idea that our Founding Fathers intended for a literal interpretation of the Bible – or any interpretation of any holy book, for that matter – to form the basis of American jurisprudence is one that is not based in reality.

Religious Right activists say this all the time, but they have no proof. The claim is handily debunked by reading the U.S. Constitution, a secular document that contains no references in the main body of text to God, Jesus or Christianity.

If a “biblical” nation had been the intent of the framers, they would have said that. They did not. In fact, many of them said the exact opposite and wrote about the need for church-state separation.

A judge’s job is to rule based not on how he or she interprets scripture but on the legal foundations provided by America’s secular Constitution. Understanding and appreciating that document should be the only litmus test applied to judicial nominees.

Anything else would amount to a theocracy. And that’s certainly not what the Founding Fathers intended.