Jesus vs. Allah

By Lithwick, Dahlia | Newsweek, November 30, 2009 | Go to article overview

Jesus vs. Allah


Lithwick, Dahlia, Newsweek


Byline: Dahlia Lithwick

The fight over God's secular title.

Pop quiz: which of the following names represents a non-sectarian, universal deity? Allah, Dios, Gott, Dieu, Elohim, Gud, or Jesus?

If you answered "none of the above," you are right as a matter of fact but not law. If you answered "Allah," you are right as a matter of law but not fact. And if you answered "Jesus," you might have been trying to filibuster David Hamilton, Barack Obama's first judicial nominee.

Hamilton, nominated last March, has seen his confirmation stalled until last week in the U.S. Senate, in part because his opponents claim he's a judicial activist for an opinion he wrote about God's proper secular title. In a 2005 case, Hinrichs v. Bosma, Hamilton determined that those who pray in the Indiana House of Representatives "should refrain from using Christ's name or title or any other denominational appeal," and that such prayer must hereinafter be "nonsectarian."

Bosma questioned the practice of opening state legislative sessions with sectarian Christian prayers that included a prayer for worldwide conversion to Christianity. Hamilton found this to be a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause because it was government speech that favored one religious sect over another. In a post-judgment order, Hamilton also wrote that the "Arabic word 'Allah' is used for 'God' in Arabic translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures" and that 'Allah' was closer to "the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language's terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers" than Jesus Christ. Hamilton, himself a Christian, also added that "if and when the prayer practices in the Indiana House of Representatives ever seem to be advancing Islam, an appropriate party can bring the problem to the attention of this or another court."

For these words of clarification, Hamilton has been pilloried for months as a judge determined to chase Christians out of the public square in order to make more space for Muslims. In an interview last spring with Christianity Today, former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich said Hamilton had ruled that "saying the words Jesus Christ in a prayer is a sign of inappropriate behavior, but saying Allah would be OK. …

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