John G. West Political Scientist and Cultural Critic

Dover in Review, pt. 4: Are the newsmedia reinventing Judge Jones as a conservative Republican? (updated)

Published at Evolution News

Note: This is the fourth part of a multi-part series. You can read the first three installments here and here and here.

Some in the newsmedia have been attempting to portray Judge Jones as a conservative Republican who is devoutly religious. Frankly, I don’t care whether Judge Jones is either conservative or religious. My concern is whether he is fair and accurate as a judge. But I do object to the media’s attempt to reinvent Judge Jones in order to insulate his decision from criticism. The media are cultivating the impression that Judge Jones must have been fair and impartial (his sloppy and biased opinion notwithstanding) because he is a deeply-religious conservative who should have been initially sympathetic to the school board and intelligent design.

In reality, there is very little evidence to suggest that Jones is particularly conservative.

According to news reports, Judge Jones has described his political mentor as Tom Ridge, a fairly liberal “pro-choice” Republican. Moreover, according to information Judge Jones supplied to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings in 2002, after graduating from college he never became a member of any conservative group, unless one counts the Boy Scouts. He did, however, join the trial lawyers association. He also was a 20+ year member of a country club. Thus, it might be appropriate to call him a “country club Republican.”

In addition, Judge Jones does not seem in sync with most conservatives’ attitudes toward crime and punishment. During his confirmation hearings, he spoke with pride about defending a murderer of a twelve-year old boy and how he was able to get the murderer spared from the death penalty:

I served for 10 years, Madam Chairwoman, as an assistant public defender in Schuylkill County, and so very frequently I found myself enmeshed in unpopular areas representing unpopular people. In particular, in 1989, I represented an individual who was alleged to have murdered a 12-year-old boy. It was, as you can imagine, coming from a small town, a highly charged atmosphere. We had a week-long trial. I represented him throughout in a most difficult circumstance, with the community at large very much against him. He was convicted. I was able to keep him from suffering the death penalty in that case… I was very proud to do that as an assistant public defender consistent with my obligations as an attorney.

(Note: You can verify for yourself the above information about Judge Jones’ memberships and his comments at his confirmation hearing by going to the U.S. Government Printing Office and downloading the pdf version of S. HRG. 107—584, PT. 4, Confirmation Hearings on Federal Appointments, U.S. Government Printing Office, 2003, Serial No. J—107—23. See especially pp. 73 and 191-192.)

In the area of religion, Judge Jones is a long-time member of a Lutheran church in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. But his views on religion seem to be of the decidedly liberal variety and rather inhospitable to the views of more traditional believers. In a graduation speech to the students of Dickinson College in 2006, for example, he praised America’s Founders for supposedly believing that “true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry.”

This amazing statement is worthy of further analysis. First, it falsely suggests that people must choose between believing in religious authority (such as the Bible) and “free, rational inquiry.” Second, the statement implies that those who believe in the Bible or the teachings of their church are somehow anti-American because they reject the ideals of America’s Founders.

In reality, and contrary to Judge Jones, most of America’s Founders did not believe that the teachings of the Bible or churches were in conflict with the teachings of “free, rational inquiry.” Indeed, as I argue in my book, The Politics of Revelation and Reason, the Founders generally believed that revelation and reason converged on same truths, especially in the area of morality. The Founders’ belief in the agreement of revelation and reason supplied the basis for all citizens to enter the public square on an equal basis, regardless of their religious beliefs. In the Founders’ system, so long as religious believers could offer secular reasons for their public policy proposals in addition to whatever religious reasons they might have, they had the right to be heard.

However, by insisting that belief in religious authority and belief in (secular) “rational inquiry” are opposed to each other, Judge Jones sets the stage for depriving traditional religious believers of their equal rights as citizens. If public policies must be justified in terms of secular reason, and if religious traditionalists are by definition opposed to this sort of “free, rational inquiry,” then anything religious traditionalists propose must be constitutionally suspect according to Judge Jones.

Hence, if certain intelligent design proponents happen to be traditional religious believers, their policy ideas must be disqualified no matter what the secular reasons they offer for them—because by definition those secular reasons cannot be genuine. This false dichotomy between faith and reason owes more to the French Enlightenment than the American Founding. And it explains far more about the inspiration behind Judge Jones’ faulty ruling than the fact that he is a “church-going Republican.”


John G. West

Senior Fellow, Managing Director, and Vice President of Discovery Institute
Dr. John G. West is Vice President of the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and Managing Director of the Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Formerly the Chair of the Department of Political Science and Geography at Seattle Pacific University, West is an award-winning author and documentary filmmaker who has written or edited 12 books, including Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science, The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, and Walt Disney and Live Action: The Disney Studio’s Live-Action Features of the 1950s and 60s. His documentary films include Fire-Maker, Revolutionary, The War on Humans, and (most recently) Human Zoos. West holds a PhD in Government from Claremont Graduate University, and he has been interviewed by media outlets such as CNN, Fox News, Reuters, Time magazine, The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post.
Discovery Institute