Supreme Impiety

The figure of God does not belong in a secular courtroom

One would almost automatically assume that the Douglas County, Neb., District Court does not hold jurisdiction over the omnipotent creator of the universe. State senator Ernie Chambers, however, took it upon himself to challenge that assumption last year, when he filed a lawsuit against God.

In particular, Chambers charged God with “making and continuing to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons, including constituents of the Plaintiff who Plaintiff has the duty to represent…[and often causing] calamitous catastrophes resulting in the widespread death, destruction and terrorization of millions upon millions of the Earth’s inhabitants including innocent babes, infants, children, the aged and infirm without mercy or distinction.”

Last week, Chambers’ blasphemous legal battle finally met with defeat, as the inability to contact the plaintiff overcame the senator’s quixotic fervor and a judge denied his request for a judgment. But, in the legislator’s defense, his justification for the lawsuit has generally been lost amid the frenzied media coverage of it.

In his mind, Chambers was responding to a heated (if esoteric) legal battle over the execution of justice in Nebraska. An alleged victim of sexual assault rape victim had sued the county judge responsible for her case because he had refused to allow her to use charged, non-legal terms like “rape” and “assailant” in her testimony. Chambers, a long-serving political dynamo and a member of the state senate’s judiciary committee, considered the woman’s suit such a waste of time for the county’s justice system that he filed his own suit—against God—apparently to make the point that, within county law, literally every case has the right to be heard, regardless of its apparent merit or validity.

In principle, Chambers is exactly right—frivolous lawsuits ought to be kept under check (who is allowed to decide what counts as frivolous is another matter entirely). But his puzzling employment of another, more frivolous lawsuit seems, in two clear ways, beyond absurd and arguably irresponsible.

First, from a pragmatic point of view, Chambers could not have hoped to achieve much by way of reform with his stunt. As a state senator, Chambers is already in a position to push for initiatives that could reform too-liberal legal conceptions of what makes a trial worth holding. The senator’s lawsuit served only to exacerbate the problem against which he was supposedly campaigning.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is the question of whether using God, even symbolically, as a political tool within the courts is appropriate for a secular legal system. Though the case was summarily dismissed, the very fact that the complaint was heard at all involved an implicit state acknowledgement of the existence of God. Given cases like the 2005 Supreme Court decision banning a public display of the Ten Commandments in Kentucky (although a similar decision allowed a monument in Texas on historical grounds), we may call the introduction of the (specifically Christian) divine into American jurisprudence a clear and recognized threat to the integrity of that process.

In any case, Chambers likely made his point; time will tell whether the sideshow he began will actually have any meaningful effect on the form or function of Nebraska courts. One fact has been confirmed, however: An attention-starved state senator is no match for an all-knowing God—at least before the appeals process.

Bilal A. Siddiqui ’11, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Winthrop House.