Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Judge's Religion

I was visiting a church many years ago when one of the parishioners approached me and struck up a conversation.  He said some nice things about my work as a judge and ended the conversation with the comment, “We need more Christian judges.”

I’ve reflected on that conversation often over the ensuing years.  I think there are two ways to interpret that phrase:  1) We need more judges to espouse specific Christian principles from the bench, including allowing prayer in school, Christmas manger scenes on public property and posting the Ten Commandments in the courthouse.  Or, 2) we need more judges to judge as Jesus would:  oppose cruelty and hypocrisy and temper Justice with Mercy.

Occasionally I’m asked if I use my Christian principles (or, if I’m at a Lodge meeting, my Masonic principles) when I make decisions as a judge.  The first response that comes to mind is, “Of course I do!”  These principles of justice and fairness and mercy that are a part of my faith must also be a part of the important decision that I do.

On the other hand, I do not ask myself “What would Jesus do?” when I’m faced with making hard decisions.  To steal a line from one of the Jesuit retreats I have attended, I know what Jesus would do:  he would gather as much information as he could and make a decision based on the circumstances as they are at the time. 

I am very comfortable with a well-defined separation of Church and State and personally believe it is in the best interest of the Churches to maintain that separation. 

On the other hand, I do believe it is a judge’s responsibility to call out hypocrisy and hold people accountable for their actions.  I believe a judge should attempt at all times to do Justice, but to temper such acts with Mercy.

While I would like to say to some criminal defendants, “Go and commit crimes no more,” I know that I cannot.  Acts have consequences and the law requires that I impose them.

I try to approach every decision I make by first following the law.  I attempt to execute Justice, tempered by Mercy.  Within the bounds that are set by the law, I try to tailor my decision to fit the particular circumstances of the parties before me.

I do the best I can with what I have.

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Next Week:  Unhappy Customers