A Presumption of Innocence and a Sad Era in America

I will be the first to say that I love being an American — proud even, in a sense of the word. I am an Eagle Scout back from the mid ‘80s when the Boy Scouts were not willing to compromise their religious footing and spent years saluting the flag as a youth and as an adult-leader (there was no “taking the knee” for me). And, having had the privilege of serving for several years as a pastor just off of Eglin Air Force Base, I have had the privilege of serving many soldiers and military families and I have the greatest respect for those men and women who serve our country to preserve the freedoms and rights that I hold dear.

I also travel overseas…not a lot, but more than many. In those travels I have seen real poverty, not just poverty “American Style” as we often see here (and having served as chaplain for an inner-city rescue mission for three years, I have seen that too). I’ve also seen the effects of oppression on people when their rights have been trampled — or, as in many parts of eastern Europe, those rights have been non-existent.

When I travel, there is no mistaking that I am an American — my cowboy boots and jeans give me away every time. My friends in Ukraine will sometimes ask, “Why would you wear shoes like that?” My response is usually something like, “It is a very American thing to do” or, “Don’t you know that Chuck Norris wears cowboy boots?” Even so, they are comfortable and well, I do like them. Further, on my way home from overseas, there is something of a good feeling that comes over me when I discover we are back over American soil. 

America, to me, is more than just a nationality of origin and a name on the cover of my passport; it is both an idea and an ideal — a place where the promise of “liberty and justice for all” is not just something that is said at the end of our pledge, but something for which we strive as a nation. It is both a principle of conduct and a goal for living out our lives.

One aspect of a nation founded on “liberty and justice for all” is that of due process and a presumption of innocence. In many other places of the world, you are guilty because the state declares you guilty, or worse yet, guilty because the mob that happens to be in power declares you guilty. If you think through the ramifications of living under such oppression, well, it is scary. And, one need not go looking too far to find totalitarian governments who have operated in such ways. Orwell’s Animal Farm is not just a warning of “what if” but it is a depiction of what has happened in so many cases where rampant socialism and its uglier brother, fascism, has risen to power.

Over the past week or so, I have watched many of the latest supreme court nomination hearings. And regardless of whether you are a supporter of Dr. Kavanaugh or are not a supporter of his views; the media circus, the accusations flying in every direction, and the dirty politics ought to disturb you no matter whether you sit with the political right or the political left side of the aisle. Yet, what ought to disturb us most, as Americans, is that from the very beginning of Dr. Ford’s accusations, there has been a presumption of guilt and due process has been ignored. Do we now live in such a world where accusations (founded or otherwise) can ruin a man’s career? If that is the case, let us all beware. 

According to the ancient Biblical laws, to make an accusation such as this, one had to have two or three witnesses to a crime — “he said, she said” was considered shaky grounds for any accusation, let alone a serious one. And while we do not live in ancient Israel, the presumption of Innocence is considered to be a universal human right by the United Nations and is a fundamental part of English Common Law (which was influential in developing the American Constitution) and is an umbrella that gives meaning to the 5th, 6th, and 14th amendments to the Constitution. The bottom line is that the burden of proof is on the accuser, not the accused. 

While I certainly have my own opinions as to the guilt or innocence of Judge Kavanaugh, but they are irrelevant. A man ought not be tried in the courts of public opinion just as he ought not be judged in the courts of the media. There is no question that there are political lines being drawn at the moment — frankly they have been drawn in the sand for a while now, they are just becoming more brazen — but there is something even more important than politics at stake right now — it is the fundamental right of a man to be considered innocent until proven guilty. And do know, if we continue down this road, we must ask ourselves, “What other fundamental rights will we lose?” 

It is a dangerous road on which some in our nation have embarked.

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4 Comments

    1. preacherwin

      Sadly, I think you are right. And, even more sadly, I think implosion is what many desire. It would not surprise me (though it would sadden me) to see another move for succession at some point within my lifetime. As a society, we have also been running on “borrowed capital” (at least spiritually) from our nation’s founding fathers and unless there is a real revival in the church, I don’t see any change to our continual backslide. Blessings in Christ (even in sad times). w.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. jonolan

    One thing to do is to demand that the #MeToo’ers and #BelieveAllWomen’ites review the histories of Rosewood, FL and Tulsa, OK in order to get a reminder of what can happen when accusations are considered enough for action.

    Like

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