Friday, October 2, 2015

A Write-In For Lady Justice

Photo courtesy the Daily News-Record
She is not on our ballot, but this ancient personification of impartial justice towers from the pinnacle of our courthouse on Court Square in the heart of Harrisonburg — right in the middle of Rockingham County.
The Founders of our republic chose not to have symbols like a cross, crescent, or Star of David on public buildings, but this ancient sign of “liberty and justice for all” can be found everywhere. Holding a pair of scales in one hand, she promises fair and equal treatment regardless of race, wealth, religion or national origin. Sometimes she is also blindfolded to add to her image of absolute impartiality. In her other hand she holds a sword, symbolizing her duty to maintain order and public safety.
In a secular but faith-respecting government that is “of, by and for the people,” citizens are to support and uphold these ideals, and to advocate for the unfettered liberty of men and women to live, work and worship in accordance with their own conscience and convictions. And in regular elections, people are expected to vote in support of candidates they believe will best uphold the people’s right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Liberty can be abused, of course, and is not without limits, but the U.S. Constitution guarantees the free pursuit of personal liberties and rights to the greatest extent possible. Excessive regulation and massive incarceration, resulting in our having more people in prison than in any country in the world, are contradictory of these principles. We have become the land of the fettered and the home of the jailed.
This November, we have on our local ballots numerous candidates who will have an ongoing impact on local and statewide issues of liberty and justice for all, even though most of them, with the exception of the state senate race, are incumbents running unopposed.
Yet, voting can still be a way of registering a citizen’s convictions, the ultimate polling of public opinion. Where there is no choice some will make a statement by not endorsing an incumbent, or by exercising the write-in option.
But even more important than the effect of an individual vote is the year-round persistent influence we can have on our fellow citizens and with those in positions of power.
Menno Simons, a 16th-century Anabaptist reformer, wrote:
“Love compels us to respectfully and humbly show all high officials what the Word of God commands them, how they should rightfully execute their office ... to punish the transgressors and protect the good; to judge rightly between a man and his fellows; to do justice to the widows and orphans and to the poor, to rule cities and countries justly by a good policy and administration, not contrary to God’s Word but to the benefit of the common people.”
Menno acknowledged that the state had a God-given mandate to do justice, but he did not expect it to carry out a religious mission, per se. Yet people of faith were to call the on the powers that be to live up to their own highest ideals.
In other words, while we may not expect to have the likes of Jesus, Mother Teresa or St. Francis on our ballots, we can and should call our officials to live by a basic standard of morality, compassion and decency, and to truly support “liberty and justice for all.”
At a local level, this may call for a radical change of our bond policy, where all citizens are presumed innocent and remain free until proven guilty, unless they represent a significant danger to the community.
On a state level, it will call for reinstating a uniform and fair parole system that determines eligibility for release not on past criminal behavior, but on an inmate consistently demonstrating good citizenship even in a stressful, crime-ridden prison environment.
Lady Justice would approve.

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