Wednesday, June 29, 2005



On Monday, the Supreme Court decided two cases concerning the display of the Ten Commandments on government property, McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky and Van Orden v. Perry. Writing the majority opinion in the latter case, Chief Justice Rehnquist introduced the figure of a pagan god, Janus:
Our cases, Januslike, point in two directions in applying the Establishment Clause. One face looks toward the strong role played by religion and religious traditions throughout our Nation's history . . . . The other face looks toward the principle that governmental intervention in religious matters can itself endanger religious freedom. This case, like all Establishment Clause challenges, presents us with the difficulty of respecting both faces.
Here is a Roman coin showing the two faces of Janus, whom the Romans described as biceps (two-headed) or bifrons (two-faced).

The name of our first month, January, comes from the god Janus. Maybe the name of the month should be changed, because it favors one religion (Roman paganism) over others and might therefore violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. The French actually did this, during their Revolution, in an attempt to extirpate all traces of religion from their calendar. Our January spans what used to be the French months of Nivôse and Pluviôse (Snowy and Rainy).

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