Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .
‒First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Readers should not take this to be a primer on what God those contemplating terrible crimes should believe in prior to committing those crimes. Nonetheless, and notwithstanding Constitutional guarantees, they should be aware that in the United States how you are treated after you commit an indescribably evil crime may well depend on what kind of a God, if any, you believe in. Within the last 5 years we have had four horrific criminal acts arranged by people who when first apprehended appeared to have acted alone. Three of those occurred within the last 10 months.
At midnight on July 20, 2102 James Holmes entered a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado dressed all in black and accompanied by four guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. He announced his presence by opening fire on those in the crowded theater killing 12 people and injuring 58. In addition to the assault on those in the theater he had rigged his apartment with sophisticated explosives that were designed to kill those who entered the apartment and cause casualties to those in surrounding units. According to an NBC News report of the testimony offered at a January 8, 2013 hearing, there were more than a dozen explosive devices in the apartment loaded with napalm, smokeless powder and live ammunition. Among other things in the apartment was a thermos bottle filled with glycerin suspended over a frying pan filled with potassium permanganate. When combined the two substances would set off a chain reaction. Carpets had been soaked with oil and gasoline. If someone had entered the apartment or played with some toys left in front of the building that were connected to the devices, the explosion would have been triggered. As a boy James attended the Penasquitos Lutheran Church in San Diego, California and his pastor describes him as a proud, intelligent but retiring boy. His attendance at that church suggests he is a Christian. Following his arrest no one suggested that James was a terrorist and should be deprived of his constitutional rights.
On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six members of the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Dressed in black and armed with a rifle and many rounds of ammunition he shot his way into the school and began his killing spree. Before going to school he murdered his mother. It was she who had home schooled him. Before he was home schooled he attended St. Rose of Lima Catholic School. Since he killed himself after killing others there was no reason for authorities to comment on his religious affiliation or to describe him as a terrorist.
On April 16, 20076, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in a mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Cho was a South Korean citizen but had permanent resident status in the United States. He and his family attended a Christian church in the town in which they lived. After the killing he committed suicide. A note found in his room said: “Thanks to you I died like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and defenseless people.” Since he killed himself after killing others there was no reason for authorities to comment on his religious affiliation nor to describe him as a terrorist.
The Boston bombers were every bit as evil and sophisticated as James Holmes and every bit as vicious as the other individuals described above. The two men, Tamerlan Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were both legally in the United States. Dzhokhar was a naturalized U.S. citizen and a follower of Islam who reportedly posted links to Islamic websites. His friends described him as not particularly religious and none had seen signs of his being a radical Muslim. None of that affected commentators and politicians. The Muslim connection was quite enough.
Some members of Congress whose allegiance to the U.S. constitution depends completely on what parts of it are being considered, immediately demanded that the constitutional rights of Dzhokhar be suspended and that he not be advised of his right to counsel. Those comments were made long before any connection to known terrorist groups by the two men had been suggested. Senator Lindsay Graham said in a tweet:: “A decision to not read Miranda rights to the suspect was sound and in our national security interests.” Senator John McCain said Dzhokhar should be treated as an enemy combatant so that he could be questioned more aggressively. Senators McCain, Lindsay Graham, Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Pete King said: “The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise, but terrorists trying to injure, maim and kill innocent Americans.” That is the shallow explanation offered by shallow legislators to justify their willingness to set aside an American citizen’s constitutional rights.
Rational observers might observe that none of the killings described above had anything to with the murderers’ interest in making money as McCain et al suggested. The only murderers from those described above that people immediately defined as terrorists were the Boston murderers. It would seem that how some people choose to define depraved hearts depends on what God those depraved hearts worship. Dzhokhar made a bad choice.