Sunday, October 17, 2004

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the Supreme Court's decision to take two cases on the issue of displaying religious symbols in public places. Obviously, this decision is one that many people on both sides of the church/state separation fence have been eagerly awaiting. But none more so than Thomas Van Orden, the man who filed suit against Texas and also argued the case before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. For Van Orden, SCOTUS's decision to take his case is the culmination of a dream. Last December, almost a year before SCOTUS agreed to hear Van Orden's case, the Los Angeles Times wrote an article about him.

Van Orden is an unusual advocate for this struggle to resolve a contentious constitutional issue. Although he does have a law degree and practiced as a defense attorney for many years, he has suffered for the last 15 years from a "debilitating psychological condition" that cost him his career and led to his becoming homeless. He eats every other day to save money, and sleeps in a tent in the woods.

This is an amazing article, about an extraordinary man, at least in my view. At the intersection where a troubled, homeless man captures the attention of the Supreme Court of the United States about a central constitutional issue lie all the most essential, and contradictory, truths about American society. Van Orden expresses it best when he talks about how he'll make it to Washington, D.C.: "I'll sleep outdoors the night before....I'll get out of the bushes and go to the Supreme Court to argue the case. How about that? Only in America."

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