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November 10, 2008

Plaintiff in God suit appeals to higher legal power

God_suit When I first read the RSS headline, "Plaintiff in God suit appeals to higher legal power," I wondered what the plaintiff's god costume looked like (Zeus? Yaweh? Kali?) and why they'd worn a deity costume to court.

As it turns out, the plaintiff in question is my hero Nebraska State Senator and civil rights crusader Ernie Chambers.

Chambers is suing God:

Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers (D - Omaha) filed suit against God Friday, asking a court to order the Almighty and his followers to stop making terrorist threats.

The suit (.pdf), filed in a Nebraska district court, contends that God, along with his followers of all persuasions, "has made and continues to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons." Those threats are credible given God's history, Chambers' complaint says.

Chambers, in a fit of alliteration, also accuses God of causing "fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects, and the like."

Likewise the suit accuses God of having his chroniclers "disseminate in written form, said admissions, throughout the Earth in order to inspire fear, dread, anxiety, terror and uncertainty, in order to coerce obedience to Defendant's will." [Wired]

If you're going to sue God, how do you serve God with papers.

Last month a Douglas County judge rejected Chambers' argument that God's omnipresence and known attention to human affairs enabled a would-be litigant to serve God with lawsuit papers anywhere. Nebraska law says that service may be effected "by any manner reasonably calculated under the circumstances to provide the party with actual notice of the proceedings and an opportunity to be heard." I think Chambers sould have prevailed. The only logical counter-argument would be that Douglas County is God-forsaken.

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I wonder if this suit is based on the marvellous New Zealand Movie "the man who sued god?"

aimai

"...my hero"?

A poster boy for the frivolous lawsuit is a hero?

And while Hasidic lore may not have made core curriculum,
nobody reads Elie Wiesel?

Ernie Chambers is my hero because he's a lifelong champion of civil rights who became Nebraska's longest-serving state legislator by campaigning as an unabashed lefty, black, atheist in a deep red state.

The lawsuit is a publicity stunt with a serious point. The suit a modern-day parable about the lowliest being able to challenge the most mighty in the state of Nebraska.

Chambers believes that the courts should be open to everyone. He's against so-called "tort reform" whereby rich people and corporations arbitrarily rewrite the laws to make it more difficult for ordinary people to seek redress in the courts.

Nebraska law says that you can serve process on the target of a lawsuit by any means that is likely to reach the target.

I like the stunt in part because it reminds me of a Jewish legend that I partially remember from my childhood. Dabodius, maybe you can help me remember the details.

There was a group of rabbis who decided to put God on trial for all the bad things that had happened to the Jewish people. So, they fasted and prayed for a long time, and finally acquitted God on all charges, except failing to provide for widows and orphans. The point of the story, or at least the message I got from it as a kid wasn't "God is bad" but "Isn't Judaism wonderful that the people can put God on trial?"

I think the story I'm thinking of is older than Eli Wiesel's tale.

I'm trying to get an interview with Chambers.

Do we even have jurisdiction over a foreign head of state for his official acts?

Well, Douglas County went for Obama and gave him its one electoral vote. Some might argue that makes it a God-forsaken place. :) I like it, though.

I'm told there's now a BBC play that was on PBS over the weekend.

And there's more Wiesel story-telling.

The only version I've ever heard by mouth is that of Joe's comment at the bottom of the second page; sometimes a drought is involved. The word "chayav" is rendered more
idiomatically here as "liable." This is a civil proceeding before a rabbinic court (beit din) to enforce a contract: the Jews have held up their end but have been denied sustenance; the court is to enjoin G-d to provide it.

Good luck collecting on that lawsuit; judging by the photo, it appears God cannot afford a haircut.

It may not be otiose to add that we "plead" in prayer and conversation (including many conversation we wish we didn't have to have) as well as before the court. The first example in the tradition occurs in this week's Torah portion, Vayera: Abraham's intercession of the Cities of the Plain in Genesis 18:17ff. Abraham's argument, especially in v.25
("That be far from Thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked, that so the righteous should be as the wicked; that be far from Thee; shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?") has always seemed to me to rule out imputing a Divine Command theory of morality to Judaism. Abraham can bring a moral standard to take the measure of G-d's acts that is G-d's own, but isn't G-d -- and that (v19) is exactly what G-d expects him to do.

The suit in the folktale before the Beit Din presupposes another external norm, that parties to a contract should honor it.

Chambers, however, isn't making a moral argument, but bringing the sort of suit that the would-be "tort reformers" like to point to when they advocate limiting tort liability and rights to sue for equitable remedies: he's wasting the court's time. And talk about Sovereign Immunity. Unless he has a contract with the "target" or a claim of injury ... Wait a minute! I'm not that hapless judge! Give me "Full frontal Nudity":

COLONEL No, no this is silly.

DINO What's silly?

COLONEL No, the whole premise is silly and it's very badly written. I'm the senior officer here and I haven't had a funny line yet. So I'm stopping it.

DINO You can't do that!

COLONEL I've done it. The sketch is over.

WATKINS I want to leave the army please sir, it's dangerous.

COLONEL Look, I stopped your sketch five minutes ago. So get out of shot. Right director! Close up. Zoom in on me. (camera zooms in) That's better.

LUIGI (off screen) It's only 'cos you couldn't think of a punch line.

COLONEL Not true, not true. It's time for the cartoon. Cue telecine, ten, nine, eight...

Did the term limits law pass?

Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia, Chambers is doing this to reprimand a rape victim who is suing the state because she was not allowed to use the word "rape" when being a witness to the crime against her. He's suggesting that her suit is frivolous. I think her suit is the only recourse common citizens like her have against judges and juries that are predisposed to abuse rape victims due to socially acceptable misogyny.

I'm sorry! The AP misled me. According to direct comments from Chambers, the suit is in support of the victim.

Chambers said senators periodically have offered bills prohibiting the filing of certain types of suits. He said his main objection is that the constitution requires that the doors to the courthouse be open to all.

"Thus anybody can file a lawsuit against anybody -- even God," Chambers said.

Jim Thompson wrote a novel in 1944 in which a liberal Nebraska attorney sues God.

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