Home > Church and State > That whole Pledge thing

That whole Pledge thing

September 19, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

As you’ve probably seen, Newdow is back again with his campaign to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow may be something of a prick, but he does appear to be correct (but misguided) in this instance.

The Pledge has always had one fairly decent argument in favor of it’s current form: you can simply not recite it, or simply recite the parts that are unobjectionable to you. The argument is the same as for school prayer, but I the fact that the general thrust of the Pledge isn’t religious makes it a more reasonable argument here. Still, reciting the Pledge in school is coercive in the same way as teacher-led prayer, albeit not to the same degree. It’s much less coercive than school prayer, but coercive nonetheless.

My opinion then, is this: “under God” shouldn’t be in the Pledge, but there are bigger things to worry about. It seems to me that “In God We Trust” on our currency is worse. It’s only symbolic, which isn’t as offensive as coercion, but I think it trumps the Pledge’s small degree of coercion. I’m a bit uncertain as to how one would challenge it, though.

The wingnuts are out in full force, of course. Jerry Fallwell sees the country as being taken over by “militant secularists”:

America is experiencing a hostile takeover, an advancing conquest by abject secularists who believe – and demand – that our nation should be a religion-free zone that stifles all public religious expression. That movement experienced a surge this week when a San Francisco Federal District Court declared that the phrase “under God” in our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional.

If the militant secularists want to redefine this nation in their own Godless imagine, they should at least be honest with the American people and admit that they are contradicting our nation’s extensive history of government-endorsed public religious expression, including National Days of Prayer, “In God We Trust” on our coinage, acknowledgment of the Creator in our Constitution and in countless other areas.

Fallwell really should do something about those hallucinations – there’s no acknowledgment of a creator in the Constitution.

David Limbaugh marks the occasion with a misleading quote:

Like it or not, the Constitution, rightly interpreted, allows the federal government (and the states) to “encourage” the Christian religion. As Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845) wrote, “Probably, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution … the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State, so far as such encouragement was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship.”

Anyone who reads the quote can see the flaw: the general sentiment in America doesn’t say anything about the intent of our founders. Story seems to be something of a separationist, actually.

Like I said, Newdow is probably right, but there are more important things to worry about. Then again, irritating the hell out of fundamentalists has to count for something.

Categories: Church and State
  1. September 21, 2005 at 8:29 am | #1

    I’d suggest that they read Susan Jacoby’s book, but it’d probably kill them.

    “Under God” is a stupid phrase, but not because it’s necessarily a religious endorsement: it’s stupid because it’s a specific religious endorsement in a country with a long history of multiculturalism, and it’s stupid because it was put in to scare Commies, and for nothing else.

    But you’re right: it’s a non-issue. With all the things we should be fixing in this country, whether or not this phrase remains in the pledge is completely unimportant.

  2. September 21, 2005 at 1:41 pm | #2

    Newdow is going after the God on currency in a couple of months. That;s what he said on MSNBC a few days back.

  3. Rocky Smith
    September 21, 2005 at 3:12 pm | #3

    Simply don’t say “under God” during that part of the recitation if you don’t want to. It would likely go completely unnoticed anyway.
    Separation of church and state was to prevent the establishment of a state religion. It was never meant to be used to stifle religion and remove it from the public square. Freedom OF religion- not freedom FROM religion.

  4. September 21, 2005 at 6:16 pm | #4

    Ok Rocky, then why is the word “respecting” in there? Shouldn’t it be “pass no law establishing a national religion” or something similar? Respecting is a fairly broad term.

    Besides, do you really want to go with original intent? I think this article makes a pretty good point:

    A rigid application of originalism would, for example, gut the case law on reproductive freedom—not just in actively contested areas like abortion and gay rights, but on relatively uncontroversial issues like the right of married couples to buy birth control. And it would have a bizarre and troubling impact on the law in areas relating to race and religion. Consider, for example, that an originalist reading of the Fourteenth Amendment doesn’t prevent the federal government from discriminating on the basis of race. (The equal protection clause only speaks of state action; there’s nothing in there about the feds.) And there’s pretty much no originalist support for the general idea that the Constitution protects women from discrimination either by Congress or by state legislatures. Also, originalism tends to suggest that states actually can establish their own religions. (Some conservatives claim to think this would be kind of great, but they may not be thinking very clearly, unless they’re prepared to accept, for example, the Scientological Commonwealth of Oregon.) Sunstein asks: Does anybody really want to put on this ridiculous straitjacket?

    Also, I’m not advocating freedom from religion. I simply want the government to stay neutral. Is that really so terrible?

  5. Rocky Smith
    September 22, 2005 at 6:25 am | #5

    Neutrality would not have the government requiring those who profess a belief in God to shut up so as not to offend the tender sensibilities of atheists. I only wish they’d stay neutral.

  6. September 22, 2005 at 12:41 pm | #6

    No one is telling you to shut up. They’re telling you not to use the government to promote your religion. Do you really think anyone’s right to free speech is being violated if the government removes a Ten Commandments monument from a courthouse or removes teacher led prayer from schools?

    If you want to talk about tender sensibilities, you can’t get much worse than the hissy fits some throw over the government not being able to promote their religion. Removing “under God” from the Pledge appears to be the end of world for them. What kind of faith needs government support?

  7. Rocky Smith
    September 22, 2005 at 1:33 pm | #7

    I don’t suggest government should promote religion. Maybe you have me confused with someone else.I know some want prayer back in schools and the like. That’s not me. Some on the opposite side don’t want God or religion promoted in the public square because they are somehow threatened by it or offended. I would enjoy offending them. Note that I’m referring to “public”, not a school or a government institution. Maybe we agree more than is apparent.

  8. September 22, 2005 at 2:00 pm | #8

    Ok. In terms of separation of church and state, I’m only talking about actions governments, or publicly funded institutions, take. As far as individuals in public, I don’t want religion restricted any more than any other kind of speech. I don’t see any attempts to get government to restrict that. In my own personal opinion, I like discussing religion. I like discussing it publicly. I would rather not see it brought into policy discussions, but I’m not offended by it.

    The Pledge falls under actions a publicly funded institution is taking. It seems to me that if school prayer is unconstitutional, the Pledge is unconstitutional, though it’s obviously not the same level of coercion as school prayer.

    So then, where exactly do you disagree with me?

  9. Rocky Smith
    September 22, 2005 at 3:36 pm | #9

    Maybe one place we disagree is the removal of the Ten Commandments. I would rather leave them there. Let other groups who have similar items get equal space. Nativity scenes on the courthouse lawn? You bet! Just give the other groups a chance to make their own presentation as well. How about that? I think the Ten Commandments are the basis for much of our civil law. They have historical as well as moral significance. In total, I don’t see us as that far apart.

  10. September 22, 2005 at 6:42 pm | #10

    The problem I see with that is there are simply too many possible displays. You could say there’s an issue here in promoting religion over non-religion, too, but it’s not really that hard to think up atheist displays. Plus, such displays aren’t particularly necessary. You may like the decorations, but you have your own property for that. There’s not a particular reason to entangle government and religion.

    On the Ten Commandments specifically, I don’t see our laws as based upon them. Some of basics, like murder and stealing being wrong, are part of almost every moral code. Most of them, however, are simply not part of our legal code. Historical significance, yes, but that also depends on context. I think the Supreme Court display of them is fine, but displays such as the one in Alabama are there simply to promote Christianity.

    It does look like we’re not so far apart. Also, I’m sorry for jumping on you earlier.

  11. December 21, 2005 at 9:56 am | #11

    Near the end of the Constitution are the words, “Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the States present, the seventeenth day of September, ‘in the year of our Lord’ on thousand seven hundred and eighty-seven….

    so, much to your dismay, I’m sure, God IS in the Constitution LIKE IT OUR NOT. This country, yes, was found on religious freedom and in particular Christian religious freedom. If you don’t like it tough! You don’t have a ‘right’ to not be offended. If you’re offended, oh well. I’m offended that your offended. But I’ll get over it. I will also continue to fight for Christians and speak up for them every chance I get. Merry Christmas!

  12. December 21, 2005 at 9:57 am | #12

    I just notice the time stamp on my post. A three hour difference. I should’ve known this was a ‘left coast’ site. lol

  13. December 21, 2005 at 4:30 pm | #13

    Actually, this is a Montana site. You seem to have your time zones mixed up.

    Anyway, I might as well point out that “in the year of our Lord” is a dating convention (you know, Anno Domini) and is meaningless in any debate over separation of church and state.

    Also, please take a look at the whole persecution complex you have going there. Us rational people are very confused (we also wonder about the seriousness of this comment).

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