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9/15/2005

 

pledge thoughts



michael newdow is a God-hating crank. according to his ex-wife, he set out initially to get "in God we trust" scraped off of our currency, then, when that fell through, shifted his focus to the pledge of allegiance. the well-being of his daughter--a Christian who likes saying the pledge--was never more than a convenient excuse.

in essence, the USSC agreed with me last time around. the "no standing" technicality they bounced his case out of court on amounts to more or less the same thing: newdow is someone who had to steal his daughter's stone to grind his axe.

this time, newdow, a lawyer, is representing a handful of families who will have standing and thus the case will be heard on its merits. my prediction? there's no way the USSC gives "under God" the boot.

constitutionally, newdow doesn't have a leg to stand on. "one nation under God..." doesn't constitute a state establishment of religion, it doesn't constitute state favoritism of religion, it doesn't deprive anyone of their right to worship (or not) as they choose, it doesn't change anyone's standing under the law. in short, he can't point to a single way in which saying "under God" could meaningfully impact the lives of anyone. he simply resents the fact that students have the option of saying it in a public school if they wish.

a few common counterarguments:

1. the "God" in "under God" is the God of Christianity, therefore, the practice is unconstitutional.

no, God is the only non-sectarian word in the english language for describing the supreme being--the basic of whom the world's great religions are pretty much in agreement on.

"well what if they said 'one nation under Allah' or 'one nation under Shiva' or..."

then they'd be doing exactly what you're accusing them of doing right now: attempting to play favorites. it may be that the word "God" has a predominantly Judeo-Christian flavor to a random observer since our culture is predominantly Judeo-Christian, but that's still a long way from "one nation under Yaweh" or "one nation under Christ." yes "God" means the God of Christianity to most americans, but that's not because "God" is somehow loaded, it's simply because all of us naturally interpret "God" according to our understanding of Him. in other words, if anyone chooses to imbue "God" with some meaning beyond the most generic aspects of deity, that's entirely subjective.

besides, this argument is a cop-out. it's not like there's a better english language equivalent waiting in the wings. the people who advance this view are well aware of that, and simply wish to avoid confronting the more serious constitutional issues head on.

2. if "God" is merely an ecumenical, "civil religion" hallmark card sentiment, then it's meaningless and should not be in the pledge. if it does have a specific meaning, then it violates the first amendment and should not be in the pledge.

this one was popular back when newdow first picked this fight, and it's not surprisingly come back in vogue.

first of all, even if you accept the premise, the conclusion does not follow. if "God" is in fact a meaningless term, then by definition it carries no legal weight and hence can do no harm. we might just as well leave it in the pledge, then, since the vast majority of our country wants it that way. the onus is on those who wish to change the status quo to show that it's somehow harmful, and in adopting this tactic, they've yanked the rug out from under themselves.

but ignoring that for the moment, the fact that "God" might have a meaning does not make it automatically unconstitutional. a simple state acknowledgment of the existence of a higher power isn't the same thing as a law "respecting an establishment of religion." again, there's no preferential treatment shown to theists under the law. last time i checked, atheists and theists used the same courts and got the same justice, voted in the same booths, and paid the same taxes.

3. "under God" is a state establishment of religion. it establishes theism.

(in case you hadn't noticed by now, i've arranged these in order of increasing absurdity.)

theism is not a religion. it has no practices, no rites, no churches, no clergy, no sacraments, no articles of faith, and no beliefs save one: the existence of something or someone called "God," a being who is generally believed to be omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal, but not always, who may or may not be personal--or even a person--may be an individual or part of anything including us, may be good, bad, both, or indifferent, may be male, female, or neither, may predate the universe or have emerged from it, may be singular or plural or singular and triune, may be spirt, may have once been a man, may have been spirit, then man, then spirit again...am i missing any? religions are built around this basic belief in exactly the same way as non-theistic religions are build around the lack of it. that is, starting with this belief, or with its negation, one may work up a set of ideas about the nature of the universe and our place in it. but to call theism a religion, one must bastardize the definition of "religion" to the point where it becomes nothing more than the merest belief about anything having to do with what's beyond our ability to detect through sight, hearing, taste, touch, or smell.

how would the state establish such a "religion" even if it wanted to? the only possible way would be to simply persecute all non-theists, but, once more, there isn't a single tangible ounce of difference between theists and non-theists under the law. also once more, the pledge is voluntary. no one is required to use its theistic form or say it at all.

4. the fact that the pledge is voluntary or that students have the option of saying it without the words "under God" is unimportant. peer pressure could force them into reciting it when they don't want to, and they could be ostracized for their beliefs. therefore, the pledge is unconstitutional.

huh?

i'm no thurgood marshall but i've read the bill of rights a few times, and this one is news to me. ok, let me check my trusty old constitution...here we go:

congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...oh, and also, the courts must proactively ensure that no one is ever placed in a position where they'll have to feel uncomfortable in front of their peers because of their religious beliefs.

oh, wait. i made that last part up.

the first amendment is not a security blanket. in fact, it's a pretty scary thing. it says that it's all up to you. no one is going to tell you the answers, you've got to figure it out for yourself. it does not guarantee--nor should it--that your decisions will be popular ones, it simply guarantees you the right to make them. the laws of our land protect you from discrimination because of religious faith, but that doesn't mean that you aren't going to have to stand out from the crowd, face a few snickers, maybe even be ostracized because of your beliefs. if that's too much for you, then you're a weakling and whatever faith it is you find too unfashionable for mondays-through-saturdays is well rid of you. the fact that we're talking about school children is irrelevant. teachers should do their best to prevent anyone from being ridiculed because of their beliefs (or for any reason, for that matter) but it's a hard world out there and kids need to learn that, too.

locdog is convinced that if we weren't all such babies to being with, we wouldn't be having this silly argument