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Where Lightning Strikes

Posted by Rick · April 15th, 2004 · 11 Comments

Since the Case of the Pledge of Allegiance brought by Michael Newdow is such a lightning rod for Christians and since that case was recently argued before the Supreme Court, I decided to read the Oral Arguments. After all, I’m (literally — Hi, Nick!) surrounded by Christians.

And it strikes me as interesting that what’s being argued to the Court (and it looks to me like the Court is buying) is the idea that this is not a governmental endorsement of religion in violation of the First Amendment, because the governmental agencies “have developed a number of procedures to accommodate students who wish to opt out of the pledge exercise,” and because “teachers now instruct students about mutual respect, respect of other belief systems, of all persons’ belief systems.” (And, incidentally, this isn’t always true. Go to the local synagogue — specifically, I mean Fresno, but I suspect you could pick any local synagogue — and you’ll hear stories of how some teachers have participated in holding students who don’t participate in Christian religious exercises up to ridicule. Thankfully, this is the hideous and rare exception and not the rule.)

But if, in fact, there was no religious question here — if, in fact, the pledge didn’t endorse a religious view — if, in fact, it did not constitute religious speech which the government promulgates — then why would there be a need for the government to provide a methodology by which those offended by the religious aspects could opt out?

The reality is that — as Newdow suggests — the people fighting so fervently to keep two words, “under G-d,” in the Pledge of Allegiance, are doing so out of deeply-held religious convictions.

Now don’t misunderstand this post. I’m not against deeply-held convictions, religious or otherwise. I have deeply-held convictions of my own, some of which are religious. People who keep trying to re-frame the issue as if this were an “attack upon religion” do (at least) two things.

First, they show that those of us who are arguing against them are correct. If the arguments put forth by people like Newdow were not correct; that is, if these things were not examples of the United States government becoming entangled with religion in violation of the First Amendment, then this could not be an attack upon religion.

The fact that Christians repeatedly characterize attempts to remove the Ten Commandments from public government facilities and attempts to remove religious words from oaths and pledges as “attacks upon religion” — some actually say “attacks upon Christians,” or “attempts to silence Christians,” or “persecution of Christians” or even “trying to push Jesus Christ out of our schools” — is evidence that these are religious artifacts or comments. They are not, as the government has put it, merely recognition of the (falsely-proclaimed) religious foundations of this country.

Second, when they pervert their real intent, by saying “This isn’t religious. We’re really just making a reference to a reference to G-d” or “This isn’t about G-d. It’s just a recognition of the ideals that influenced the founders,” they do a disservice to G-d.

Let’s get real here. For those of you who make (or accept) these arguments, who do you think works to insert himself into the affairs of humans by deception? I don’t personally believe in a “devil” or “Satan” (although I’ll grant that I’ve met some people I would not hesitate to call “evil”!). But it’s my understanding that Christians do. And I’ve read the Christian Bible several times; I even spent a couple years studying Koinè Greek and translated five books from the Christian “New Testament” into English for myself. (I still have these translations in my files.) From what I’ve read, it’s Satan who inserts himself into the affairs of humanity by deception. G-d does not work thusly.

So G-d does not use deception to infiltrate human societies. Neither does G-d — at least not the Christian version I’ve read about — insert himself into the lives of humans forcibly.

So why is it that his followers feel that these are acceptable techniques? It’s as if the idea here is “Give the Court any reason, even if it’s one we don’t really intend, just so the words can remain.” Telling people not to worry about the religious messages inserted into public buildings in the form of monuments or into speeches and pledges because “they aren’t really about G-d” seems to me to be reprehensible.

Even Christians cannot be unaware that Jesus proclaimed,

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. (Matthew 5:17)

Now, some aspects of the Mosaic laws to which it is believed Jesus was referring were temporary laws — and some are believed by Christians (rightly or wrongly; I make no comment upon that; it doesn’t matter) to apply only to Jews. But it’s doubtful that this was so intended:

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that shall take the name of the Lord his God in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

I can think of no more perfect example of taking the Lord’s name in vain than to actually, explicitly, unequivocally argue in a Court, before the Supreme Justices of the United States of America, that “this isn’t really religious; we’re not really talking about G-d here” and all the while doing that to fight off the heathen who try to remove a reference to a reference to G-d from the Pledge of Allegiance because you mistakenly believe that they are “attacking” religion. (And, let’s face it, some of you are honest enough to admit — even though I think you’re mistaken — that you think it’s an attack upon the Christian religion, which makes my point all the stronger.)

Personally, if I were one of the lawyers representing the government here, I’d be looking over my shoulder for lightning.

Categories: Constitutional Issues · Religion


11 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Lisa // Apr 15, 2004 at 2:31 pm

    Some food for thought… (not that you really “need” to think any more than you already do!) 🙂

    Perhaps the government’s efforts to make accommodations for children who do not want to recite the pledge are in fact efforts to make them “comfortable” because the CHILD or the child’s PARENT is the one who believes that the phrase is religious.

    Perhaps it is the attention that has been brought to the phrase which has made it so inherently religious, now, whereas at the time that the words were first added to the Pledge it was not intended to have that strong of a religious impact. Perhaps, at that time, it was simply thought to be reflective of the fact that this country was founded on Christian ideals and principles.

    Personally, I don’t believe that the words were intended to have a truly “religious” meaning at the time that they were added to the Pledge of Allegiance. The most common comparison is American money – “In God We Trust.” I don’t think that anyone considers money inherently religious. I can guarantee you that Michael Newdow has spent a fair share of it in his lifetime without suing the government to have money re-issued without the phrase.

    But these types of legal battles are the stuff that keep life interesting. We could spend days considering the various possibilities of what was intended and what is actually meant, etc. But none of that really matters at tis point, since the Supreme Court is going to have the final say… all that is going to matter is what they think.

    Now … if only THIS particular legal battle could have been brought by someone who actually had standing with respect to the issue ….

  • 2 Rick // Apr 15, 2004 at 2:46 pm

    “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty.” — President Eisenhower (1954) after signing into law a bill to have “under God” added to the original pledge.


  • 3 Abacquer // Apr 15, 2004 at 3:28 pm

    Hi, forgive me for intruding but an article I wrote (on my blog “Unbecoming Levity”) received a trackback to this article. My understanding of the trackback system is to ping blog articles you have *linked* to. I’m curious as to why my article about the pledge received a trackback when it is not linked to or commented on in this article?

  • 4 Lisa // Apr 15, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    Okay. This reflects the feelings and beliefs of President Eisenhower as he signed the Bill into law … it does not necessarily (it may, this is just not an assumption we can automatically make)reflect the thoughts of those who penned the Bill or those who voted for it.

  • 5 Rick // Apr 15, 2004 at 3:41 pm

    Lisa: Actually, it does. In fact, you might recall that Newdow referred to the history in his oral arguments and the Justice (I wish they’d name which one was asking the question) cut him off. According to the Justice, the reasons given during the congressional debate were not relevant; only what they “officially” said when they finalized the bill mattered.

    But the change was clearly made because of “g-dless” commies and pinkos who were ruining the world and threatening to do the same to our country. (As I recall, one naive belief was that “commies” would be unable to say the words “under G-d” and so they’d be easily identifiable!)

  • 6 Rick // Apr 15, 2004 at 3:45 pm

    Abacquer: You aren’t intruding. Perhaps I misunderstood the use of Trackback myself, but I linked you for two reasons, both of which I thought were valid reasons for using the Trackback system.

    One was that while researching to write my article, I read the article you had on your blog — it was one of two that I felt I’d gotten some use from out of about 8 that I read. I did not link six of them; I linked the two I got some use from.

    The other reason was so that you could see and/or participate in the conversation.

    Again, I thought these were reasons for Trackback. If you wish, I won’t do that with your blog again (and I’ll also go back and re-read the manual pages on Trackback to make sure I understand things).

    My apologies if I offended you and thank you for your blog.

  • 7 Lisa // Apr 15, 2004 at 3:51 pm

    Rick, I have not read the oral arguments. I was afraid I would vomit from anything that Newdow had to say. 🙂

    Seriously, though, I haven’t had the time to read it… (or the desire really – frankly, we are stuck with whatever the court decides so the oral argument just isn’t all that interesting to me.) Besides, I’ve already made up MY mind… and I am always right… so why bother with the details? (hehehe)

  • 8 Mark // Apr 15, 2004 at 4:15 pm

    President Theodore Roosevelt, who was fervently religious, tried to have “In God We Trust” taken off American currency precisely because he thought it was blasphemous.

  • 9 Abacquer // Apr 15, 2004 at 4:28 pm

    No apologies necessary. I wasn’t offended, just curious.

    My (limited) understanding of trackback etiquette is that it is a device for notifying an author that you have linked to his/her article. Since this automatically creates a link on his/her trackback page to your article, my guess is that it would probably be considered somewhat rude by most bloggers to trackback articles you haven’t actually creditted or linked to (because you’ve created a way for people reading his/her article to link to yours, but not vice versa.) When you issued your trackback, this was added automatically at the bottom of my article:

    Where Lightning Strikes
    Weblog: The Unspun Zone™
    Excerpt: Since the Case of the Pledge of Allegiance brought by Michael Newdow is such a lightning rod for Christians and since that case was recently argued before the Supreme Court, I decided to read the Oral Arguments. After all, I’m…
    Posted: 2004.04.15 02:57PM EDT

    Again, I’m not offended, don’t worry about it… just passing on what little I know on the subject. 😉

    I’m glad you found my article useful in some manner. 🙂

  • 10 Bob // Apr 16, 2004 at 1:32 pm

    I am more and more impressed by the comment made by Mark. This is obviously a very sincere and intelligent man since his comment opens so many venues for discussion.

    First, Roosevelt wanted the God reference stricken from our currency. This reminds me of Nazi Germany. Engraved on the belt buckles of the storm troopers who invaded Poland was ‘Gott mit Uns’ (God is with us).

    It is my belief that no government invokes God’s name without believing it represents anything other than a reference to God. Roosevelt knew this and was pushing for a separation of church and state.

    WE know it, too, but no politician (including Roosevelt) can stand the heat of proposing the removal of God from government.

    This is like the flag burning amendment. IF you are actually free, you should be able to burn the flag and not be jailed? It’s one of the ultimate freedoms of expression. Not anymore since voting against that bill would be handing your opponent a hammer to hit you with in the next election. And that hammer is often referred to as the religious right, that group of Christians more intersted in earthly power than heavenly gain.

    Wasn’t there just a news story about a House chaplain giving the invocation and asking God to give the lawmakers the strength not to do what JFK did, namely divorce his religion from his governmental decision making?


    Divorcing God from government is just a quick way to exile yourself from the mainstream voter.

    The real question, the one I think Mark was alluding to, is when is God just a symbolic part of our country’s tradition and when do we really mean it?

    How can we surgically remove the faith from the tradition. No government, especially one as successful as ours, will ever rewrite it’s own history. The history that we inherited was started by people seeking religious freedom. We prided ourselves at one time in our religious tolerance.

    There are just too many examples of our losing our memory. Too many times where the political activism of the Christians make doing business in government more an appeasement than a democracy.

    Before you blast me, I am a Christian. I just think that government AND religion suffer when they intertwine.

    OK, the official lightning bolt watch has started ….

  • 11 Harry // Apr 19, 2004 at 6:19 pm

    Lisa said, “Perhaps, at that time, it was simply thought to be reflective of the fact that this country was founded on Christian ideals and principles.”

    America was not founded on Christian principles. Many of its first citizens were Christians, but the founding fathers were very careful to make it clear that while some of them may have believed in the Christian Religion, “… the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion” [Treaty of Tripoli].

    May of the principles that people see as the foundation of America are common to many religions.

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