Another Challenge to ‘Under God’ in the Pledge Defeated

Atheist activist Michael Newdow was recently in a Boston federal appeals court. Along with people who had legal standing in the matter, he wanted the court to rule that the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance were a religious statement and therefore unconstitutional.

If they won, New Hampshire would no longer be saying the Pledge in public schools.

Unfortunately, the decision in Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Hanover School District came out against Newdow. You can read the full decision of the court here.

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit decision mirrors the decision in March of this year by the San Francisco-based Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upholding the constitutionality of the Pledge. Both appeals are now likely to head to the Supreme Court.

“This is a victory for plain old common sense,” said [Becket Fund President Kevin "Seamus"] Hasson. “No one except Dr. Newdow and the Freedom From Religion Foundation thinks that they are praying to God when they pledge allegiance to the flag.” “We look forward to defending the Pledge of Allegiance at the Supreme Court and laying to rest once and for all this misguided attempt to put the word ‘God’ under constitutional quarantine,” added Hasson.

You can argue that this isn’t the right time for Newdow to be mounting a challenge against the Pledge with the Supreme Court makeup as it is today. But is there ever a right time?

Newdow is right on principle. It’s too bad the courts don’t agree.

The Pledge isn’t the most pressing priority in the atheist world, but it’s certainly symbolic of how religion creeps its way into public schools in various roundabout ways.

Under God is really just about inalienable rights and political philosophy.

Intelligent Design is really about science.

We just want to teach the Bible as “literature”… (which sounds fine in theory, but doesn’t always work in practice).

It won’t end. The courts need to put a stop to obvious violations of church/state separation in public schools as they occur. The Pledge is one of those violations.

  • TychaBrahe

    We studied the Bible as literature. After 10th grade, we had English electives. (You had to take another four semesters of English, but you could choose what to study.) In my Myths & Fairytales class we read Genesis, the Silmarilion, the Hobbit, and Bruno Bettelheim.

  • ihedenius

    “No one except Dr. Newdow and the Freedom From Religion Foundation thinks that they are praying to God when they pledge allegiance to the flag.”

    Nobody but a religious moron considers “under God” isn’t a religious statement.

  • 5ive

    If “under god” isn’t a prayer, and apparently, isn’t really a big deal, why bother having it in there? It is obviously a statement the government wants to spread or it wouldn’t be a part of every school kid’s day… Terribly hypocritical and/or unthinking of that judge.

  • Robert W.

    The Pledge isn’t the most pressing priority in the atheist world, but it’s certainly symbolic of how religion creeps its way into public schools in various roundabout ways

    Could not disagree more with the last portion of that comment. Atheists have been removing religion from the public schools since the 60s not the other way around.

    For our entire history before that religion was part of the public school system. The bible was even used to teach reading for over a hundred years.

    I’m not saying we go back to those days, but I don’t think that it is correct to argue that religion creeps into the public school system. Established traditions and practices that have any connotation of religion at all are being removed from the school system by a select few who claim to be offended.

    The opinion is well thought out and correct in my view. It is supported by Supreme court precedent and in line with the very liberal ninth circuit.

  • Heidi

    Um, Robert W.? You know they added the god bit into the pledge in the 1950s, right?

  • benjdm

    The court did not uphold the Constitutionality of the Pledge; the lawsuit was against a NH law about the Pledge. The text of the Pledge itself was not part of the lawsuit.

    From the decision:

    The constitutionality of the federal Pledge statute, 4 U.S.C. § 4, is not at issue in this appeal.

  • Jamssx

    It is a grammatically superfluous phrase. If you believe in a god then it is self evident and doesn’t need to be stated, if you don’t it is irrelevant. Of course if you believe in multiple gods then it is in error.

  • Erp

    I would also suggest that Robert W. look up Bible Riots, Philadelphia. The state sponsored practice of religion in schools does not work well when you have students of different religions (or none). The state can make allowances so that students individually can practice their religion but it should not encourage or require students to practice a religion (that is the privilege of the student and the student’s parents or guardians).

    Note I am entirely in favor of teaching the Bible as literature since references to it are very much part of European and American literature. I’m also very much in favor of teaching about different religions in a non-sectarian way.

  • http://sesoron.blogspot.com/ Sesoron

    I feel like we’d have a better shot at this case — possibly to do with standing, and mind this is only an intuition, because I’m a total law noob — if somebody were actually penalized in some material way for pledging “one nation indivisible” or for sitting it out entirely. It’s still unconstitutional to have the “official” version as it is, of course, but I feel like we’d have a few more legs to stand on if the case were about somebody actually being forced to say “under God” lest they suffer some sanction or other.

  • Epistaxis

    The Knights of Columbus led the 1950′s-era campaign to include the words “under God” in the Pledge to acknowledge the fact that government cannot take away civil rights because they come from a source superior to the state.

    Hemant, I think you need to stop sending traffic to this website.

  • Justin

    These challenges really upset me to be honest. I sincerely hope that the time will come when we are all ready for battles like this, but now is not that time. There is so many other causes that are so much more pressing, and so much more important. Spending time, money and effort on changing a several hundred year old practices that don’t actually hurt anyone is not only frivolous, but detrimental. They paint us all in a bad light with many moderates that would otherwise side with non-theists on many issues.
    Until our children are safe from proselytising in their schools and we can all openly admit we are Atheists, this is a bad idea.

  • Heidi

    @Epistaxis Wow, the Knights of Columbus don’t see the irony in that statement?

  • Richard Wade

    You can argue that this isn’t the right time for Newdow to be mounting a challenge against the Pledge with the Supreme Court makeup as it is today. But is there ever a right time?

    When we have something slightly better than a snowball’s chance in hell.

    This is going to go exactly as did the idiotic Mojave Desert Cross decision. Scalia and the rest of the choir will give mealy-mouthed rationalizations for how “under God” isn’t really a religious statement, just like they said that a cross isn’t really a symbol of a specific religion, it’s a symbol for a place of the dead.

    Uh huh. So all those tall buildings I see around town with crosses at the top are morgues and funeral parlors?

    Once SCOTUS hears this and defeats it, future courts will have an easy excuse to skirt the issue and never revisit it again. They’ll refuse to hear new challenges with the legal version of “been there, done that.”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    So it will go to the Supreme Court. Inside, Scalia and the other justices will be insinuating that “under God” does not make the pledge religious (wink, wink, nudge, nudge), while outside on the steps, protesters will be carrying signs bewailing those awful atheists trying to remove God from our lives.

  • http://www.savingthrowtodisbelieve.com Mandi

    “No one except Dr. Newdow and the Freedom From Religion Foundation thinks that they are praying to God when they pledge allegiance to the flag.”

    No, it’s not a prayer. But it *is* overtly religious. Which is the problem.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    There are really two ways to fight having to say “under god” in the pledge.

    1. realistically wait another two or three generations until “enough” Americans are atheist and the courts can no longer just ignore our rights. Then the justices (at that future time) might overturn prior decisions.
    2. work to make the pledge meaningless and no longer said. Do we really need pledges and chest-beating nationalism when the pledge makes a mockery of the constitution?

  • JD

    I don’t understand how it’s settled “once and for all”. These sorts of things aren’t necessarily settled, ever.

  • Fraser

    Uh, the rest of the world is still astonished that you make small children swear an oath of allegiance every day. Does this not strike you as weird? Freaky? Anything?

  • Robert W.

    Heidi,

    Um, Robert W.? You know they added the god bit into the pledge in the 1950s, right?

    Yes I do know that. How does that change the court’s opinion?

    It was added in a response to the rise of communism do differentiate our country from the Soviet Union during the cold war.
    It is cultural in that is acknowledging our heritage and distinguishes it from communist countries that promote atheism.

  • Heidi

    Does this not strike you as weird? Freaky? Anything?

    It’s like with religion. You don’t necessarily know it’s stupid until someone on the outside points it out. Most Americans have to travel a long way before they get to another country where religion isn’t playing Big Brother.

    @Robert: It doesn’t change the court’s opinion. But it is in direct opposition to your statement that things have been getting less religious rather than religion “creeping” into public life. That’s not cultural unless you mean culture = pro-god-belief.

  • Samiimas

    The opinion is well thought out and correct in my view. It is supported by Supreme court precedent and in line with the very liberal ninth circuit.

    So who else isn’t surprised in the least that Robert supports forcing every public school student in America to pledge allegiance to his god? ‘under god’ is an endorsement of religion and a violation of the first amendment, no one has ever been able to refute that except by ludicrous denial that ‘god’ is religious. If we forced your child to pledge allegiance to “one nation, under no god, indivisible” every single day you wouldn’t believe for a damn second that it wasn’t an endorsement of atheism.

  • ACN

    It is cultural in that is acknowledging our heritage and distinguishes it from communist countries that promote atheism.

    There is an assumption here that I am not comfortable with. These aren’t binary possibilities. Your government doesn’t have to either support atheism or support theism. You can perfectly well remain silent on the issue, and allow it to be an issue of conscience and inquiry for each citizen. I think that this is the correct position for the government to take, true and complete separation from the question of religion so that no one can claim that the government either supports their skyfairy or advocates the lack thereof.

  • JSug

    It is cultural in that is acknowledging our heritage and distinguishes it from communist countries that promote atheism.

    @Robert: That seems rather disingenuous. It might acknowledge *your* heritage, but it has little or nothing to do with the heritage of the country as a whole. One of our founding ideals is that government should have no control over religion, and vice versa. Furthermore, assuming the connection between communism and atheism were valid, I fail to see why we need to make the distinction. Despite the efforts of senator McCarthy, it’s not illegal to be a communist in this country. There are even valid communist party members on the ballot in many elections. But I don’t think I’ve ever heard of someone confusing our government with a communist state.

  • Rich Wilson

    I think the ‘incorrect’ aspect of the pledge bothers me more than the religious affront. That is, it’s kind of like having a spelling or grammar error. It’s factually wrong to say that this is a nation under god. I don’t really care if 85-90% of the population wants to kiss a fairy tale’s ass. But just be accurate about it. “One nation mostly under God(s)”

  • http://www.stumpanatheist.com Rev. Ryan Benson

    I agree that this is an issue, but I think Hemant nailed it with:

    “The Pledge isn’t the most pressing priority in the atheist world,…”

    We need to choose our battles…I havent decided if this is worthy or not, but speaking from a PR perspective, fighting things like a cross memorial on a national park just hurts our image in a broader context, like it or not.

  • http://www.freethoughtoasis.org Jynx

    I agree that the only way for SCOTUS to defeat this seems to be to rationalize away the fact that the term “god” is religious (much like the ridiculous statments made in the Mojave Cross case).
    Such a rationalization would be to the detriment of atheists…and theists. I can’t imagine very many atheists would be satisfied by the proclamation that the concept of “god” has nothing to do with religious faith….and believers who might initially support such a ruling should think twice.
    Do believers really wish to see the American government proclaim that the concepts, terms and symbols used in the execution of their religion mean nothing?
    Christians, are you really comfortable with the Supreme Court Justices issuing a formal legal document stating that the Christian Cross is “just a symbol marking the dead”? Or that the word “god” has nothing to do with Christianity in particular or religion in general?

    Concerned citizens on both sides of the fence of faith should be concerned. A ruling redefining the term “god” could leave the Pledge intact as is; slapping atheists in the face while spitting in the face of religious faith.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    I think that this is the correct position for the government to take, true and complete separation from the question of religion so that no one can claim that the government either supports their skyfairy or advocates the lack thereof.

    Right on! Stately completely and fully right there.

    Once again, agreeing with Richard. I think we should wait until we have a snowball’s chance in hell of actually winning instead of having precedent set against us.

    I also think the issue should be decided not on the under god issue but on the practice of forcing minors to make a loyalty pledge.

  • Robert W.

    Samiimas,

    So who else isn’t surprised in the least that Robert supports forcing every public school student in America to pledge allegiance to his god? ‘under god’ is an endorsement of religion and a violation of the first amendment, no one has ever been able to refute that except by ludicrous denial that ‘god’ is religious.

    That was not the basis for the court’s decision. They acknowledged that the reference to “under God” was a religious statement however it didn’t rise to the establishment of a religion and therefore was not unconstitutional.

    As the court noted, not every mention of religion in the public square is an establishment of religion in violation of the First Amendment.

    JSug,

    @Robert: That seems rather disingenuous. It might acknowledge *your* heritage, but it has little or nothing to do with the heritage of the country as a whole. One of our founding ideals is that government should have no control over religion, and vice versa

    There is no doubting that our cultural heritage is one steeped in religion. The founding fathers were very religious as were the folks that sent them to the constitutional convention. The fact that these people also were religiously tolerant and afraid of a state established religion does not defeat the true history that our country was and still is a religious country.

  • Heidi

    Christians, are you really comfortable with the Supreme Court Justices issuing a formal legal document stating that the Christian Cross is “just a symbol marking the dead”? Or that the word “god” has nothing to do with Christianity in particular or religion in general?

    It sure seems that way, doesn’t it?

  • Heidi

    The founding fathers were very religious

    Dude, don’t make me quote Jefferson at you.

  • Robert W.

    Jynx,

    I agree that the only way for SCOTUS to defeat this seems to be to rationalize away the fact that the term “god” is religious (much like the ridiculous statments made in the Mojave Cross case).

    I would agree with you if that was the basis for the decision. but it isn’t. Here is the portion of the opinion that states just the opposite:

    As to the first part of the argument, we begin with the unremarkable proposition that the phrase “under God” has some religious content. In our view, mere repetition of the phrase in secular ceremonies does not by itself deplete the phrase of all religious content. Footnote A belief in God is a religious belief. That the phrase has some religious content is demonstrated by the fact that those who are religious, as well as those who are not, could reasonably be offended by the claim that it does not. See Myers v. Loudoun County Pub. Sch., 418 F.3d 395, 407 (4th Cir. 2005) (“Undoubtedly, the Pledge contains a religious phrase, and it is demeaning to persons of any faith to assert that the words ‘under God’ contain no religious significance.”); see also Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677, 695-96 (2005) (Thomas, J., concurring) (“[W]ords such as ‘God’ have religious significance. . . . Telling either nonbelievers or believers that the words ‘under God’ have no meaning contradicts what they know to be true.”).

    That the phrase “under God” has some religious content, however, is not determinative of the New Hampshire Act’s constitutionality. This is in part because the Constitution does not “require complete separation of church and state.” Lynch, 465 U.S. at 673. The fact of some religious content is also not dispositive because there are different degrees of religious and non-religious meaning.

  • Robert W.

    Heidi,

    Dude, don’t make me quote Jefferson at you.

    Don’t make me list all of the religious affiliations of the men who signed the declaration of independence, the constitution, and the articles of confederation.

    To a man they were Christian, with the possible exception of Jefferson and Franklin who were affiliated with the Episcopalian church but could be described as diest and certainly not atheists.

    http://www.adherents.com/gov/Founding_Fathers_Religion.html

  • jolly

    I used to go to a 12 step group and when I changed the wording in the opening from the word ‘God’ to ‘Great Spirit’ the reaction made it obvious that, even though they denied it, it was a Christian meeting.
    The same thing happened when Senators don’t say ‘under God’ when reciting the pledge and when comments under newspaper articles have many people declaring that this is a ‘Christian Nation’ because it says under God in the pledge and ‘in god we trust’ on money. Obvious to anyone that the government is pushing a very specific kind of religion.

  • ACN

    qualified by “which founding fathers?” but the general concensus is the opposite, they were mostly deists.

  • Heidi

    I always love it when apologists make up the argument they want to have, and pretend that’s what we’ve been talking about all along. Robert, when did I say what anyone’s religious affiliation was? You said:

    The founding fathers were very religious

    Which they were not. One’s stated religious affiliation does not make one “very religious.” You’re losing credibility with every word you type. But thank you for playing.

  • Eddie

    I don’t know of many of the “founding fathers” that were conventionally Christian. Jefferson wanted religious freedom, because even though he did believe in a God he wanted you lot to have the right to question the concept’s existence like he did himself.
    Washington was a Mason, himself.
    Penn was a Quaker.
    Adams was a Unitarian I think.
    Franklin had strange views on the afterlife as well, he was unconventional in that sense.

    Although, who cares about that lot when they are all immigrants anyway. There was a religion on your land before those denominations. Animism. My favourite (even though I am an atheist). Lets go back in time and not have us Europeans “discover” America. I think you’ll find many of us Brits prefer Native Americans.

    @Heidi, you are my hero, by the way.

  • Heidi

    LOL! Thanks, Eddie.

    George Washington used to wait outside the church while Martha went to services. So yeah. Not very religious.

  • Robert W.

    Heidi,

    Which they were not. One’s stated religious affiliation does not make one “very religious.” You’re losing credibility with every word you type. But thank you for playing.

    George Washington used to wait outside the church while Martha went to services. So yeah. Not very religious.

    You are simply wrong. The founding fathers were religious men. Including George Washington.

    Here is an excerpt from The American Biography of Jared Sparks written around 1833 including a letter from Washington’s daughter that shows the opposite of your assertion:

    Washington Praying

    This is a question often asked today, and it arises from the efforts of those who seek to impeach Washington’s character by portraying him as irreligious. Interestingly, Washington’s own contemporaries did not question his Christianity but were thoroughly convinced of his devout faith–a fact made evident in the first-ever compilation of the The Writings of George Washington, published in the 1830s.

    That compilation of Washington’s writings was prepared and published by Jared Sparks (1789-1866), a noted writer and historian. Sparks’ Herculean historical productions included not only the writing of George Washington (12 volumes) but also Benjamin Franklin (10 volumes) and Constitution signer Gouverneur Morris (3 volumes). Additionally, Sparks compiled the Library of American Biography (25 volumes), The Diplomatic Correspondence of the American Revolution (12 volumes), and the Correspondence of the American Revolution (4 volumes). In all, Sparks was responsible for some 100 historical volumes. Additionally, Sparks was America’s first professor of history–other than ecclesiastical history–to teach at the college level in the United States, and he was later chosen president of Harvard.

    QUOTE

    By 1778, George Washington had so often witnessed God’s intervention that on August 20, he wrote Thomas Nelson that:

    The Hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations. [1]

    Jared Sparks’ decision to compile George Washington’s works is described by The Dictionary of American Biography. The first of the twelve volumes of The Writings of George Washington to be published (vol. II) appeared in 1834 and the last (vol. I, containing the biography) in 1837.

    In Volume XII of these writings, Jared Sparks delved into the religious character of George Washington, and included numerous letters written by the friends, associates, and family of Washington which testified of his religious character. Based on that extensive evidence, Sparks concluded:

    To say that he [George Washington] was not a Christian would be to impeach his sincerity and honesty. Of all men in the world, Washington was certainly the last whom any one would charge with dissimulation or indirectness [hypocrisies and evasiveness]; and if he was so scrupulous in avoiding even a shadow of these faults in every known act of his life, [regardless of] however unimportant, is it likely, is it credible, that in a matter of the highest and most serious importance [his religious faith, that] he should practice through a long series of years a deliberate deception upon his friends and the public? It is neither credible nor possible.

    Clearly, Nelly was someone who knew the private and public life of her “father” very well. Therefore, Jared Sparks, in searching for information on Washington’s religious habits, dispatched a letter to Nelly, asking if she knew for sure whether George Washington indeed was a Christian. Within a week, she had replied to Sparks, and Sparks included her letter in Volume XII of Washington’s writings in the lengthy section on Washington’s religious habits. Of that specific letter, Jared Sparks explained:

    I shall here insert a letter on this subject, written to me by a lady who lived twenty years in Washington’s family and who was his adopted daughter, and the granddaughter of Mrs. Washington. The testimony it affords, and the hints it contains respecting the domestic habits of Washington, are interesting and valuable.

    Woodlawn, 26 February, 1833

    Sir,

    I received your favor of the 20th instant last evening, and hasten to give you the information, which you desire.

    Truro Parish [Episcopal] is the one in which Mount Vernon, Pohick Church [the church where George Washington served as a vestryman], and Woodlawn [the home of Nelly and Lawrence Lewis] are situated. Fairfax Parish is now Alexandria. Before the Federal District was ceded to Congress, Alexandria was in Fairfax County. General Washington had a pew in Pohick Church, and one in Christ Church at Alexandria. He was very instrumental in establishing Pohick Church, and I believe subscribed [supported and contributed to] largely. His pew was near the pulpit. I have a perfect recollection of being there, before his election to the presidency, with him and my grandmother…

    He attended the church at Alexandria when the weather and roads permitted a ride of ten miles [a one-way journey of 2-3 hours by horse or carriage]. In New York and Philadelphia he never omitted attendance at church in the morning, unless detained by indisposition [sickness]. The afternoon was spent in his own room at home; the evening with his family, and without company. Sometimes an old and intimate friend called to see us for an hour or two; but visiting and visitors were prohibited for that day [Sunday]. No one in church attended to the services with more reverential respect. My grandmother, who was eminently pious, never deviated from her early habits. She always knelt. The General, as was then the custom, stood during the devotional parts of the service. On communion Sundays, he left the church with me, after the blessing, and returned home, and we sent the carriage back for my grandmother.

    It was his custom to retire to his library at nine or ten o’clock where he remained an hour before he went to his chamber. He always rose before the sun and remained in his library until called to breakfast. I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, “that they may be seen of men” [Matthew 6:5]. He communed with his God in secret [Matthew 6:6].

    My mother [Eleanor Calvert-Lewis] resided two years at Mount Vernon after her marriage [in 1774] with John Parke Custis, the only son of Mrs. Washington. I have heard her say that General Washington always received the sacrament with my grandmother before the revolution. When my aunt, Miss Custis [Martha's daughter] died suddenly at Mount Vernon, before they could realize the event [before they understood she was dead], he [General Washington] knelt by her and prayed most fervently, most affectingly, for her recovery. Of this I was assured by Judge [Bushrod] Washington’s mother and other witnesses.

    He was a silent, thoughtful man. He spoke little generally; never of himself. I never heard him relate a single act of his life during the war. I have often seen him perfectly abstracted, his lips moving, but no sound was perceptible. I have sometimes made him laugh most heartily from sympathy with my joyous and extravagant spirits. I was, probably, one of the last persons on earth to whom he would have addressed serious conversation, particularly when he knew that I had the most perfect model of female excellence [Martha Washington] ever with me as my monitress, who acted the part of a tender and devoted parent, loving me as only a mother can love, and never extenuating [tolerating] or approving in me what she disapproved of others. She never omitted her private devotions, or her public duties; and she and her husband were so perfectly united and happy that he must have been a Christian. She had no doubts, no fears for him. After forty years of devoted affection and uninterrupted happiness, she resigned him without a murmur into the arms of his Savior and his God, with the assured hope of his eternal felicity [happiness in Heaven].

    Is it necessary that any one should certify, “General Washington avowed himself to me a believer in Christianity?” As well may we question his patriotism, his heroic, disinterested devotion to his country. His mottos were, “Deeds, not Words”; and, “For God and my Country.”

    With sentiments of esteem,

    I am, Nelly Custis-Lewis

    i know its long but you questioned my credibility so I thought I would give you some evidence to refute your bald statement.

    Now if your reference to Jefferson was talking about his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association we can discuss that as well.

  • Robert W.

    Heidi,

    without pasting it here, here is a link with quotes from several of the founding fathers that show just how devout and religious they were. Actually how deep their Christian faith really was.

    http://www.eadshome.com/QuotesoftheFounders.htm

  • Sean

    Uh, the rest of the world is still astonished that you make small children swear an oath of allegiance every day. Does this not strike you as weird? Freaky? Anything?

    It has always struck me as incredibly weird. In fact, long before I had any issue with “under God”, I refused to say the pledge at school because I thought it was wrong to force a mandatory oath of allegiance on children, much less in a daily ritualistic chant. (It gave off very strong totalitarian/nationalistic vibes, and reminded me of Nazis and Red scares and 1984 and such us-vs.-them hypnotic nonsense.) Of course, by the time I was in high school, no one bothered saying the pledge even though it was announced over the PA every day; people just talked over it as if it wasn’t happening (this may have something to do with my being in IB classes). I also usually refuse to stand during the national anthem at events, not so much out of principled protest as due to sheer irritation at the inflexible social expectation that everyone must pay homage to national symbols.

    I see a lot of the respect paid to “America” as disingenuous anyway; many of the people who strongly display such sentiment are intolerant of a large percentage of their countrymen and mistrustful of the government. The loyalty displayed is to one’s own subculture and heritage, and to a perception of how “America” supports that. Not that all patriotism is like that, but if someone spontaneously displays an American flag around their home/business/car without a clear reason, there’s a good chance that it’s signaling “I’m the sort of person who likes to put American flags everywhere” and thus it is a symbol of a particular American subculture, rather than any deeply understood support of ideas about American history or representative democracy or natural/legal rights or regulated capitalism or the constitution or whatever. But being annoyed by flag-waving appears to signal that you “hate America” (hate freedom?) and can be ignored as part of the out-group, so it’s a rather durable meme.

    As for the whole founding fathers thing… I’m rather baffled as to why they always seem to come up. They were great men (many of them), but they were politicians, not prophets of The Holy Democracy. The founding fathers and heritage are not much more to the point on this issue than when discussing the rights of African Americans (where they were clearly not uniformly on the right side), excepting only regarding the way in which the First Amendment has been interpreted. And in deciding the effects of legal documents of such an age, court cases are almost universally more dispositive than history.

    And when you look at the court cases… there are some nods to Christianity as heritage and ceremonial deism, being possible cases which (I usually think wrongly) are considered not to run afoul of the Establishment Clause. Encouraging children to swear allegiance to a nation-state every day because of its God-fearing nature, that strikes me as a patent violation not covered under the crosses-as-gravestones type of exception. The Ninth and First Circuits clearly disagree, and SCOTUS may as well, but I think that when you’re pressuring a whole population of children to take a stance on a theological issue, that’s crossing a line.

    If the appeals lose… oh well. Maybe it will get fixed via legislature one day, or maybe a decade or two will pass and the case will be revisited. I think that perhaps the existence of the case itself may be important whether or not it succeeds. Part of the reason that the “national heritage” defense often succeeds is that something which has not been challenged becomes entrenched. A court which sees that no one was offended by some action for decades, and then suddenly the action became offensive to some group, is less likely to take the complaint seriously. If people have been speaking out for decades, the “it’s just a harmless ceremony that we’ve always done with no previous problem” defense is less tenable. So even a losing case here may be useful in that it calls attention to the fact that certain people care about these issues.

  • Samiimas

    Robert do you think it would be an unconstitutional endorsement of atheism if a public school paid for by your taxes forced every single student to pledge allegiance to one nation under no god at the start of every single schoolday?

    Yes or no answers only.

    Uh, the rest of the world is still astonished that you make small children swear an oath of allegiance every day. Does this not strike you as weird? Freaky? Anything?

    I’ve tried pointing out that they’re reaction the Chinese schools making their students swear an ‘oath of loyalty’ would be to scream brainwashing, but they just ignore me.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

    Well Seamus, you are forgetting about me and him and her, and her and him and…

    From http://www.becketfund.org/index.php/article/82.html

    “Religious expression (of all traditions) is a natural part of life in a free society, and religious arguments (on all sides of a question) are a normal and healthy element of public debate.”

    I would say religious belief is anything but natural.

    And indoctrinating our youth with the pledge without god is ridiculous – adding god and saying it is without religious intent is just stupid.

  • Lesilu

    I feel like we’d have a better shot at this case — possibly to do with standing, and mind this is only an intuition, because I’m a total law noob — if somebody were actually penalized in some material way for pledging “one nation indivisible” or for sitting it out entirely. It’s still unconstitutional to have the “official” version as it is, of course, but I feel like we’d have a few more legs to stand on if the case were about somebody actually being forced to say “under God” lest they suffer some sanction or other.

    I didn’t look up any actual instances, but did find a page showing that most states require schools to do the pledge and some states require students to do it here. This page shows specific state regulations on the matter. I’m not sure how much these are enforced though: I went to a public high school in MD (where the second link notes that recitation is required and “includes physical stance required; act of disrespect is in violation of law; argues that love of freedom and democracy shown in devotion of all true and patriotic Americans to their flag and country; shall be instilled in the hearts and minds of the youth of America”) and received no penalization when I didn’t stand during my senior year. I did witness another girl get kicked out of the room with another teacher though.

    Honestly, I think the recitation of the pledge should be done away with in the schools. I would suggest that, instead, schools focus more on things that actually teach these values (e.g. more community service, donation events, debates) but those are wobbly grounds.

  • http://skepticat.blogspot.com/ Skepticat

    It seems to me that we’d be more effective by pointing out how ridiculous it is to swear loyalty oaths to the state regardless of any religious content. It’s even more insanely ridiculous to ask (or more likely coerce) little kids to swear loyalty oaths when they can’t possibly understand the content.

    I think the best way to fight this is for us to lead by example and simply not say the pledge – ever. If enough people stop saying it, it will eventually fade out. After all, they can’t throw all of us in jail forever.

    As an aside, I continually fail to understand how believers are not offended by the “ceremonial deism” argument. If I were still Christian, I’d be madder than an old wet hen if some court dismissed my god so casually.

  • Robert W.

    Samiimas,

    No

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ChristopherTK ChristopherTK

    Lesilu,

    I live in Illinois and neither of my boys, 8 & 6 recite the pledge.

    In fact, my eight year old was heard saying “one nation under atheists,” and was then politely asked to refrain from saying the pledge in the future if he was going to refuse to speak the accepted version.

    He said his teacher spoke with him privately and respectfully.

  • Heidi

    Robert…

    As President, Washington regularly attended Christian services, and he was friendly in his attitude toward Christian values. However, he repeatedly declined the church’s sacraments. Never did he take communion, and when his wife, Martha, did, he waited for her outside the sanctuary…. Even on his deathbed, Washington asked for no ritual, uttered no prayer to Christ, and expressed no wish to be attended by His representative. George Washington’s practice of Christianity was limited and superficial because he was not himself a Christian. In the enlightened tradition of his day, he was a devout Deist–just as many of the clergymen who knew him suspected. (Barry Schwartz, George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol, New York: The Free Press, 1987, pp. 174-175.)

    Emphasis mine. You want to keep playing?

  • ACN

    Robert,

    Not that the religious views of the founding fathers aren’t interesting to me, but I think we’ve digressed.

    Even IF you could prove unequivocally that all of the founding fathers were not only affiliated with the christian sects of the day, but also deeply observant christians (as Heidi has pointed out, there is a distinction!) you have, at best, proved a peripheral point.

    The issue here is twofold: Is the statement in the pledge true? Is that phrase’s existence a violation of the establishment clause?

    I think Rich has already snagged the point about it being true. Not only is the most literal reading false, not everyone agrees that god exists, and even those who agree on existence don’t agree on their particular deity’s properties, but the fact that the only mentions of religion in foundational documents are an ambiguous creator in the Declaration, and assurance that the government wants no part in its citizens’ religion in the Constitution, AND direct statement to the contrary in the treaty of tripoli, makes the reading of “the united states government advocates theism” look ridiculous as well.

    So is it a violation of the establishment clause? I’ve made my case, in a previous post above, for why I think the only legit role for the government is to be silent on questions of religion.

    tl;dr/finally getting to my point:
    I guess I don’t see what you find particularly praiseworthy about the decision. They seem to have avoided the real issue by stressing the fact that it was a voluntary activity.

  • http://www.freethoughtoasis.org Jynx

    Robert said:

    “I would agree with you if that was the basis for the decision. but it isn’t. Here is the portion of the opinion that states just the opposite:

    (here quoting from court’s ruling): As to the first part of the argument, we begin with the unremarkable proposition that the phrase “under God” has some religious content….. The fact of some religious content is also not dispositive because there are different degrees of religious and non-religious meaning.”

    …and this is exactly what I meant when I said they would be forced to rationalize away the religious nature and/or implications on the term “god”.
    First, the court explicitly declares that the phrase “under god” is religious and that to discount its serious religious nature would be an affront to both believer and non-believer alike….and then on the very same page dismisses that this phrase’s existence is a serious enough problem to warrant exclusion.

    Either it is exlicitly and unavoidably religious (in which case it represents an unnacceptable entanglement with religion) or it isn’t (which would be the tactic used when one waves away the deep religious meaning of things like the cross, “under god”, etc.)

    The court has made an excellent attempt at having their cake and eating it too…but it still made a mess.

  • Robert W.

    Heidi,

    Of course I’ll keep going. Barry Schwartz is taking the idea that Washington refused the sacrament and the fact that he made few public comments of his religion to claim he wasn’t a Christian. Its quite a stretch.

    It is true that he didn’t take communion but that is not proof he wasn’t a devout Christian. There are several theories about that, including that he may not have believed that Jesus was present in the sacrament to it being part of the social structure of the time that people of his stature didn’t take communion in that it was deemed for women, the elderly and children. Regardless, it is certainly not proof that he lacked a devout religious belief.

    How some quotes from his contemporaries and George Washington himself:

    “He was a sincere believer in the Christian faith and a truly devout man.”
    {Quote by John Marshall [Revolutionary General, Secretary of State, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice]}

    “To the character of hero and patriot, this good man added that of Christian. Although the greatest man upon earth, he disdained not to humble himself before his God and to trust in the mercies of Christ.”
    {Quote by Gunning Bedford, signer of the Constitution}

    “The name of American, belongs to you…[and] with slight shades of difference, you have the same religion.”
    –George Washington in his Farewell Address to the American people, Paragraph 10; September 17, 1796 | photo of farewell address

    “What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.”
    –George Washington in a speech to the Delaware Indian Chiefs May 12, 1779

    “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and Bible.”

    “It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors.”

    Or his personal prayer in his own handwriting:
    A Portion of George Washington’s personal prayers:

    “O Most Glorious God, in Jesus Christ, my merciful and loving Father; I acknowledge and confess my guilt in the weak and imperfect performance of the duties of this day. I have called on Thee for pardon and forgiveness of my sins, but so coldly and carelessly that my prayers are become my sin, and they stand in need of pardon.”
    “ I have sinned against heaven and before Thee in thought, word, and deed. I have contemned Thy majesty and holy laws. I have likewise sinned by omitting what I ought to have done and committing what I ought not. I have rebelled against the light, despising Thy mercies and judgment, and broken my vows and promise. I have neglected the better things. My iniquities are multiplied and my sins are very great. I confess them, O Lord, with shame and sorrow, detestation and loathing and desire to be vile in my own eyes as I have rendered myself vile in Thine. I humbly beseech Thee to be merciful to me in the free pardon of my sins for the sake of Thy dear Son and only Savior Jesus Christ who came to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Thou gavest Thy Son to die for me.”

    “Make me to know what is acceptable in Thy sight, and therein to delight, open the eyes of my understanding, and help me thoroughly to examine myself concerning my knowledge, faith, and repentance, increase my faith, and direct me to the true object, Jesus Christ the Way, the Truth, and the Life, …”
    [from a 24 page authentic handwritten manuscript book dated April 21-23, 1752]

    Tag you’re it.

  • Lesilu

    @ChristopherTK: I found something about that adorable. It always amazes me when kids have more guts than people several times their age. Think about how many adults are afraid of coming out of the atheist “closet”.

    I’d like to think that, in the states requiring students to pledge, that it’s rarely enforced. I’m sure they especially don’t want to go through legal ramifications and attract media attention.

    On another note: I am absolutely glued to these comments, especially Heidi and Robert W.’s.

  • Sean

    @Lesilu

    I believe that it is not constitutional to ever compel students to recite the pledge (the Jehovah’s Witnesses won that one a while back). However, there may be unconstitutional compulsions that are still on the books, much as there are some religious qualifications for office in some states (on the books, but unenforceable because they violate the constitution).

    If someone refuses to say the pledge and is punished for that, especially if they have religious (or irreligious) reasons, it should be an open and shut case. It could only stand if the student/family didn’t want to make a big deal out of it and take legal action. The real difficulty is in deciding whether the pledge should be recited daily at all (even if individual students can opt out).

  • Dan W

    I think the Pledge needs to be done away with entirely. Nobody should have to say a pledge of allegiance to a country they were born in, especially when they’re just a kid who may not understand what the Pledge means.

    And I also think it’s moronic to say “one nation, under God, indivisible” because that addition of “under God” divides people, and implies that everyone in the country (or at least all good citizens) believes in a god. Besides, that was added in the 1950s; it wasn’t in the original Pledge.

  • Samiimas

    If I ever meet someone on the internet who actually gives an honest answer to a hypothetical I’m gonna drive out to their house and give them a thousand dollars.

  • gsw

    You could always do what we did at school (mandatory assembly) and say “under sol” (or “under the sun”) instead.

    This enables one to measure when the scales tip from religious to non-religious, from fanatic to live-and-let-live.

    If challenged you are permitted to insist that the “Sun also known as Sol is the life spender of our smaller corner of the universe and, since there are no deities, we all stand under the sun.”

  • Heidi

    If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, Robert, it’s that there are always half-baked Christian hypotheses that refute any fact under the sun, including the fact that we are orbiting said sun. If that is what you people call a “theory,” then it’s no wonder Christians act like evolution is an unsupported guess that some guy made up when he was drunk.

    Meanwhile, you’re doing that thing again. The strawman thing, you remember? Where you argue with what you feel like arguing, rather than what we’re actually talking about. So let’s try this again, from the top.

    I said:

    George Washington used to wait outside the church while Martha went to services. So yeah. Not very religious.

    Then you said:

    You are simply wrong.

    Then I quoted a guy who confirmed what I said:

    Never did he take communion, and when his wife, Martha, did, he waited for her outside the sanctuary….

    But you can’t bear the fail. So you’re off on some tangent copy/pasting all kinds of apologetics, so you can pretend it’s Guy Fawkes Day. But here’s the thing. I’m already indulging your fallacious (and factually bereft) appeal to authority. I’m disinclined to indulge your strawmen as well.

    And, if you recall, the ACTUAL SUBJECT here was the zealots in the 1950s illegally forcing their religion on the secular nation and on school children in violation of the Constitution. Which you defended with yet another fallacy, the Appeal to Tradition. I mean, seriously. Do you have any actual arguments, or are you going down the fallacy playbook? You want to go with some Common Practice Appeals, next?

    It’s nearly 3:30 am here. I’m tired, and I have ADD. My patience is wearing thin. So if you have a point in your forest of fallacies, I’d appreciate you getting to it without the apologetics site copy/paste thing you have going on.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    Considering the billions of galaxies, most with billions of stars and so much potential for extraterrestrial life, the notion of God popularized by mankind’s major religions is really quite provincial. It might be more apt to have the pledge say “One nation, seduced by demigods, indivisible,…”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000586562927 muggle

    Who gives a rat’s ass if the founding fathers were religious or not? I am so tired of that particular back and forth that I am altogether done with it.

    Frankly, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the Constitution provides for separation of church and state. As an Atheist American, I am going to and have every right to object when god is put upon me. I also don’t really care that there was some decision by the Supreme Court that ceremonial religion didn’t amount to endorsement of religion over irreligion. I strongly disagree and I think it can be revisited. It makes overcoming that tougher but it’s not impossible.

    Still, we don’t stand a chance in hell currently of winning that fight. And I still maintain that it’s the wrong fight. Do away with the entire thing by fighting against kids being made to take a loyalty pledge. I’d still be pissed off at my grandson being forced to recite this dang thing even if the under god were out of it.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    You know, if the words “Under God” had been in the Pledge from the beginning, I could see these challenges being shot down and something valid. But since is was added as an after thought and as a fear measure against The Cold War, I think these challenges should be taken more seriously by the courts.

  • Robert W.

    Heidi,

    My responses went directly to your argument. You stated that George Washington was not a religious man based upon your misleading statement that he stayed out of the church when Martha went. Thus implying that he didn’t go except to appease her.

    When I pointed out contemporaries and early historians and his own words that showed he was a devoutly Christian man, you then post an excerpt from a recent historian who stated he wold not take communion and would step out when Martha did.

    This contradicts your first implication that he stood outside of church through the whole service but you post it as proof of your assertion that he wasn’t relligious.

    I then provided more proof that he was a devout man and his stepping out for communion was not uncommon for men of his stature and thus it fails to support your implication that he wasn’t religious.

    My responses were on topic to your flawed assertion and show that it was incorrect.

  • Heidi

    @muggle:

    Who gives a rat’s ass if the founding fathers were religious or not?

    Robert does. LOL. He’s harping on that point because it’s all he’s got. A desperate hope that the founding fathers were more religious than they actually were, and the delusion that it is somehow relevant. I’m done feeding the troll, though. Sorry for going off subject.

    @Marty: That’s where I was going before somebody started flapping his arms about the founding fathers. LOL. It wasn’t there, and then it was forced upon us by unconstitutional zealots.

  • Robert W.

    Heidi,

    Robert does. LOL. He’s harping on that point because it’s all he’s got. A desperate hope that the founding fathers were more religious than they actually were, and the delusion that it is somehow relevant. I’m done feeding the troll, though. Sorry for going off subject.

    More like a desperate attempt by you and progressive historians to rewrite history to support your current agenda.

  • AxeGrrl

    First of all, Heidi, major kudos for your second-last post most specifically :) Daahaamn…..you nailed it :)

    And Muggles:

    Who gives a rat’s ass if the founding fathers were religious or not? I am so tired of that particular back and forth that I am altogether done with it.

    Frankly, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is the Constitution provides for separation of church and state.

    THANK YOU! That is precisely my reaction to any ongoing debate over the ‘depth-of-religiousity’ of the founding fathers.

    All that matters is the fact that the founding fathers were so cognizant of the possible dangers of mixing religion and state that they made a HUGE point about separating them.

  • Maria

    For me, the real issue is discrimination.

    What about the fact that saying “under God” equates religious belief with patriotism? If I, or my children, can’t say the pledge honestly because we do not believe this one phrase, then it paints us as unpatriotic. If our only option is to not say the pledge at all if we don’t say it “right”, then it singles us out and “outs us” as atheists. Given the climate of intolerance for atheism in America, that’s not something I want for my children. I, as an adult, may be proud of my humanist views, but my children are too young to have an opinion on the matter of God.

    And what of Hindus and other polytheists?

    It is discriminatory to have this phrase in the pledge because it marginalizes those who do not believe it and therefore can’t pledge it.


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