The Pledge

The Obama Administration has released their official response to petitions asking for the removal of the phrase “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” from the currency.

Nothing here is going to surprise anybody. Sometimes it seems that Obama is the living embodiment of phrases like “the essence of politics is compromise,” and “politics is the art of the possible.” The White House sends this one so cleanly down the middle that it doesn’t scrape the sides:

The separation of church and state outlined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is an important founding principle of our nation. Our nation’s Bill of Rights guarantees not only that the government cannot establish an official religion, but also guarantees citizens’ rights to practice the religion of their choosing or no religion at all.

Throughout our history, people of all faiths – as well as secular Americans – have played an important role in public life. And a robust dialogue about the role of religion in public life is an important part of our public discourse.

While the President strongly supports every American’s right to religious freedom and the separation of church and state, that does not mean there’s no role for religion in the public square.

When he was a Senator from Illinois, President Obama gave a keynote address at the Call to Renewal conference where he spoke about the important role religion plays in politics and in public life.

A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation – context matters.

That’s why President Obama supports the use of the words “under God’ in our Pledge of Allegiance and “In God we Trust’ on our currency. These phrases represent the important role religion plays in American public life, while we continue to recognize and protect the rights of secular Americans. As the President said in his inaugural address, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” We’re proud of that heritage, and the strength it brings to our great country.

Right now, the Republicans are trying to make “In God We Trust” the national motto … again. It was established in 1956, about the same time as the words “under God” were added to the Pledge. Still, the Republicans want to make extra special sure this time. No fingers crossed.

Since Obama is so fond of compromise, maybe I can suggest one. If we must mention a deity as a nod to ceremonial deism, let’s go back to the sorts of enlightenment terms that our founders used. Let’s drop “under God” and talk about the “Author of existence,” which was the phrase used in the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776. Or maybe the “Great Governor of the universe,” which comes from the Vermont Constitution of 1777. Of course, there’s also “nature and nature’s God” from Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Or just go the full Masonic route and talk about the “Grand Architect of the Universe.”

These little phrases would satisfy no one, but isn’t that the point of compromises like this?

Good Questions and Bad Law
Deep in the heart of Texas
Hallquist on Eich
Quote of the Moment: So Not His Father
  • Michael

    The current problem with these phrases isn’t the original meaning or intent, it’s the way they are interpreted in modern times. They clearly serve as an endorsement of religion, which Obama’s response implicitly recognizes when he says they are about the “important role” religion plays. The thing is, there is a big difference between saying religion plays a role in many Americans’ lives and saying that Americans uniformly place their trust in God.

    Obama’s plea for a “sense of proportion” is a plea for atheists to stop forcing tough decisions on him. The fact of the matter is that this phrase is directly in conflict with the Constitution and is considered significant by a large group of people. That “most people” think it isn’t a big deal is little consolation to those who are offended.

    Official justifications for phrases like this continue to baffle me.

    • JohnMWhite

      I completely agree, and it is very frustrating to see tortured justifications of what is clearly a breach of the US Constitution, simply to keep the peace and maintain the status quo. Since when was the Constitution up for compromise? As soon as it is, it is meaningless.

      The response to secularists to ‘have a sense of proportion’ is somewhat insulting, a belittlement of an issue that while on the surface does not seem important, shows how fundamentally undermined the Constitution is by the special pleading afforded to religion. Unfortunately I cannot see the Obama administration doing anything else. The guy was despised by the Christian right from day one, and they know that if a change like that happens under his command, he’ll be crucified. Secularists aren’t going to vote for any of the dangerous zealots in the Republican party, so Obama can afford to piss them off. Still, I would have chosen phrasing that does not imply those who give a crap about the Constitution need to get over it.

      • MahouSniper

        I do kind of take exception to your rhetorical question “Since when was the constitution up for compromise?”

        The constitution as DESIGNED to be compromised. It was designed specifically to change as times change and was the result of a massive set of compromises itself. The problem is that the government is refusing to listen to one side of this issue and refusing to make some kind of compromise with us.

        • drax

          The constitution is designed to change, but it hasn’t been changed, it has been circumvented by the special interest of religion. The only way the constitution can be changed is via the amendment process.

          • MahouSniper

            True, but it annoys me when people hold up the constitution like it’s set it stone. It’s not a bible, it’s not absolute, please don’t use it as such.

          • Michael

            Probably more significant than the changes via amendment (which are individually very significant but relatively rare) are the changes in SCOTUS interpretations of it. Much of the Constitution (like the Bible I suppose) is sufficiently vague to admit a number of possible readings.

  • drax

    In the vast majority of cases any official position against religion is political suicide in the United States. There are very very few elected officals who don’t at least pay some lip service to religion in general and christianity in particular. Of course there is a huge range of religiosity in politics. On one end you have those that deny global warming based on the bible, and on the other end you have the ones that go to church on Sundays and that’s where religion ends for them. I tend to think that Obama falls into the latter category, but in reality his hands are tied when it comes to doing anything about the continuing encroachment of religion (christianity) into the political realm.

    Furthermore, I think the whole “petition the white house” campaign is a bit of a joke. They’ve fooled people into thingking that they actually have a chance to have their issues addressed. In reality they will address the issues they had planned to address anyway, and make lame excuses for the ones they don’t want to address. This is the case with both the religion issue and the marijuana issue. In both cases they’ve basically towed the company line, and likely insulted the intelligence of those people who initiated and signed the petition. I liken it to a radio station taking requests. They weren’t going to play your song because it isn’t popular enough, but you can still call in. Instead they will play that hit song that is so popular, they just have to wait until someone calls to request it.

  • Rob Jase

    I wish we could just substitute god with YogSothoth and get it over with.

  • Custador

    E Pluribus Unum was clearly far too damn Commie for AMURKAH! What are you, some kind of Pinko?

  • Revyloution

    I loved E Pluribus Unam, but Custy is right. It could have been pulled straight out of Das Kapital. Sometimes I wonder what the first step was when I wandered away from Ayn Rand and laissez fair capitalism to the bleeding heart liberal I am today. I don’t know exactly what it was that started it, but I do know that it came from learning tid bits like that. One little fact piles upon another, until you can no longer believe.

    I had an epiphany a couple of years back when I realized my deconversion story is the same as those who leave Christianity. Loosing a faith really is a death of a thousand cuts. Accepting fantasies is just a process of looking for a belief system that supports your own presumptions.

    Oh, and I wrote a new joke! Since the Forum is down:

    Did you know that Herman Cain hired a German economist? Ya, he even helped him name his plan. Cain showed it to him, and asked him if it would work. The German replied “Nein nein nein!”

    • Rob Jase

      (drum roll)

  • Noelle

    Why do we need a motto and a pledge? Are we selling cookies?

    • zach


    • MahouSniper

      Because high school never really ends.

      • Noelle

        Great. Now you’re gonna tell me we got group colors, a mascot, and a song. I’m getting out of pep assembly.

        • Custador

          If we’re voting on the official mascot of the USA, I vote for…. Bill Murray.

          • Rob Jase

            I dunno, he has an odd attraction to burrowing rodents.

        • Michael

          When you think about it, political entities like nations, provinces, and territories have far more identifying symbols than any school. We have a national flag, song, pledge, motto, animal, bird, seal, and so on. States seem to push this to the limit with official symbols ranging from state insects to state dances.

  • Rant In A-Minor

    While I would love to see nations abandoning theistic mottos, or other such endorsements of faith, I get the old familiar feeling that the time and money spent debating little distractions like this could be put to better use … I mean, I’m sure there are one or two other little problems they could be dealing with? (the whole bloody economy for a start)

  • Noelle

    My state is one of seven in the nation that doesn’t require schoolchildren say the pledge every morning. I only know this because a bill is making its way through state senate to change that. It also requires schools purchase flags. The schools here can’t afford teachers. Buying multi-colored pieces of cloth and making children recite words to it is ridiculous.