Under God-related program activities

Under God-related program activities April 5, 2004

Mark Kleiman points us to this essay by Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic. Wieseltier makes what Kleiman calls, "a religious person's argument against having 'under God' in the Pledge to the Flag — and, more tellingly, against the silly arguments that have to be used to try to keep 'under God' in the Pledge in the face of the Establishment Clause."

As another "religious person," I want to second Wieseltier's argument.

He highlights the strange role reversal that took place in the oral arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States regarding the case Elk Grove School District v. Newdow.

Michael Newdow, the outspoken atheist who wants the words "under God" removed from the Pledge, was almost alone in taking those words seriously. Solicitor General Ted Olson, arguing as the alleged defender of religion, repeatedly argued that God and references to God were of little consequence. This was, to Wieseltier, evidence that "the surest way to steal the meaning, and therefore the power, from religion is to deliver it to politics, to enslave it to public life."

Here's more from Wieseltier:

The solicitor general stood before the Court to argue against the plain meaning of ordinary words. In the Pledge of Allegiance, the government insisted, the word "God" does not refer to God. It refers to a reference to God. The government's argument, as it was stated in the brief filed by Theodore B. Olson, was made in two parts. The first part was about history, the second part was about society. "The Pledge's reference to 'a Nation under God,'" the solicitor general maintained, "is a statement about the nation's historical origins, its enduring political philosophy centered on the sovereignty of the individual." The allegedly religious words in the Pledge are actually just "descriptive" — the term kept recurring in the discussion — of the mentality of the people who established the United States.

Wieseltier takes exception to Olson's account of "the nation's historical origins," and notes that:

… it was exceedingly odd to hear the controversial words in the Pledge described at the Court with Eugene Rostow's phrase "ceremonial deism." Ceremonial theism, perhaps; but that is a more highly charged activity. … Why do the God-inebriated opponents of the separation of church and state in America, the righteous citizens who see God's hand in everything that Fox News reports, insult the founders by revising and even rejecting their God?

The second part of Olson's argument was a rather candid appeal to the expediency of religion. The Pledge is "a patriotic exercise and a solemnizing ceremony," which serves "the secular values of promoting national unity, patriotism, and an appreciation of the values that defined the Nation." The brief further notes that the introduction of God into the Pledge in 1954 had "a political purpose," which was to "highlight the foundational difference between the United States and Communist nations."

Here it becomes clear that Olson's "ceremonial deism" is nothing more than the "civil religion" described by, among others, Robert Bellah. Olson's argument calls to mind the comment attributed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower: "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith — and I don't care what it is." What matters in this civil religion is not the reality, character or nature of God, but our own depth of feeling. As a religion, it is not about "I and Thou," but about "I and my depth of feeling about Thou."

Keep in mind that the phrase "under God" is also a declaration of God's sovereignty. It is troubling that we should be asked to recite an affirmation that America is subject to the sovereignty of our own depth of feeling about God.

Justice Stephen Breyer considered this civil religion interpretation, as Wieseltier relates:

Justice Breyer wondered, in a challenge to Newdow, whether the words "under God" referred only to a "supreme being." Citing United States v. Seeger from 1965 … Breyer proposed that such a faith "in any ordinary person's life fills the same place as belief in God fills in the life of an orthodox religionist," and so "it's reaching out to be inclusive" — so inclusive, in fact, that it may satisfy a non-believer such as Newdow. Breyer suggested that the God in "under God" is "this kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing." And he posed an extraordinary question to Newdow: "So do you think that God is so generic in this context that it could be that inclusive, and if it is, then does your objection disappear?"

Newdow rejected this, noting that he does not believe in the existence even of a "kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing."

I do not believe in or worship a generic "kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing" either. And I do not see how the First Amendment can be interpreted to allow the government to compel me to worship this squishy deity. That amendment contains no exception allowing for the establishment of a state religion if that religion is a flaccid and flimsy thing.

Here again is Wieseltier:

There are two words in the phrase "under God." Each of them is indeed descriptive — but it is not our history that they describe. They describe our cosmos. Or rather, they purport to describe our cosmos. They make a statement about the universe, they paint a picture of what exists. This statement and this picture is either true or false. Either there is a God and we are under him — the spatial metaphor, the image of a vertical reality, is one of the most ancient devices of religion — or there is not a God and we are not under him. Since 1954, in other words, the Pledge of Allegiance has conveyed metaphysical information, and therefore it has broached metaphysical questions. I do not see how its language can be read differently. …

To recognize the plain meaning of the words "under God," and the nature of the investigation that they enjoin, is to discover the philosophical core of religion. This is not at all obvious to the modern interpretation of religion, and not to the American interpretation of it. After Kant explained that we can have no direct knowledge of the thing itself, and certainly not of God, religious statements have tended to be not propositions of fact, but propositions of value — expressions of inner states that are validated by the intensity of the feeling with which they are articulated. Certainty weirdly became an accomplishment of subjectivity.

Wieseltier also notes approvingly the arguments made in a " fascinating brief submitted in support of Newdow by 32 Christian and Jewish clergy." (Kleiman provides a .pdf link to the brief here.)

I also like what this brief has to say, so allow me to quote from it at length. The clergy supporting this brief, it's introduction says:

… do not want government imposing their religious beliefs on children whose parents teach other beliefs.

More distinctively, these amici are profoundly alarmed by the many briefs arguing that the religious content of the Pledge is not to be taken seriously, and that it should be interpreted as merely historical, or demographic, or secular on some other strained theory. Such arguments attempt to strip the religious meaning from one of the most fundamental of religious propositions.

Here's more:

If the religious portion of the Pledge is not intended as a serious affirmation of faith, then every day, government asks millions of school children to take the name of the Lord in vain. Children are asked to recite what sounds like a serious religious affirmation, but it is not intended to have any real religious meaning. This is just as bad from a perspective of religious liberty, and it is worse from a perspective of religious faith. …

The court of appeals correctly held that this recital is a profession of religious faith. … If the language of the Pledge is taken seriously, it cannot be anything else. Yet the United States, the school district, and many of their amici vigorously deny the plain religious meaning of the portion of the Pledge at issue. They seem to believe that the challenged words of the Pledge should not be taken seriously, that children should not understand these words to mean what they say. …

To recite that the nation is "under God" is inherently and unavoidably a religious affirmation. Indeed, it is a succinct religious creed, less detailed and less specific than many creeds, but stating a surprising amount and implying more. …

The United States, the school district, and their amici attempt to deny the obvious religious meaning of the part of the Pledge at issue. They claim that "The Pledge Is Not a Religious Act or a Profession of Religious Belief." "It is not a religious exercise at all." To take these claims seriously is to say that the children are not expected to believe what they are asked to recite, and that the Pledge is not intended to mean what it plainly says. According to the school district and the United States, the students say the nation is "under God," but they do not actually mean that the nation is "under God." The Pledge is not a profession of belief, but a false or insincere recitation. It is an apparent statement of religious faith redirected — misappropriated — to secular and political purposes. …

If the religious language in the Pledge is not intended to sincerely affirm the succinct creed entailed in its plain meaning — if it does not sincerely affirm that the nation is "under God" — then it is a vain and ineffectual form of words. The numerically predominant religious faiths in the United States have a teaching about such vain references to God: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." Exodus 20:7. If the briefs of the school district and the United States are to be taken seriously, then every day they ask school children to violate this commandment.

Exactly. Or, as Wieseltier concludes, "It is never long before one nation under God gives way to one God under a nation."

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  • oh

    Excellent post Fred. I’m prone to think we should find a way to extract religion-laden words like “marriage” from the realm of the state too – and for the same reasons. Here is how I wrote about it.

  • todd mosser

    I havent read the briefs for the government or amicus, so forgive me if i’m regurgitating one of their arguments to which you have already responded. But I have a few thoughts.
    1. The term “God.” I have not been raised in a church, have no religious education or training whatsoever, got married in a nondenominational church, and am thus thelogically ignorant, though I do believe in a “God”/supreme being/really cool holy dude who runs the show.
    Query. Is “God” the guy that only Christians acknowledge as the supreme being? Or is “God” a kind of descriptive word that applies to all supreme beings? I.e. do muslims refer to Allah as “God”, much like we refer to Jesus Christ as “God” much like budhists refer to, I guess, um, Budha as “God”, much like Tom Cruise and scientologists refer to L.Ron Hubbard or whoever their guy is as “God.” If so, and all religions refer to their guy (or gal) as “God,” then what this case is really about is atheists v. religion-ists. A small point, but for perspective, I’m wondering if we’re all yipping about christianity in particular here or if we are dealing with all religion. I’m asking simply becasue i do not know, no other reason.
    2. Its interesting that the authors you’ve quoted are relying on a “plain meaning” reading of the phrase “under God.” Whenever Justice Scalia employs “plain meaning” (which is all the time) all you lefties call him a neandrathal. What about living breathing and evolving, blah blah blah?
    Anyway, if we’re going to look at the plain meaning of the phrase “under God,” then we ought to look at the plain meaning of the phrase “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion.” I see that phrase and think “ok, congress will not create an official religion.” Understanding that the first amendment applies to state action by virtue of the 14th amendment, this phrase means that “government shall not create an official religion.” So lets apply that to the pledge of allegiance.
    3. How does reciting the pledge of allegiance amount to creating an official religion? Fred, you stated “I do not see how the First Amendment can be interpreted to allow the government to compel me…” But thats not what happens when kids say the pleadge. Nobody is forced to say the pledge of allegiance. And, that is certainly not the case before the Court now.
    I went to public school, and had a bunch of buddies who sat on their kiesters every morning when the rest of us got up and pledged the flag. So, where’s the “complusion”? I agree, if a school district compels kids to get up and pleadge their allegiance to a nation under “God” (the christian god), that would be a government establishing a religion; i.e. christianity. but if “god” is like an all purpose “squishy” concept, then there is no one religion being established. and if there is no compulsion, then there is no “establishment” of religion.
    4. Ultimately, this case will be decided on the basis that there is no cognizable harm being inflcited here. If you dont want your kid saying the pleadge, no biggie. tell him to have a seat.
    Ultimately, it seems like the harm we are talking about is just that a few kids have to sit in a class room every morning and be offended for a minute. Oh well, suck it up I say. That’s life.

  • dmm

    The government point of view on this is deeply dishonest. They’re arguing that “under God” is a vague, fuzzy-wuzzy, non-religious term that is so generic that it couldn’t possibly refer to, you know, God, yet they feel so strongly about this vague, fuzzy-wuzzy, non-religious term that doesn’t refer to God that they will go all the way to the Supreme Court to keep it in the Pledge of Allegience.
    Indeed, if someone were to try to update the Pledge so that it refered to “one nation, under some kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing, with liberty and justice for all”, I somehow doubt that the change would be very popular.

  • Mr Ripley

    Todd, here’s how Joyce addressed your first question: ” . . . when anyone prayed to God and said Dieu, then God knew at once that it was a French person that was praying. . . . still God remained always the same God and God’s real name was God.” Praying to Buddha is not mentioned in the passage, though. So I’m as confused as you. But thank Heaven we don’t worship a “Seeger-type thing”: I couldn’t stand to have to sing “If I Had a Hammer” to express my religious impulse.

  • Edward Liu

    Minor correction: Buddhists don’t pray to the Buddha the way that Christians pray to God or Muslims pray to Allah. The historical Buddha is revered and respected as a beloved teacher or parent, but he is not supposed to be worshipped. The Buddha himself took pains to emphasize that he was not divine or anything more than human, and didn’t even want anybody to believe that he was a particularly gifted or unusual example of the species.
    “Under God” in the pledge is completely meaningless to an average Buddhist. I’m going to guess that correct Buddhist thought puts us philosophically closer to Newdow than to the Solicitor General.
    — Ed

  • todd mosser

    Mr. Ripley: thanks, and good call! Hey Ed- that is not a minor correction, but indeed a major one, as it would begin to answer my first question. i.e., we can knock out one major religion as accepting the word “God” as an all purpose descriptor, and we thus move closer to ascribing the phrase “under God” to christianity alone. what about the other religions? Anyway, my second point remains intact- i.e. there is no compulsion and thus no establishment of an official religion when school kids say the pledge.

  • The Navigator

    A couple of points.
    Liberals do not scream when Scalia makes “plain meaning” arguments. What they scream about are his “original intent” arguments about the Constitution’s text, which is a very different thing, and indeed which sometimes contradicts what many would think was the plain meaning, in modern understanding, of the text at issue.
    When interpreting statutes, yes, Scalia does prefer a plain meaning interpretation, and generally eschews the Congressional Record and other possible guides to interpretation. In this case, though, the plain meaning is far and away the most important interpretation, because what’s at issue is how the Pledge is understood by schoolchildren. Unlike statutes, it isn’t being interpreted by lawyers who will look to the Court’s guidance. (Also, Newdow isn’t overlooking the context – indeed, I believe he cited the context of the adoption of ‘under God,’ which supports his argument.)
    About compulsion: yes, it’s possible to sit on your hands, but Newdow’s point is that the school is forcing kids to single themselves out, exposing themselves to ridicule and harassment, while the majority makes a sectarian religious affirmation. The state should not deliberately place children in that situation. Even without physical compulsion, it’s still an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, and a tradition which puts pressure on children to conform. (A pressure which might be a bigger deal than you imagine in some Bible Belt schools – after all, if you sit out the Pledge to protest its religious meaning, you’re also refusing to announce your allegiance to the flag – what are you, some kind of commie?)
    As to the squishy God concept, if government endorses religion over no religion, then it is making a religious endorsement. As I read the Constitution, and as I envision the separation of church and state, the government must remain neutral between believers and non-believers, as well as between believers of different sects.

  • Fred

    There is a sense in which Christians and Muslims and Jews all worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, yet the various traditions also view the nature of God very differently. Many other religions have nothing to do with Abraham’s God at all. Others — Hinduism, Santeria — are polytheistic.
    This is just a guess on my part (Supreme Court predictions are about as accurate as pre-season World Series picks) but I think after sounding out the “Seeger-type thing” argument, the justices aren’t going to buy the generic “God” approach.
    My guess is that your second point — does this really amount to coercion and establishment? — will be what decides this case.
    I’m a Baptist, which is part of why I believe that even a relatively minor form of establishment is still a problem. The court may take a more accommodationist view.

  • “This kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing”

    Must read for today: Slacktivist: Under God-related program activities. It’s interesting to note the Supreme Court’s perverse attempt to undermine…

  • drieux just drieux

    Amongst the issues americans will need to work out in their posturing, is why this relic of the ‘cold war’ is still required as a ‘war time expediency’ now that the cold war has come and left. Clearly if we could win World War II without having to have the ‘under god’ clause as a part of the pledge of allegiance the ‘clear and compelling’ need to include it was always weak at best; hence my assertion of it’s ‘war time expediency’ nature given the growing cultural anxiety that at any moment those soviet nukes were going to be coming.
    The comedy of raising the so called ‘”original intent” arguments’ has always been
    the convolutions that have been required to get at the correct ‘original intention’
    without fumbling badly over the actual language there, plus the body of precedence that has evolved around the american ‘written constitution’. So please if one is going to try to hope that ‘”original intent” arguments’ would pass as an equivolency for ‘plain language’ – then one will have to go beyond merely citing chic buzzPhrases trendy on the far right.
    Having been one of those who understands the social reaction when one’s sense of duty, honor, and personal obligation demands that one not make a ‘false oath’, and so did not take the Pledge, I can speak from the experience that even in Yankee Neighborhoods like “liberal New England”, they are going to question your patriotism for holding to one’s personal sense of moral obligation. So lets stop snapping on the mythological bible-belt.

  • todd mosser

    1. Here is a quote from a speech Scalia gave some time ago at Catholic University (oh the irony):
    “The theory of originalism treats a constitution like a statute, and gives it the meaning that its words were understood to bear at the time they were promulgated. You will sometimes hear it described as the theory of original intent. You will never hear me refer to original intent, because as I say I am first of all a textualist, and secondly an originalist. If you are a textualist, you don’t care about the intent, and I don’t care if the framers of the Constitution had some secret meaning in mind when they adopted its words. I take the words as they were promulgated to the people of the United States, and what is the fairly understood meaning of those words.” http://www.courttv.com/archive/legaldocs/rights/scalia.html
    So I suppose I was sloppy with my use of “plain meaning” instead of “original meaning” (not intent). Anyway, I surely dont want to make drieux’s head explode or offend him or anything by using all of these chic right wing catch phrases, so I’ll move on. Really not an important point (unless anyone else out there cares).
    2. I should clarify what I mean when I say the case will be decided on the lack of “harm” here. Newdows daughter is raised by her mother, who is a devout christian, and who filed an amicus brief with the Court which said “my daughter is a christian, so she suffers no harm by saying the pledge, so there is no reason for this lawsuit.” i think this is an easy out for the Court, which I wouldnt be surprised if it takes.
    3. Back to the establishment of religion. If the state gives you a choice to stand mute, it does not magically become compulsion because someone makes fun of you for standing mute. It seems like the argument is “its not really a choice, because I’m REALLY embarassed by my choice.” Poppycock, I say (another chic right wing catch phrase). I think its stretching it too far to say that a government religion is magically “established” when 27 people exercise their choice to say “under god” and three or four exercise their choice to abstain, even if all 27 turn and point at and mock the 3 or 4 abstainers. nobody has the right to be unoffended, at least not until the constitution “evolves” to say so.
    As it seems to stand now, a majority of parents and school districts are happy to let their kids choose to say the pledge- why should their will be circumvented by the minority? Isn’t it ironic that we all go around patting ourselves on the back for “celebrating our differences” yet we’re so freaked out at the prospect of kids in school actually getting the chance to be different?

  • Which God?

    The unpleasant part IS that the case has finally made it to the US Supreme Court, after 50 years, and of course it had to be raised by an ‘atheist’, rather than by the members of the ‘vast rightwing religious konspirakii’.

  • Arnold Ziffel

    but if “god” is like an all purpose “squishy” concept…
    …then why are we even saying the fucking words at all? What’s the point?

  • todd mosser

    the point? its a vast, right wing conspiracy to make poor little atheist kids feel dirty and bad.

  • drieux just drieux

    Todd has tried to step away from his problem by hoping that citing scalia’s alledged plain language assertion will in some way escape the classical exigetical problems that hiding the ‘interpolative theory’ behind the tokens ‘origanist’ and ‘textualist’ move the problem of ‘origanal intent’ off to other wordings. But come on, some of us here are aware of the various hermenutical schools’ of both ‘legalized’ in it’s secular context and in the various religious context. So yes, when you want to get down into the gory details of the epistemology please, feel free to do same.
    His 2nd proposition of course is the expected “male bashing” that non-custodial parents have come to expect from americans who have neither face nor honor. Fortunately for me, the mother of my children served on active duty and understands the ‘way of the sword’. So while the ‘courts’ and their RadFemiNazi Friends from the Reagan Era may like the idea of the ‘Child Support Enforcement’ bureacracy, because without those Reagan Era laws they would not be able to create the ‘poor defenseless mother’ as a special interest group to protect, the real world would be a whole lot simpler if those just simply went away. So when Todd figures out why he hates men and feels that the excuse of ‘but he is the non-custodial parent, hence he must be bad’ should carry the day as an escape valve for dealing with the core issue – then of course I wish him well with the rest of his therapy.
    which brings us back to the basic core problem that todd and the rest do not want to deal with. Namely why this ‘war expediencey’ from the Cold War Era is still in place as the first round of teaching state sponsored hypocrisy to children.

  • todd mosser

    1. um, huh? did you really need to go through all that to say that you think that even though scalia says “originalism” or “textualism”, inevitably he’s gleaning “original intent?” we can argue about that if you think its necessary, i’d even be happy to dust off his treatise on the matter. but i get it- you dont like scalia and you disagree with his approach. ok. and what problem am i stepping away from? dude, just, huh?
    2. so i’m a man hating regan era femi nazi, eh? after having been a member in good standing of the vast right wing conspiracy for over ten years now, i can honestly say thats the first time i ever got that. thanks, drieux, its been a long day and i really needed to laugh.
    in any event, you missed the point. the mothers amicus brief has nothing to do with the courts unfairly favoring mothers in custody matters. the amicus brief, and the evidentiary record developed in support of it, advance the argument that this kid is perfectly happy to say the pledge every morning; hell i think the kid even swore out an affidavit saying as much. and once it is recognized that this kid has suffered no harm, her father has no standing to file suit on her behalf. this is a pretty basic legal principle, and perhaps even a dispositive one which would allow the court to avoid the ultimate issue. should they? well no, none of us wants that. but if they stick to the law, and the amicus brief for mom is right, then they are required to decide on this basis.
    3. i’ll answer your question. the answer is, “well, yeah. so what?” again, i repeat, THERE IS NO LAW, FEDERAL OR STATE, WHICH COMPELS STUDENTS TO RECITE THE PLEDGE. ergo, that the pledge was a “war time expediency” during the cold war is totally irrelevant, becasue even during the cold war, there was no such requirement. the reason for the existence of the pledge was never becasue it was vital and necessary. rather, the reason for its existence is simply that a majority of us WANT it. same thing when we sing the national anthem at high school basketball games. its not “required,” rather, its “desirable.” this is a tradition that schools allow their students to chose to be a part of or abstain from. if you dont like it, go to your local school board, lay out your arguments, and get the board to outlaw the tradition altogether.
    if on the other hand your question is, “why is it still even desirable for us to recite any pledge, much less one with under god in it, since the cold war is over?” well, those of us who like the pledge just the way it is, all probably have our own different reasons, which certainly factor into our choice to participate, or if we agree with you, our choice to abstain. if it will really make you feel better, i’d be happy to provide you with my personal reasons for rather enjoying the pledge just the way it is.

  • Isaac Freeman

    Query. Is “God” the guy that only Christians acknowledge as the supreme being? Or is “God” a kind of descriptive word that applies to all supreme beings?
    There can’t be more than one supreme being, so the latter makes more sense.
    I.e. do muslims refer to Allah as “God”, much like we refer to Jesus Christ as “God”
    Allah is God the Father. Muslims generally consider Jesus to be a prophet, but not God incarnate.
    A small point, but for perspective, I’m wondering if we’re all yipping about christianity in particular here or if we are dealing with all religion.
    Not all religions, but a majority. The Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Baha’i) share a belief in what is definitely the same God. Hinduism is in a sense polytheistic, but many interpretations allow for the existence of a supreme being of whom all the gods are aspects. In Indonesia, whose constitution includes a statement about belief in God, Hindus are accepted as monotheistic on this basis.
    So no, “one Nation under God” doesn’t specifically imply Christian belief.

  • drieux just drieux

    if we could only believe, as an article of religious faith, that the so called ‘original intent’ arguments were such as to be merely ‘plain speaking’ – then there would be none of the on going problem with Scalia, et al. But that would of course require that you follow your religious act of faith with the conclusion that “god” is a religious term, and either it is a meaningful religious term denoting a specific god, or it is a case of advocating a vacuous squishy gawd-neff. So really it has nothing to do with my opinion of Scalia – it has to do with the problems of ‘origninal intent’ as the process first by which a ‘false past’ gets spun of whole cloth to construct an excuse for a political agenda. You may wish to go back to the point on exigesis – and does one come to the text to understand what it is say, or does one bring ones “gospel” and then embark upon ‘proof texting it’.
    your second point fails to be honest. You want to avoid the issue at court by any means possible. Since to take the ‘god’ token as substantive would mean dealing with the real issue. Should the state be allowed to persecute bible believing christians into pledging an oath to a false god that the state is now trying to say is a ‘not-god’. You want to run to the “Non-Custodial Parent” argument as your ‘safe out’ to remove standing from the NCP in the hope that your persecution of bible believing christians is an acceptable practice. But to get there you have to attack the ‘natural rights of fathers’ and hope that no one will notice that fine point. Since gosh, of course who ever gets to take the ‘tax credit’ for the child clearly has more ‘rights’ than the father. So please todd, the fact that you wound up hopping in bed with Hitlary and her RadFemiNazi’s may not have been what you wanted to do in polite society, but deal with the reality of your gambits. If you don’t like where you landed – then don’t go there.
    this leads us back again to the same excuse that worked just as well in the USSR, it is not like the state is persecuting christian, they are merely asking them to pledge an oath to a state sponsored entity.
    Todd has a ‘fifties retro’ thing – cool. You like the 50’s version of the pledge because it offers you the power of the state to persecute biblical christians. Rather than deal with the fact that the pledge right up to 1954 did not need to persecute biblical christians. So why not accept that the cold war is over and roll it back to ‘the original intent’ of the pledge??? Oh but that would mean dealing again with which ‘original intent’ argument todd had thought he was making to begin with now wouldn’t that.
    If you have time todd, feel free to read the two trace backs I have included.
    Good luck, when you figure out why you hate biblical christians, maybe you will find that it is ok to like them as people, and that you do not need the power of the state to persecute them for you.

  • American Splendor

    The idea of “co-branding with god” came about as I tried to find a way to speak about the ‘issues’ I have with the idea of a ‘christian economy’ as a unique ‘sub culture’ and the problem of ‘de-ghetto-izing’ that portion of the economy. I think my libe…

  • todd mosser

    1. we may be getting closer to proving my original point, notwithstanding our quibbling over how to define what scalia does. my question for you then, is what should the word “God” mean to the Court? why? by whatever mechanism the Court should use to define the word “God,” should it use the same mechanism in interpreting, say, the Second Amendment?
    2. although the thought of being in bed with Hitlary is quite nauseating, I’m releived by the fact that I have “landed” nowhere near even the bedroom. You seem really hung up on this “rights of the father” thing as pertains to family law. and that’s cool, believe me i’m with you on this, i’ve done my time in legal services clinics and know full well the discrimination you speak of, and quite frankly agree that it’s ridiculous and unfair. so, mega dittos on being pissed about that concept. but still, that discrimination has nothing whatsoever to do with the newdow case that we’re talking about here. you could even swap the roles of the parents here, and say mom is the atheist and dad is the christian- dad would be just as correct to make the same argument that if the kid doesnt mind saying the pledge, there is no need for a lawsuit. classic “standing” argument, taught the second day of lawschool, anywhere. no hateful anti-dad agenda here.
    3. no, i dont like persecuting biblical christains, let alone even know what the hell one is (arent all christians biblical?). nor do i hate them. dude, i dont “hate” anyone, so relax. the point is, there is no persecution going on when a bunch of fourth graders get to chose whether or not to say the pledge. no state laws mandate the pledge, nor do any school districts. there is no “state sponsorship” of the pledge because by allowing for students to chose to participate or abstain, the state is not forcing anything on anyone.

  • drieux just drieux

    in classical pauline fashion allow me to respond in reverse order. If We are to believe that you are not interested in persecuting biblical christians, then how is it that you have a problem with the decision to remove the anathema of mandating that they swear an oath to a non-existent god as a part of their citizen ritual? You may want to become aware of what life was really like inside of the Communist Block prior to the fall of the soviet system. Yes, it is true, no one had to wear the red scarf of the Komsomol. Yes, no co-ersion at all, never a problem. So when you figure out how you are going to rescue yourself on that point, please, do.
    Nice try on your Male Bashing, in part 2. But be honest. The gambit sucks wind, always sucked wind, and was your hope of avoiding the core problem. Namely the question of whether the state should come out and expressly assert that they want a vacuous non-existent god token in their pledge to teach children that the state is opposed to dealing honestly. But gosh, once one is there, I guess it really is not that difficult to hop in bed with Hitlary and her FemiNazi’s now wasn’t.
    Now to your alledged position “what should the term god mean in Court” – well if you are going to play with the ‘original intent’ gambit, it would clearly need to mean something. Now wouldn’t it. The founding fathers would have known it as actually denoting a meaningful term. At which point either you will support the amicus curie briefs that the term has meaning, and oppose the government’s position that it is a vacuous term. Or you will, in compliance with some ‘original intent’ gambit hope that majikally you can have it both ways at the same time.

  • The Navigator

    To get back to your original question, “How does reciting the pledge of allegiance amount to creating an official religion?… if a school district compels kids to get up and pleadge their allegiance to a nation under “God” (the christian god), that would be a government establishing a religion; i.e. christianity. but if “god” is like an all purpose “squishy” concept, then there is no one religion being established. and if there is no compulsion, then there is no “establishment” of religion.”
    I still disagree with both of these statements.
    1. You’re taking an exceedingly and inappropriately narrow view of what “religion” cannot be established under the 1st Am. Your comments suggest that, so long as the government does not choose one discrete, narrowly defined Christian demonination and promote it, then ‘no one religion’ is being established, and therefore there’s no 1st Am. violation. Wrong – that may be a reading of the text that Scalia would endorse, but it’s not consistent with how the text has consistently been interpreted, and it’s not correct according either to my (non-originalist) view of Constitutional interpretation or my view of the normatively ideal degree of church-state separation.
    The government violates the establishment clause when it promotes any particular religious point of view over another, or when it promotes religion over non-religion. A promotion of monotheism, however ‘squishy’ and therefore acceptable to Christians, Jews, and Muslims of all stripes, is not acceptable to Buddhists, pagans, animists, or many others, and a promotion of religion at all is not acceptable to athiests or agnostics. It doesn’t matter how many Protestant denominations would agree with the statement – a religious viewpoint is being endorsed by the government.
    2. I’m not sure where you got the idea that the government can only ‘establish’ something by compelling people to join in. The government didn’t compel people to take out accounts when it chartered the first national bank, nor were people obliged to send mail when the government established the post office. In the case of the establishment clause, the basic, traditional, well-established, and correct view [without getting into the details of the Lemon test, etc.] is that the government ‘makes an establishment of religion’ when it implicitly or explicitly endorses a religious viewpoint. When teachers, in their official role, lead a recitation of a sectarian religious declaration, it’s analogous to using tax dollars to proselytize – gov’t funds are used to advance a religious viewpoint.

  • Hannity Surprise?

    One of my friends shared about the problem he was having, typically, that Hannity&Co are all hot to trot to stop on Evil Liberals, all the while so calledly championing the 1st Amendment Rights. I started to work up a piece of email to respond, and it …

  • drieux just drieux

    I think you are moving mostly in the right general direction. But you will find that you can strengthen your general position by citing back to the fact that the notion of “separation of church and state” has its roots in The Puritan Community as it had to work out how to deal with the fact that in many towns there was no independent ‘town hall’, and that lead to holding it in ‘the church’. Thus there were ‘sinners’ interested in being members of the church merely to gain access to political power. Which of course does complicate the rhetorical chatter of ‘original intentists’ when they opt to step out of the flow of actual american history and into some happy land of B&W 50’s TV Reruns.
    The second place where the matter gets messy of course IS the US Military, and it’s uniform regulations. A matter that most of the ‘vast right wing religious’ types opted to avoid in the sixties and seventies, as they decided that the religious freedom debate did not really need to cover such matters as the question of wearing yamuka and/or the sihk turban, two points argued in the military courts. Where that also gets problematic is that so far the IDF, the isreali defense force, has never seen the sort of discipline problems in their military, that was central to the american defense of the “uniform regs” in the Americans.
    Those of us who have served along side HM’s Forces are also aware that there is very little problem with the ‘turban’, her majesty’s government found an appropriate one that works for the services.
    That leads us back to the core problem – the need for the state to establish the official state sponsored position that the ‘god token’ is a vacuous token – and that this is a nation that is ‘under’ such a squishy and meaningless term. What one would call the ‘polite atheistic’ position that it is the state position that one must, in spite of biblical injunctions to the contrary, hold to the form of religion without the substance thereof.

  • eyelessgame

    Does “under God” mean under God, or not? It’s the position of the government that it doesn’t, which should offend everyone of real religious devotion. How is this hard for someone to understand? The plain meaning of the text is our nation is under God. If you don’t believe in a single God that is over things — that is, you belive in multiple gods, in no god at all, or in a god that isn’t “over” nations — then this state-sponsored activity involves reciting a statement of faith of somebody else’s religion. That’s religious establishment, and the Constitution prohibits it.
    The original intent, however, was to fight the godless Communists. We put the phrase there specifically so schoolchildren could look sidewise at each other and identify the communists, because they wouldn’t say those two words.
    So given the “wartime expediency” argument, I guess the phrase that was added to fight the godless Communists needs to stay in the Pledge to fight the godless Muslims.

  • drieux just drieux

    my compliments to your wit. You do of course understand that we, as americans, support the USN, which issues muslim chaplain’s the the USMC who are protecting our detainee’s in GitMo. So clearly, if we are going to support the president to support the troops, then we must also support the muslim chaplians in the USN who are ministering to the Muslim Troops in the USMC as well. At which point we might want to deal with the issue of the budda-heads.
    I mean to americans really want to cope with the fact that the US Military opened the door to muslim and budhists back in 1987? I’m so waiting for someone who is allegedly ‘conservative’ to get all psycho about how those liberals in the reagan era decided to destroy our white christian america, yada, yada, yada – in total defiance of the founding father’s original intent by this, well, gosh evil liberalism that complicates their idolatry of our armed forces…

  • Suleiman

    Sometimes I think people make these church-state issues more complicated than they need to be. Imagine three flags: (1) with a Christian cross, (2) with a Christian cross that is encircled with a bar over the image (anti christian symbol), and (3) one that is blank (nothing on it!). The first flag is clearly promoting religion. The second flag is hostile to religion. The third flag is neutral to religion.

  • gocart mozart

    It’s expedient sophistry, that is all. To admit that the words “Under God” mean something is to concede that it is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, therefore, the only way to keep it on our coins is to claim that the words are meaningless.