Before we get started, I want to put up some reference material which will be important to the blog post. It is the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It reads as follows:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.James Madison is the man who actually penned the first ten amendments to the Constitution, however, it is Jefferson who is primarily responsible for the concept of the separation of church and state that we know today. During 1801 and 1802, Thomas Jefferson was corresponding with a group of Baptists in Danbury, CT named Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins and Stephen S. Nelson. The Baptists, concerned with political interference in the practice of their religion (i.e. the reason they left Europe) and with the fact that the Constitution did not specifically list freedom of religion as an 'inalienable right,' just as a freedom not to be prohibited, wrote a letter to President Thomas Jefferson expressing their concerns. It should be emphasized that their concern was for the free practice of religion, not the protection from religion.
In his return letter to the Danbury Baptists, Jefferson reaffirmed the protection granted by the Bill of Rights for the free practice of religion and declared that the First Amendment in essence buil[t] a wall of separation between Church & State. Jefferson's intent, as well the pleadings of the Baptists are crystal clear. The First Amendment of the United States was written to protect the ability to practice an individuals religion of choice without interference from the Government. It is not implied nor intended to provide freedom from religion, but instead freedom of religion. However, early in the 20th century as progressives established themselves within the power structure of the United States government, they began to slowly redefine the very definitions of ideas and statutes given in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Separation of church and state shifted from a protection of the church to a protection for the state.
Fast forward to the 2000's. An attorney, emergency physician and atheist named Michael Newdow filed a lawsuit attempting to remove the phrase 'Under God' from the pledge of allegiance as it was alleged to be a violation of the separation of church and state. In an initial ruling on Newdow vs. United States Congress, Elk Grove Unified School District, et. al., the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the phrase 'Under God' constituted an endorsement of religion and therefore violated the First Amendment's prohibition of respecting religion, also known as the Establishment Clause. Michael Newdow brought the lawsuit on behalf of his daughter, of whom he did not have primary custody. When the ruling of the 9th Circuit was appealed to the Supreme Court, the USSC ruled that Newdow did not have primary custody of his daughter and therefore did not have standing to allege that the recitation of the Pledge was a violation of the Establishment Clause.
In 2005 a new lawsuit was filed in US District Court on behalf of three unnamed families, challenging the legality of the 'Under God' phrase within the Pledge. From Wikipedia:
Judge Karlton issued an Order stating that, upon proper motion, he will enjoin the school district defendants from continuing their practices of leading children in pledging allegiance to "one Nation under God." The case was later appealed to the Ninth Circuit under Newdow v. Carey...Which brings us to today... er, more specifically, yesterday.
A federal appeals court in San Francisco upheld the use of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" on U.S. currency, rejecting arguments on Thursday that the phrases violate the separation of church and state.Atheist blogger Allahpundit sums up the opinion in his post:
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel rejected two legal challenges by Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow, who claimed the references to God disrespect his religious beliefs.
"The Pledge is constitutional," Judge Carlos Bea wrote for the majority in the 2-1 ruling. "The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded."
I'll save you from the dissenting opinion by Judge Stephen Reinhardt, but you can read it here if you are so inclined, all 130 pages of it.Where, as here, compulsion to recite is absent, government action respects an establishment of religion only if the government coerces students to engage in a religious exercise. Coercion to engage in a patriotic activity, like the Pledge of Allegiance, does not run afoul of the Establishment Clause. The Supreme Court recognized this distinction in the earliest of the school prayer cases, Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962). In Engel, the Court considered a school’s policy directing children to say aloud a prayer written by state officials. The Court found this policy violated the Establishment Clause because “[the] program of daily classroom invocation of God’s blessings as prescribed in the Regents’ prayer is a religious activity. It is a solemn avowal of divine faith and supplication for the blessings of the Almighty. The nature of such a prayer has always been religious.” Id. at 424-25. The Court was also careful, however, to distinguish the prayer in Engel from a ceremonial reference to God in a footnote…In other words, the Establishment Clause is violated only if (a) you’re forced to praise God or (b) forced to listen to someone else praise God in the context of a prayer. No prayer + no compulsion = no problemo!
The flaw in the reasoning of 'Under God' dissenters is and always has been that some how the recitation of God's name makes you religious or constitutes the practice of religion. Saying God's name no more makes you religious than saying the word plane makes you a pilot. Reciting the phrase 'Under God' no more constitutes the practice of religion than looking at a plane makes you a passenger on that plane.
However, this and every issue of the recitation of God's name along with every public Christmas display would be a non-issue for evermore if people truly understood the origins of the separation between church and state. I would argue that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson would grieve and openly weep were they able to see how their words have been twisted into a justification for the war being waged on religion in this nation today.
What's your opinion? Is the phrase 'Under God' in the pledge of allegiance unconstitutional? Is 'Under God' controversial? Let me know in the comments!
Please take the time to comment! Click the Comment Link adjacent to the Post Title.