Thursday, September 15, 2005


Mike Newdow - Secularist Hero

Mike Newdow is trying again to get rid of the phrase 'under God' from the American 'Pledge of Allegiance'. He has passed the first hurdle (via CBS):

"U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that the pledge's reference to one nation "under God" violates school children's right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God" as required by the Establishment Clause.

Last time he got this far, the Supreme Court evaded having to make a decision, deciding he had no standing (as he did not have custody of his child). But he got a lot of attention. Time Magazine snidely made him 'person of the week' for 'cleverly distracting us' from important things.

But, as Newdow points out, the Constitution of the United States is supposed to be important.

Here lies an interesting contrast. Tom Daschle dismissed the decision of the lower court last time as 'nuts', Bush said it was 'ridiculous'. In some ways, I agree with them. It is impossible to know what is meant by the phrase 'under God'.

For comparison, you would know whether you were 'under water'*. It is even possible to devise a method of knowing whether or not you were 'under cosmic microwave background radiation'. Although that is tricky, and it's hard to say how it would effect your daily life if you suddenly found you weren't.

You can't know whether you are 'under God' or not, or what to do about it. So the phrase doesn't mean anything. We can therefore understand AWOL's exasperation. Sort of.

But why are so many people angry about Newdow's campaign? Why are so many of them Christians, if the phrase does not involve special deference by Congress for religion or a particular religion? You can find angry theocrats by running Newdow's name through Google.

Here's just one of them, Chief Justice Rehnquist, in his dissenting opinion to the original decision, in which he argued that SCOTUS should have addressed the Establishment question:

"To give the parent of such a child a sort of 'heckler's veto' over a patriotic ceremony willingly participated in by other students, simply because the Pledge of Allegiance contains the descriptive phrase 'under God,' is an unwarranted extension of the establishment clause, an extension which would have the unfortunate effect of prohibiting a commendable patriotic observance.."

The more you read that, the more incredible it becomes. What is so unpatriotic about the pre-1954 version?

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

And how would Newdow's case 'prohibit' it? If Newdow's campaign, which is against the words 'under God', not the pledge, is viewed as unpatriotic, doesn't that prove its merit beyond doubt?

The theocrats are defending a de facto establishment**, and they know it. Otherwise Newdow's campaign would be as petty as his opponents claim, and secularists would have to agree.

*Not only meaningful but true, for some Americans.
**Why else the 'National Days of Prayer', decreed by Bush after Katrina, etc..?

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