The “under God” Pledge
and the Law – 2004
Adapting tactics similar to those of Justice Rehnquist's afore mentioned dissent on behalf of school prayer and Christianity, the EFELDF appeal claimed a common if not universal belief in God among the nation’s founding personages. The appeal went further in its attempt to establish an immutable link between belief in God and morality. The appeal cited a passage each from the writings of Washington and Adams to support their thesis (page 3). What's notable about the passages is that the term "God" does not appear in either one. Its a rather remarkable omission considering the connection that EFELDF wanted to establish. The fact that some historical notables spoke on issues of morality proves nothing about their religious beliefs. Morality and God are neither synonymous nor interdependent terms. Plato showed the logical independence of God and morality over 2,000 years ago in his writing the Euthyphro. The fact that the Nation's founders believed that good government required a moral nature proves nothing about their sentiments concerning God and biblical doctrine. Moreover there is no demographic evidence in the modern age that religious people are more moral than than their irreligious counterparts.
What then was the prevailing disposition during the early days of the nation concerning biblicalism and morality? As identified earlier, many of the nation's historical notables were Deists or leastwise had that theistic view claimed of them. Deism in the classic sense does posit some kind of higher power, but belief in the biblical deity does not follow from this. The exact nature of their religious beliefs is sometimes difficult to pin down. Washington was known to have attended Anglican Church services, but never took communion. There are differing opinions as to whether John Adams, our second President, or any of the seventeen Presidents that followed him were ever members of any church (Reference 32).
"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses...." (John Adams, Reference 3)
Issues of specific religious belief set aside, most of the Nation's founders could with some greater certainty be described as proponents of a Natural Law point of view. The study of Natural law does concern itself with problems of morality (Reference 52). Although not precluding it, a natural law orientation is not dependent on a belief in a higher power or powers, and certainly not dependent on a belief in biblical deity. Moreover, a fundamental conflict exists between the tenants of natural law and the revealed law orientation of biblicalism. With this comes certain dispute with the notion that biblicalism is the immutable high standard for moral correctness (Reference 25).
a natural law orientation, any
claim that the Nation's founders collectively believed that a moral nature
was dependent on allegiance to the biblical deity is simply not tenable.
Any associated pretext that the moral history and traditions of
biblicalism should somehow justify the "under God" pledge, is
equally as untenable. If anything, the reliable evidence
confirms that many if not most of the Nation’s founding notables held
the popular religion to be morally and civilly dangerous if not outright defective (References 3). As a
virtual certainty, the evidence of history itself was decisive reason
behind their collective decision to make separation between government and
religion integral to our nation's organic law standards (Reference 8).
Judging by the divisive impact of right wing politics today, the Framers of the Constitution did indeed get it right. Their historically justified position was that neither biblicalism nor any other religion is fit to be sovereign. Today, the biblical politicos rant on about godless secularism, godless capitalism, godless humanism, godless atheism, godless government, and godless whatever else they deem obstructive to their evangelical agenda. They go on ceaselessly about moral decay in society, but that's what they have done since the earliest days of the colonies and of their religion..
Contrary to what they suggest, it's not the moral bankruptcy of non-biblical America that is somehow exclusively at fault, but rather the moral and ideological bankruptcy of biblicalism itself. In this, biblicalism and biblical theocracy are on the wrong side of some of the profoundest problems that civilization faces in the modern age (Reference 27).
For example, the American Civil War was tangibly a cultural struggle against the moral defects of biblicalism with its inherent sanctioning of slavery. The lingering connection between Bible Belt "morality" and racial prejudice is a graphic example. The painful ongoing struggle against civil inequality between the races and between the genders finds no friend in the deity and doctrine of ancient biblical religion (Reference 28).
The list goes on. We have seventeen hundred years of evidence about how insufferable a tyrant biblical theocracy and monarchy can be when given the license. Today, in spite of that history, diatribes about “godlessness” spew fourth from the biblically monopolized pulpits and podiums of Congress as if no other moral or ideological voice deserved any standing at all. The term “godless” has become an obsessively dangerous slogan used to perpetrate a brooding, pervasive agenda of anti-constitutionalism and bigotry toward all those of non-monotheistic, non-biblical, and of agnostic or atheistic persuasion. The daily use of the "under God" pledge in the halls of Congress since the 1990's has been no aid to legislative wisdom nor deterrent against the right wing's incessant religion mongering.
“under God” pledge is the source of many ideological problems.
Take for example the lack of religious universality in what the
“under God” ideology represents.
Even among supporting judicial opinions the popular argument was
that “under God” is sufficiently neutral to provide a valid surrogate
for all religious persuasions. The argument is flawed.
It assumes that all religious persuasions conform to the notion of
a singular omnipotent patriarchal deity. It's simply not so. The pledge does no justice to those
religions that posit more then one divine being.
It also assumes that all monotheistic religions consider “God”
to be synonymous with the deity they exclusively worship.
If this were truly the case they would all be peddling the
same religious liturgy, employing the same rituals, symbols, and names,
and subscribing to the same doctrinal cannon and clergy, whereas they do
The activists who lobbied for the “under God” pledge were exclusively
all from the biblical establishment. That hardly supports the notion
that the movement was intended to satisfy a multi-religion agenda.
The activists who lobbied for the “under God” pledge were exclusively all from the biblical establishment. That hardly supports the notion that the movement was intended to satisfy a multi-religion agenda.
usage of the modifier “under” is objectionable in of itself.
Many people of faith believe their deity is resident within
their hearts, while still others believe themselves to be part of a sacred
universe rather then being under it (Reference 29).
The ideological notion of submission under a monotheistic overlord
simply does not provide a universally valid standard for the Nation’s
diversity of beliefs about religion and metaphysics. Last but not least, the notion of a nation “under God”
cannot possibly do justice to those of agnostic and atheistic persuasion.
In fact, it was explicitly intended to marginalize them.
The whole “under God” movement was geared to suppress if not
totally crush atheism because of its circumstantial association with
communism. The grassroots
hype of the 1950’s McCarthy witch-hunts, was that communism is atheistic
and therefore by implication all atheists are communists.
What sheep dip. If
such narrowness of insight is allowed to prevail, then we might as well
condemn all people of faith for being Islamic terrorists because all
Islamic terrorists are people of faith.
aside matters of specific religious persuasion, there is still the equally
telling issue of why our core ceremony of allegiance is being used to
extol "religious heritage" versus the Nation’s many other
heritages, each being just as worthy of acknowledgment. The EFELDF appeal
explains the matter thusly, “acknowledging the faith of the overwhelming
majority of Americans is factual, not coercive.
Employing the fact to oppose communism falls well within the duty
of our government to protect our constitutional republic” (page 13).
hoard mob almighty, so much for minority rights.
Whatever the indoctrinated factualness of the notion
“overwhelming”, it still does not trump the non-majoritive rule of the law. Wasn’t
our system of legal checks and balances set up to protect minority rights
against the tyrannies imposed by majority factions?
If such checks and balances are not enforced, then any pretext to
the rule of law is pretty much null and void.
doubt, the “under God” pledge was sold in the political arena as a
weapon against communism. Undoubtedly
also, we're expected to believe that biblical theocracy with its bag of
ecclesiastical tools was the single-handed reason why we won out over
soviet communism. To the contrary, other cultural influences were far more
instrumental. Take capitalism as a case in point.
Yes, capitalism, that godless, materialistic, atheistic, edifice of
free enterprise, the very economic pillar that communism openly conspired
to bring down (Reference 30). Did
we not beat communism to an economic pulp with it?
Considering this, the pledge might just as well have been written
to read “under Capitalism” and effectively serve the same
another case in point, consider the institution of science.
Yes, science, that godless, sacrilegious, atheistic delver into the
forbidden fruits of knowledge. The
very same institution that has contributed so much to the nation’s
elevated living standards relative to most other countries. Along with its
engineering counterpart, science provides an unsurpassed level of
technical capability that played a hugely significant role in defending
against communism. Considering this, the pledge might just as well be
written to read “under Science” to acknowledgement its vital contribution
to our nation’s greatness.
Imagine the ideological difference that would
ensue if either one of the above mentioned alternatives were to replace
God in the pledge. The
theocrats would certainly be crying foul to the high cosmos if such a
counter monopoly were given the thrown. In realizing this,
however, they might finally also achieve a glimmer of insight as to the
profound nationalistic fallacy that the “under God” phrase represents.
As a matter of conjecture, there just may be more people that believe in the legitimacy of science then
in the deity
God. Likewise the same may also be true of capitalism. Therefore,
acknowledging the belief of the “overwhelming majority of Americans”
by changing the words to “under Science” or “under Capitalism”
would be just as "factual" and just as "non-coercive"
although just as equally unjust. The
fallacy runs deeper still. Using "under God" to
acknowledge religion in general, is about as universal in meaning as it
would be to use "under Chemistry" to acknowledge science, or
"under NASDAQ" to acknowledge capitalism.
In different perspective, consider some of the uglier historical events leading up to and surrounding the 1954 alteration to the pledge. The argument used then and now, is that the “under God” pledge distinguishes America from Communism and its anti-religious ideology. In the aftermath of the Second World War, as the “free” western world squared off in a cold war with the Soviet Union, the champions of biblicalism moved with focused intent to exploit the situation. The trouble is, they have always used every crisis, real or imagined, as one more excuse to covet after the authority of state.
Sympathizers like the American Legion and Hearst Newspapers provided the final push with a high profile campaign to include "under God" in the pledge. However, it was the Nights of Columbus, a Catholic lay organization who jumpstarted the movement. The age-old agenda of Catholicism is no secret. As centerpiece of the “holy roman empire”, the Vatican had centuries earlier declared itself supreme authority over all matters religious and secular. In their infernally totalitarian scheme of things, government and civil authority existed only to be tools to enforce the will of the papacy (Reference 47).
Its historically notable that the Vatican was not an innocent bystander during the rise of the Third Reich and Hitler becoming the German Chancellor. Fearing communism even more than fascism, the Vatican elected to throw in with the Nazi party, turning a blind eye to the racial supremacy and anti-Semitism that Hitler had advocated from the beginning of his political career. And the Vatican couldn't have been displeased that Hitler eventually turned his sights on Communist Russia in the Nazi war of conquest that ensued. Leading up to those events, agreements like the 1933 Concordat were brokered between Hitler and the Vatican. Hitler claimed that the Third Reich would rule Europe for a thousand years. With their status and authority on the wane in the old world, the Vatican wanted a seat on the Nazi bandwagon (Reference 48). The Concordat sealed the church's right to propagate Catholicism throughout the Nazi empire and evidently also gave church clergy special status under Nazi law (Reference 43). If the Nazis succeeded in conquering Russia then the Vatican would have a vast new territory to spread its mantel of ecclesiastical dominance. Such a victory would have been particularly sweet considering that Russia was the age old turf of the Vatican’s arch rival, the Eastern Church.
To this day, the available record is murky as to distinctions between opportunistic collusion and pusillanimity in the face of the Nazi monster (Reference 44). Throughout it all, however, the Vatican never did openly denounce Hitler's anti-Semitism nor ever excommunicate him . How does the old saying go? ‘‘Two wrongs do not make a right”? Well, it follows with logical necessity that three wrongs don’t make a right either (Reference 45). In any case, at the end of WW II with the Third Reich crushed, Hitler dead, and the Soviets holding all of eastern Europe and half of Germany, the Vatican no longer had an army or warlord and therefore had to go shopping. With no love lost between the Vatican and the Soviets and with the US the only other super power, the choice was obvious. The "under God" inspiration of the Knights of Columbus therefore hardly seems coincidental.
As if it were a failing, America's evangelical Protestants had always viewed the Constitution as a godless document. In spite of a profusion of houses of worship to the contrary, they also tended to see it as encouraging a “godless” nation. Like the Vatican, the American Protestant evangelical agenda had always been to make government an instrument of biblicalism and particularly their fundamentalist vision of it. To them, the "under God" pledge was an ideological plumb too tempting to deny. With communism providing the situational excuse, it mattered little that Catholicism was the mastermind behind the pledge's revision. The moment was ripe to steer public opinion against the sovereignty of the Constitution and remake the pledge into an instrument of supplication to the biblical overlord. Anyone who stood apposed were of course guilty of being an atheists and by default guilty of subversive leanings. To that end, the decisive contravention created by the “under God” pledge became a jewel in the crown of the biblical obsession.
All this occurred in the wake of an era of political inquisition led by Senator Joseph McCarthy and his stooges. It was designed to not only root out the few communist operatives and sympathizers within our boarders, but also anyone apposed to “God” being the official deity of state. The numbers of loyal Americans who had their lives damaged if not completely destroyed by the ensuing witch-hunts and persecutions cannot be accurately counted. In any case, the cold war McCarthy politics drove most opposition to the “under God” pledge into political impotency. This was particularly so with the courts, under threat of censure themselves, showing a blind eye to the glaring contravention of constitutional law.
The decisive turning point came when President Eisenhower heard a sermon from the pulpit of his Presbyterian church. "There was something missing in this pledge," the now famous sermon declared, "and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life. Indeed, apart from the phrase 'the United States of America,' this could be the pledge of any republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity." (Reference 46)
With all due regard for the good preacher's imagination, there never was any such Soviet pledge. In a changed world, however, one might just as easily imagine little Taliban or al Qaeda neophytes solemnly pledging allegiance to the nation of Islam under God and have just as much cause for concern. From this countering perspective, the "under God" pledge might well be the template for any nation where a religiously motivated totalitarian ideology had embedded itself in the workings of state. What does history predominantly tell us about the ultimate fate of just civil law and consequently human rights under such circumstances? In retrospect, we truly need to ask, "What are the failings of biblicalism then and now, be they Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, or Judaic, that Communism and fascism were able to capture the minds and hearts of so many in the European world?"
Using the pledge to acknowledge either religion in general or biblical monotheism in particular is to create an ideological monopoly. One that is totally incompatible with any legitimate standard of government neutrality. Monotheism is as great an advisory to religious freedom as communism, and biblicalism is monotheism. In spite of biblical theocracy’s invidious assertions to the contrary, the true bedrock of our national heritage is not religion. Contrary to the claims of the EFELDF appeal, the Constitution itself is the authentic bedrock and central pillar of our national heritage. It is the true mark of our identity as a nation, both symbolically and factually. It is the high sovereign of organic law to which all people and institutions under the Nation’s territorial jurisdiction are accountable. That includes the various religious establishments and clergy as well as government's elected and appointed officials. This should be a self-evident fact, but one that entirely too many clergy and their gofer politicians seem to have difficulty grasping. The theocrats might someday humbly acknowledge that the legacy of commitment to the ideals of liberty and free enterprise as embodied in the Constitution and its Amendments deserves the lion’s share of credit for the nation’s successful defense against communism. Because of its central role in our nation’s history and traditions, if the pledge's wording is to validly subjugate the Nation under anything, then it should be “under the Constitution” itself.
It is the duty of our government to oppose communism as the EFELDF appeal correctly but incompletely asserted. More broadly still, it is government’s duty is to oppose all forms of totalitarianism, but that must surely also include religion. Undoubtedly, religion is a perennial attribute of civilization and it would be foolish to believe that it will ever go away. Issues of bad economic theory notwithstanding, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its anti-religious Marxist ideology is evidence enough of that. Still, it would be equally as foolish to suppose that the peoples of the earth or of this nation will ever relinquish their unalienable will to heterorganic diversity in matters of religious belief, philosophy, culture, and lifestyle. Not all of history's narrow minded and destructive monotheistic attempts at extinction have managed to stop any of that either. Rather, they have served only to create generations of senseless conflict, injustice, poverty, suffering, and bloodshed.
Among the world’s monolithic religions, biblicalism is by no means exclusively at fault. The current rise of militant Islam in the old world is clear evidence of that. Nevertheless, biblicalism is no guardian defender of either secular or religious liberty, not any more then communism, Islam, or any other totalitarian ideology. Whereas, the Nation’s guardian standard is the Constitution with the Sixth Article, Bill of Rights, and subsequent Amendments pursuant thereof. Above all else, the Constitution is the edifice which unites us as a nation of people under a common standard of civil liberty and civil obligation in spite of the myriad of differences that distinguish us as individuals or as groups.
Because of the tragic mix of religious opportunism and reactionary politics in the 1950's, the “under God” pledge has stood in direct contravention of our sovereign law for 50 long years, and thus also in direct contravention of the government’s duty to the people. The Pledge is the single most salient and assiduously invoked verbal expression of nationalism in public life, and thus centrally significant in its impact on our collectively embraced National identity. With the phrase “under God” the pledge amounts to blatant ideological tampering with the “free exercise thereof”. It conflicts with our fundamental right to personal choice about matters of deity and religion versus our religiously neutral obligation of allegiance to the Nation. It amounts to government imposed theocracy in direct contravention of constitutional law as the supreme governing standard.
The focus of the case as presented to SCOTUS was on First Amendment law. Consistent with this, the present commentary has shown the "under God" pledge to be a severe violation of both the religious establishment and free exercise clauses. Not just the former or the latter, but both. Further, as an integral matter it is impossible to functionally disengage the case from the equally critical issue of Sixth Article protections against religious test. As an undeniable constitutional fact, belief in “God”, or any other deity is not a requirement of citizenship in this nation. The political rationalization that no one is compelled to take the Pledge does not dispel the significance of the inherent breach of trust. The presence of the phase “under God” makes the currently official pledge a religious loyalty test by definition.
Even at that, are the teachers actually informing the children they have a choice between taking the pledge and not taking it? Or, are they left to discover the truth of the matter for themselves? Exactly why in so many instances are the dissenters expected to stand if they do not choose to leave the room? In addition, what of the rights of the teachers who are conscripted to initiate the pledge on a daily basis? Can they refuse to initiate the ceremony or leave the room if they so chose? What of their careers if they exercise their so called “right” to opt out by acting on these latter choices? What does the government have to say to these teachers who are allegiant to the true intent of the Sixth Article and the First Amendment? “Suck it up and conform or go find another profession”? Well obviously, those who were willing to stand on their principles were either lost to retirement or pushed out before their time. Now, no one can replace them to teach the Constitution and true meaning of patriotism as it should be taught and still survive as public school teachers. How can any teacher in this nation’s public school system really do justice to the Constitution under the travesty of this government-mandated exercise in idol worship? The manifest impact of this blatant insurrection has damaged collective respect for the Constitution and consequently damaged the integrity and quality of civic education in America right down to its historical roots (Reference 31).The bottom line is that belief in "God" or any deity for that matter is not a requirement of citizenship, whereas conformance to the law (Constitutional Law) is a requirement of citizenship in good standing. The theocrats and their politicians who seek to subvert these laws and encourage others to subvert them are not citizens in good standing. Rather they are enemy to fair and just law and therefore enemy to the common good. Deity veneration is what people are at liberty to do in their houses of worship, in their personal homes, or in the silent refuge of their own personal sentiments if they so choose. Their license to conscript anyone else to their religious beliefs is virtually nonexistent as it very well should be. The theocrats must not be allowed to have continued free license to use our core ceremonies of oath taking as devises to hold hostage the common ground of our nationalism. Using government authority to force a choice between taking a religious oath test versus sucking it up in silence or leaving the premises is the worst kind of political bigotry imaginable. It is not fair, nor impartial, nor is it just. What is more, it is undeniable contravention of the Supreme Law of the Nation!