Thursday, October 16, 2003

God and the Pledge of Allegiance

One Nation Under Justices

"The 9th Circuit judges can be criticized for going out of their way to issue a provocative, substantive ruling in a case in which the plaintiff, a father who did not have custody of his child, may not have had standing to sue. They created controversy where little existed. And they brushed aside the fact that references to God, or to a Creator, have been part of American life since the nation's founding. The Constitution itself makes a passing reference to God (and how could that be unconstitutional?), as do the Declaration of Independence, the nation's currency, the national anthem and the national motto. A deity is embedded in the national holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Clearly, the constitutional prohibition against establishing religion does not require an extirpation of God from public life. "

I have several things to say, here:

1. I just checked my copy of the Constitution (by searching an electronic version) and found no use of the words "God", "Creator", or "Deity". Now, the Declaration of Independence does refer to a Creator, but does not refer specifically to the Christian God, instead simply asserting that all men are created equal, and endowed with certain inalienable rights as such.

2. The nation's currency does state the motto "In God We Trust, about which more in #4.

3. The national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner[*], as sung by American citizens does not contain any reference to "God", "Creator", or "Deity". The full song is not sung or taught as the anthem, only the first verse, which is completely secular.

4. The national motto, "In God We Trust", was declared such in 1956, replacing/alongside of "e pluribus unum", or, "out of many, one", the original motto [**]. I'm going to guess this, like the addition of "Under God" to the Pledge, was a red-scare tactic, historically speaking [***], to flush out those pesky athiest Commies. The use of "so help me, God" in oaths of office originates at the same time. For reasons of tradition now ('ceremonial deism', as the Court put it), I think it's unlikely to change, but I'd like to see an attempt, as I discuss below.

5. A deity is embedded in some of America's national holidays, and again, that's a reflection of the country's heritage. Most of the country's early settlers were Christian, of course we're going to observe, today, the Christian-centric assumptions they built edifices on without even thinking about it. We all assume.

So, yes, America has historically been a christian nation, but that does not mean this concern over the Pledge of Allegiance is spurious. As more and different waves of immigrants join and sign the national contract, American life has changed since its founding, and its religious face -- like its ethnic distribution, its linguistic one, and even its culinary one -- has changed. The historical trappings of law and custom should be questioned as we continue to evolve as a nation, to ensure that all citizens -- born or naturalized -- are not oppressed by law, should they have a different belief then mainstream Christians. That is, in fact, the point of the First Amendment - to not oppress other's religious beliefs. And if you force an agnostic or a Buddhist or a Shinto priest - or their child in a school - to swear by a Christian God whom they do not recognize with complete validity according to their own belief system, that's oppression.


Oh, say can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

For the complete lyrics: US National Anthem

[**] "On July 30, 1956 a law was passed stating that "the national motto of the United States is hereby declared to be 'In God we trust'." (70 Stat. 732. 36 U.S. Code 186). The House Judiciary Committee recognized that the phrase E Pluribus Unum had also received wide usage in the United States, and the joint resolution did not repeal or prohibit its use as a national motto. In 1963 the Department of State took the following position: "'In God we trust'" is the motto of the United States. It seems to the Department, nevertheless, that there is ample basis both in history and I law for calling 'E Pluribus Unum' a motto of the United States." The Congress has used both."

History of the Great Seal

[***] "In 1956, the nation was suffering through the height of the cold war, and the McCarthy communist witch hunt. Partly in reaction to these factors, the 84th Congress passed a joint resolution to replace the existing motto with "In God we Trust." The president signed the resolution into law on 1956-JUL-30. The change was partly motivated by a desire to differentiate between communism, which promotes Atheism, and Western capitalistic democracies, which were at least nominally Christian. The phrase "Atheistic Communists" has been repeated so many times that the public has linked Atheism with communism; the two are often considered synonymous. Many consider Atheism as unpatriotic and "un-American" as is communism. The new motto was first used on paper money in 1957, when it was added to the one-dollar silver certificate. By 1966, "In God we Trust" was added to all paper money, from $1 to $100 denominations."

The US National Mottos

No comments: