August 23, 2004

A Really Long Rant on the "Pledge"

I’ve been tinkering at this for a bit, and I don’t really feel like proofreading it a lot, so sorry if there are stupid errors. The basic reason I wrote this rant was a snippet I saw on CNN today about the guy who appealed all the way to the Supreme Court wanting to take out the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. He did it on behalf of his biological daughter (he never married the mother) and ironically both the mother and child are Christians, but he thought those words violate his daughter’s rights. “Newdow originally sued the Elk Grove Unified School District in Sacramento County, California. While legal precedent makes reciting the pledge voluntary, Newdow said it becomes unconstitutional when students are forced to hear it, and he argued that the teacher-led recitations carry the stamp of government approval.” As the daughter herself did not want to raise the suit, and the fact that he was not legally in any sort of custody of her, the case was thrown out. Today, an appeal on the ruling was also tossed out.

I found it interesting, that it’s in the act hearing the phrase under God that is becomes “unconstitutional.” There are of course a couple of problems with that logic. Are we to outlaw all governmental references to God? Does the speaking of the word “God” in schools infringe on people’s rights? Is there any good reason to think “under God” is unconstitutional? Can you think of any other part of American history that has the word God in it? Oh I can think of a few, let’s go on a short History lesson shall we?

Well quickly the words under God were “added” to the pledge. In June of 1954 an amendment was made to add the words "under God". Then President Dwight D. Eisenhower said:

To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country's true meaning. Especially is this meaningful as we regard today's world. Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war.

The words “under God” came from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Now my position is this addition was not an “unconstitutional” act, and was actually just a reflection of American culture in general.

Alright first off we have countless mentions of God, in a mostly Christian sense in the articles at the root of our Government, mainly those England, English Bills of Rights, Magna Carta, etc, etc. However I only mention these documents to give some background and for the sake of our discussion we’ll excluded these documents due to their pre “American” nature, and the fact that many people (mostly Puritan Christians) fled England in hopes of greater religious tolerance. I’d also like to point out these Puritans were after a true tolerance, in which they were able to practice their beliefs, however they were not after any acceptance of their beliefs, only the right to practice them in peace.

That stated lets look at some of the first established ‘American’ thoughts on the subject. In Virginia’s Declaration of Rights George Mason spelled out a pre-amble and 16 Rights for Virginians, this Bill was adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention on June 12, 1776. This was of course prior to the U.S. Declaration of Independence, subsequent U.S. Constitution (1787) and U.S. Bill of Rights (1789). Interesting enough is no mention of God in this document, however there is in fact even more precise language detailing a Christian Worldview. Here is the text:

Section 16. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.

The first thing to point out about this Right, is that it was the 16th of 16, not the first as it is in the U.S. Bill of Rights (however the position of the “1st” amendment is a little bit misleading as I’ll address in a bit.) I’m not an early American literary scholar, and I can’t claim to understand why Mason deiced to place this Right last, but it is none the less an interesting fact to point out.

Second, look at the unmistakably Jewdao-Christian nature of Religion spelled out “religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator”. This really should not come as a surprise, since Mason was more then likely a Christian, and most Americans were the time (not to say most American’s aren’t Christian now, they are, just it was very vocal and clear at that time, people and politicians made no mind of referring to God or their Creator.) This is clearly a statement out of a Christian Worldview, given the appeal to God as our “Creator” and the appeal to our duty to that Creator.

Third, notice how Mason states that religion can “be directed only by reason and conviction” and that “all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion” notice Mason zeros in on the public exercise, not merely the right to believe a certain religion. Most notably he says nothing about Government’s “establishment” of religion that many strict separationalits escalate to any Government “acceptance” of religion.

Lastly Mason points to a pillar of all early American thought (however much revisionists would love to erase it) that it is the “mutual duty of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.” He not only points to a specific religion, but uses that religion’s tenants of “forbearance, love, and charity” as the duty, not merely the right of all citizens.

Moving on to later in 1776, lets move on to less notably less Christian founding father Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a deist, meaning he believed in a God but was not sure if it was Christian idea of God, and so his writing was a little more vague on the subject.

Let’s start with the Declaration of Independence’s first paragraph.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Jefferson espouses “Nature's God”, but still uses the word God; the concept of God and the natural and moral laws created and put in place by that God. In case you think I’m drawing too much out of that just look at the next paragraph: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights”.

Moving on the Constitution of the United States makes no point to address Religion at all, this may seem to some to flow from the fact that the Constitution is mostly a blue print for the Government. Therefore it would make sense to not have much mention of Religion, but also underscores how unimportant a separation of religion from state was to the architects, as absolutely no mention of religion was written up until a few years later.

Finally we get to the hot button issue, that of the first Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights:

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.

As I noted earlier this was not actually the first amendment, the first two amendments concerned the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, and were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights.

This is important for a couple of reasons; first off it once again shows that the first order of business for these architects was not religion, but the business of politics. Second, it dashes the flawed logic that since the first amendment to the Bill of Right has to do with religion that it should somehow be lifted high up as point of fierce reverence to the founders that the state should stay far away from religion.

It’s also important to note the amendment points the prohibition of enacting a “law respecting an establishment of religion”. This in no way qualifies as a complete extraction of religion from the state, further as the rest of the sentence states “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Clearly this wording reflects more of a concern that Government would control religion, or visa versa. The concern was not that religion would intersect or even influence Government. Ironically atheism would have to qualify as a religion to fall under the same protections afforded to other religions. However that’s kind of a semantic argument as there is no need for a belief in God per se for one to have “religion” however I’d go out on a limb and say more then likely the Founding Fathers view of “religion” was a belief in a higher being. Further, I believe there is a rising tide of laws and regulations in the public sector that do indeed prohibit “the free exercise thereof” of religion however that’s another matter.

Aside from that one sentence however, is no further mention of religion in the Bill of Rights, no statement of separation of church and state, nothing of the sort.

One other thing I’d though in Abraham Lincoln, now this guy had some difficulties in his life, some hardships, and lot of people hated him, and one man killed him. None the less we revere him as one of our greatest presidents. On the walls of his memorial in Washington, D.C. at the feet of which the Rev. Martin Luther King made one of his most famous speeches replete with biblical references and a Christian Worldview … etched in the stone on either side of larger then life statue of Lincoln you can see bother the Gettysburg Address and one of his state of the union addresses. All throughout both you can see Lincoln’s quoting of Scripture, constant reference of the ‘Almighty’ and God.

I’d like to share a portion with you.

Both [North and South] read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered--that of neither has been answered fully.

The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.


At August 26, 2004 6:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Justin, I just read this whole thing. I will go on record as the first person to have read the whole thing and still have room enough in my brain to form a comment. ;)

What really impresses me about this is the research you have done to back up your argument. It's amazing to see how far we've come from the foundation of our country, when we fled England et al. for the opportunity to practice religion freely and separately from our politics, and now we are trying to hide it under a bushel and pretended it never existed to show us one true non-negotiable way of knowing the difference between right and wrong. Now we find any acknowledgment of religion at all so offensive that we try to stamp it out. What are we communicating to future generations who have the privilege and duty of examining the history we are in the process of making?

The best we can do for our future historians is to be educated, to know the issues, and to know where we stand and be capable of communicating that persuasively to others, especially our children which we must have if we hope to pass on truth. I'm not trying to say that I am capable of doing that, but it appears that you are, so I applaud you. :)



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