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Charles Moore's Mailbag

Taking the Pledge

Charles Moore - 2002.07.02 - Tip Jar

My "Huh?" column on the Pledge of Allegiance being ruled "unconstitutional" by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals generated a ton of mail. I thank everyone who wrote for expressing their views, in most cases in a thoughtful and civil manner. I apologize for being unable to respond personally to the letters - there were just too many, and it seemed unfair to answer some and not others. In lieu of individual replies, I hope this preamble will be at least something of a substitute in addressing the issues raised.

First, a bit of explanation is in order. While my Low End Mac column is called Miscellaneous Ramblings, this topic was a bit farther off the beaten track than most. The column was, in fact, not written with Miscellaneous Ramblings in mind at all, but rather as a syndicated op-ed to Canadian newspapers. Since Dan Knight had posted the Fox News link that initially drew my attention to the Pledge ruling, on a whim I emailed him a copy of the newspaper column draft with permission to publish it if he wished. He did wish.

One of the letter-writers suggested that I should stick to topics I know. Well, this actually is my field. I was a columnist and commentator on political/cultural/religious issues for many years before I ever penned a word about tech topics, and I am still a columnist for several general interest and religious publications.

At least one person also questioned the propriety of me, as a Canadian, commenting on a US Constitutional/political matter. As noted above, the column was written expressly for a Canadian audience, and US issues occupy a large percentage of media commentary in here north of the border, but Canadian commentary on US issues in the US media is hardly unusual. Peter Jennings, Morley Safer, Arthur Kent, and Keith Morrison, to name just a few, are all Canadians prominent in the US media. Canadian conservative journalist David Frum was one of President George W. Bush's principal speechwriters for about 18 months.

Now on to the matter under discussion itself, which is a prima facie culture wars issue. It would require a magazine-length article to even outline the topic adequately, and a book to properly address it, but I will have to settle here for clarifying what I wrote in the column.

Certainly the preponderance of the letters that appear below disagree with me on the Pledge issue in varying degrees, and a great many of the respondents profess atheism. On the other hand, this Canadian seems to be pretty much in sync with both the US government and most of the US general public on the Pledge issue.

According to Time, on Saturday the Senate passed a 99-0 bill endorsing the pledge with President Eisenhower's "under God" interpolation intact. The House also condemned the 9th Circuit Court decision by a 416-3 vote.

CNN reports that, according to a Newsweek poll, when asked if the Pledge should contain the phrase "under God," 87 percent of respondents said yes and only 9 percent said no. That and 60 percent of poll respondents said they think it is good for the country when government leaders publicly express their faith in God. This is interesting data, because other polls show that about 80 percent of Americans profess to be Christian, and about 3-4 percent affirm other religions. Apparently some atheists don't object to the wording of the Pledge.

And while the poll indicated that 45 percent of Americans hold the view that the United States is a secular nation, an identical percentage believes either that the United States is a Christian nation or that the United States is a Biblical nation, defined by the Judeo-Christian tradition.

That's pretty overwhelming, and, in my view, from increasingly anti-religious Canada, encouraging. (Incidentally, our Constitution, drafted in the early 1980s no less, actually does explicitly affirm the sovereignty of God, but that hasn't prevented activist judges from pushing a radical separationist agenda on the bench.)

Back in the US, Judge Alfred Goodwin, apparently reading the proverbial writing on the wall, decided to stay his unpopular decision even before an appeal was filed. Time says the case is virtually certain to be reheard by an 11-judge panel of the 9th Circuit, and the decision is likely to be overturned either by them - or later by the Supreme Court.

My central point in the column was that radical separation of church and state to the exclusion of any reference to religion remotely associated with government is revisionism. It simply isn't supported by the US Constitution.

The First Amendment address of "establishment of religion" refers to "establishment" in the sense that the Church of England is established (i.e., the Monarch is the titular head of the Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury sits in the House of Lords, and so on). Anglicanism is the official state religion of England and was also likewise in the colonies prior to the American Revolution, enjoying powers of taxation, among other things.

By no stretch of the imagination would the drafters of the First Amendment have intended it to be interpreted as a purge of all Christian references from public life. Atheism wasn't respectable in the 18th century, and non-Christian religions were not a factor that would have been considered at all. The pertinent issue was that no particular Christian denomination was to be favored by the state.

Consequently, as I asserted, 21st Century separationists have no legitimate appeal to the Constitution or to the Founders. Benjamin Franklin may have been a proto-atheist of sorts, and I don't doubt that a number of the others were more deist than theist, but I'm confident that none would have questioned the socio-cultural primacy and dominance of the Christian religion.

Indeed Jefferson is a very poor exemplar of atheist ideology. He closed the famous "wall of separation" letter to the Danbury Baptist Association with these words:

"I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem."

According to an article by James Hutson, chief of the Manuscript Division of The Library of Congress:

"Jefferson appeared at church services in the House on Sunday, Jan. 3, two days after recommending in his reply to the Danbury Baptists - a wall of separation between church and state; during the remainder of his two administrations he attended these services - constantly."

The article goes on to note that President Jefferson's participated in House church services and granted of permission to various denominations to worship in executive office buildings, where four-hour communion services were held, and that, "A Philadelphia newspaper informed its readers on Jan. 23, 1802, that - Mr. Jefferson has been seen at church, and has assisted in singing the hundredth psalm.'"

Hutson concludes:

"Jefferson's public support for religion appears, however, to have been more than a cynical political gesture. Scholars have recently argued that in the 1790s Jefferson developed a more favorable view of Christianity that led him to endorse the position of his fellow Founders that religion was necessary for the welfare of a republican government, that it was, as Washington proclaimed in his Farewell Address, indispensable for the happiness and prosperity of the people. Jefferson had, in fact, said as much in his First Inaugural Address. His attendance at church services in the House was, then, his way of offering symbolic support for religious faith and for its beneficent role in republican government."

And rightly so. The system of morals and ethics that the new Republic, like the rest of Western civilization, was founded on and grounded in is Christian. These principles did not simply materialize out of thin air. They came from the Bible. That's why it is entirely appropriate that the Ten Commandments be posted in courthouses. They are part and parcel of what the English system of law, and therefore the American system of law, are based on.

Here, of course, we encounter one of the most fundamental culture wars ideological dissonances. Liberal humanists assert that human nature is essentially good and virtuous - a notion that British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper concisely summed-up as "the unwarranted assumption that man only needs freedom from ancient restraints in order to realize his inherent perfection."

Friedrich Nietzsche, the father of modern and postmodern moral-relativism, whose influence on the 20th Century American socio-philosophical ethos has been enormous, asserted that man creates his own values and that the codes of good and evil affirmed by various cultures derive from the longings and strivings of human will - not divine revelation, objective truth, or even reason. Nietzsche's thinking was driven by a hatred of Christianity, and one of his chief objectives was to purge human consciousness of belief in Christian ideas, which he considered a hobbling inhibition to the realization of human greatness and superiority.

However, Nietzsche was in some respects more intellectually honest and consistent than latter-day humanist deists, agnostics, and atheists, who imagine that they can retain our society's quasi-Christian morality without need of acknowledging and honoring its source. If Christian faith was to be denied, Nietzsche maintained, then Christian morality must also be spurned.

Christians and conservatives insist that human nature is basically sinful, and that any good that we are able to accomplish comes secondhand from God, in whose spiritual image we are created, and that without God there can be no objective authority on which to ground knowledge. Bona fide moral values rest on created causation, in which things have intrinsic meaning and order. Without a concept of absolute truth, there can be no moral order - no definitive right and wrong. When anything anyone says could be the truth, truth is eclipsed.

There is no apparent way to reach satisfactory compromise on these counter-assertions. They are eternally in collision.

One reader said "As a non-Christian, I felt from your writing that you had no respect for my beliefs." I suppose respect for beliefs depends upon how you define it. I believe that atheism is a profoundly mistaken belief, but I certainly respect his right to hold mistaken beliefs if he so chooses, and his right to freely articulate them, and I respect him as a fellow human being. There is nothing personal implied. I have good atheist friends.

As a Christian, I believe that God loves atheists as much as He loves everyone else, but because of free will, the ball is in their court regarding acceptance of that love. However that's as deep into theology as I intend to get in this essay.

This does, however, bring us to one of the unfortunate conceits of humanist atheist advocacy - that somehow its religious view, and it is a religious view - is "neutral," an argument that is used, often very successfully these days, to put religionists on the defensive in these debates.

However, atheism is no more "neutral" than any other sort of religious assertion. It cannot be proved scientifically or factually any more than the existence of God can be proven scientifically or factually. Atheism should not have a veto vote on what may transpire in public affairs, nor would the US founders in their wildest nightmares have ever imagined that it could.

Ironically, it is the Christian concept of human sovereign free will that made liberal secularism possible. The ideas of individual personal value, human equality, liberty, and social justice that secular humanists claim to hold in esteem are essentially Christian concepts. At least they have never convincingly flowered as dominant social ethics outside Christian or Christian-derived societies.

Until 40-50 years ago, virtually everyone in North America accepted the Christian moral and ethical compass as a consensual measure of good and evil, right and wrong, etc. - whether or not they made a serious effort to apply Christian standards in their own lives. This is less and less true today, the erstwhile Christianity-based moral consensus being gradually displaced by secular humanism's pseudo-morality of relativism, indiscriminate tolerance, and narcissistic individual existentialism - with unsurprising results.

Even Marxism is an adulterated derivative of certain Christian concepts. Religious freedom is also a mighty rara avis outside Christian and post-Christian cultures. The best guarantor of the continued freedom minority religions and the irreligious have is the continued application of Christian ethics in government.

The human rights record of explicitly atheistic states is not encouraging.

As I noted above, there is no neutral ground possible in this context. It is impossible to have any sort of coherent philosophical social consensus in a self-consciously "multicultural society." The term itself is close to being an oxymoron. Religious belief (or lack of it) is the primary determinant of any society's character and moral ethos.

Specific moral evaluations aside for a moment, a society dominated by people with Hindu beliefs will differ profoundly from a society of Muslims in all sorts of ways not directly related to religious confession or practice. Similarly, a society of people affirming Christian beliefs will be profoundly different from one devised by secular humanists.

Once moral convictions enter the equation, things get really problematical, because religious principles (whether acknowledged or disowned) are the basis of moral standards and value judgments. Therefore, in any multicultural project where all ideologies and cultures are arbitrarily deemed to merit equal social purchase, conflicts among various factions on moral/legal issues will be inevitable.

Workable, sustainable societies fundamentally require a dominant moral and philosophical consensus. Absent such a consensus, you get constant tension and strife among groups, and eventually social breakdown and chaos. Respecting the right of dissenting minorities to practice and articulate their beliefs freely is one thing; giving them veto authority is another.

The secular humanist prescription to remedy this state of affairs is for everyone to adopt a uniform set of supposedly "neutral" values (secular humanist ones, natch) pertaining to their interactions in the public square, keeping religious belief segregated within the realm of the private.

There are many problems with this notion, not least, as I said, that secular humanism is emphatically not "neutral" on moral, philosophical, or religious matters. Many secular humanist values do violence to religious moral principles, and thus demand that religious individuals compromise their beliefs and convictions in public life.

Some have suggested that the Pledge of Allegiance with its 1954 "under God" interpolation compels them to affirm a God they don't believe in. However, atheists (or pantheists) are not compelled to compromise their consciences because of the Pledge. In 1943, 11 years before the "under God" insertion, the Supreme Court ruled that the state may not compel anyone to salute the flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The atheistic, or at best vaguely deistic or pantheistic. assumptions of secular humanism are a positive religious affirmation. Secular humanists do not perceive this as a serious problem, because in their worldview, "spirituality" and/or "the sacred" are merely expressions of self-derived "values" anyway. Ergo, if your religious confession becomes an inconvenient impediment to successful and harmonious life in the public square, just exchange it for a less contentious one chosen from the eclectic smorgasbord of religions or anti-religions out there. Or, if you really must take religion seriously, then keep it to yourself and stay out of the way - for religion has no legitimate voice in public discourse.

Perhaps secular humanists will someday succeed in getting a Constitutional Amendment passed really declaring America to be a secular state, but I would counsel careful counting of the cost of what would be kicked away.

It is impossible to build a coherent nation without a dominant culture - and in our culture, the US or Canada, that is, by cultural heritage and historical reality, Christianity or nothing. It is foolhardy to imagine that the advantages of Christian society that too many citizens take for granted can be maintained without Christianity as its keystone. If democratic freedoms are foolishly cut off from their source, they will soon wither and die.

Enough from me. On to your letters.

Response to 'Unconstitutional' Pledge

From Jesse Bocinski:

Hello Mr. Moore,

I would like to open by saying that I enjoy your columns immensely, and I try to never miss them both here at Low End Mac and at Applelinks. I congratulate you on your success.

However, I was surprised to read your response column to the US Court's decision that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional. I am a student at Colgate University, and as few as 3 years ago, students in New York State public schools were still reciting "The Pledge" every morning, mandatorily.

As a practicing Catholic, I have no problem with saying the pledge, but I also realize that Christianity is not the only religion, nor should anyone be required to believe in God. By mandating the pledge, as almost all schools do, you are forcing students to pledge their allegiance to an institution "under God." I can't agree with this. I don't think we should connect our flag and our country to religion so tightly, whether or not we are a country under God. It simply isn't fair to the growing number of students whose parents have taught them differently.

The wording could be changed very easily. Simply subtract the "under God," and the pledge is acceptable for everyone. I don't see why this would be a problem. In a country such as the United States, we are indeed a melting pot, and we continue to add more broth to the pot every day. We should be tolerant of others' beliefs, however disagreeable they are to our own. The state is not in the business of mandating belief. This truly strikes at the heart of Jefferson and Washington's ideals.

Well, that's my two cents. I would like to thank you for bringing up this controversial subject, and many others topics that you take on daily. Please keep up the good work.

Sincerely,
Jesse N. Bocinski

After Reading Your Article I've Been Thinking

From Hervoyel:

Mr. Moore

I thought your article about the US Court's decision was very interesting, and it prompted a day or so of thought on my part. You see, I'm a dyed in the wool "godless heathen," and so you might think that I would be okay with that decision and that I would be neatly tucked into the camp who feels that church and state should be kept widely apart at all costs. After thinking it over and searching for some kind of conviction I might have regarding this, I've come to the conclusion that I think I already have a right to "freedom from religion" and don't need the court to help me out with that.

I live in Texas, north of Houston, and this is one serious Baptist hotbed of an area. Religion plays a large part in many peoples lives here, and I probably pass more churches on my way home from work that you could easily count while trying to drive. I went to school with these people's kids, and I said the pledge of allegiance many times as a child. I never felt that my lack of belief in any of this was an issue. I live in a house right next door to a small church and get along quite well with the pastor there. He knows how I feel about religion, and it makes no difference to him. Sometimes when I'm out mowing, I cut their lawn for them while I'm at it. No one from the church has ever pressured me to sign up for the program.

The Pledge

From C. Bennett:

Charles Moore,

You are right that the original laws of the United States were written to keep the state from interfering with the church. And you are right that the founding documents of this country depend on a shared set of beliefs, which can all be described as Christian.

Although I was not familiar with the letter from Jefferson you cited, I am unconvinced that it is the only argument made by one of the founders in favor of a strict separation. Picture a Venn diagram of church and state. If one cannot overlap the other, the other cannot overlap the one.

Religious expression is one form of speech that Amendment I was intended to protect. Therefore, educational institutions funded with public money should probably not be allowed to prohibit prayer in class, regardless of faith. But it's implicit, if not obviously clear, that state money should not be used to compel religious expression. Simple consideration for others in a closed environment, such as a classroom, would be a good reason to keep moments of prayer and observation silent.

The changing shape of American culture and society has placed demands on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and subsequent amendments that the authors never anticipated. How common were public schools when the founding documents were drafted? How common were non-Christian Americans? How common were situations in which church and state were at odds?

There is little functional difference between the wishes of the founders to avoid repression by state-sponsored religion and the wishes of modern citizens - including Christians - to avoid repression by a government that endorses any religion to the exclusion of others. You may argue that secular humanism and "freedom from religion" are postmodern ideological constructs, but "radical social activists" are citizens too, and we all live in the same "postmodern" world.

About the pledge itself: Compelling children to recite it will not make them feel any more loyal to the flag or the nation for which it stands. Likewise, forbidding the pledge will draw attention away from the subject and toward questions of policy and ritual. Neither is constructive.

I'm a loyal American who has flown his flag proudly since long before September 11 and will continue to do so every day the weather allows. But I would feel differently if it were not my choice. As Governor Jesse Ventura said one of the rare times he was both right and coherent, patriotism comes from the heart. (That may be the only time I'll admit agreeing with him.)

This letter is already too long, but you know that first drafts usually are. (See Blaise Pascal comment from our earlier correspondence.) Regardless, I'll give you a challenge.

The Pledge of Allegiance is a very recent document. Why not rewrite it? Just as marginal singers everywhere would rather belt out "America the Beautiful" than suffer the excesses of "The Star-Spangled Banner," no matter how noble its origin, the Pledge could well be replaced with something better, whether new or old.

If you were to draft a statement of dedication for citizens of the United States to recite, and you wanted it to reflect the best of America and its people, particularly the sense of unity many of us felt after September 11, what words would you choose? Don't dodge the devout on either side of the divide; step wherever you must.

Will I volunteer to write my own? Not right now, but I'll probably give it plenty of thought and will be very interested in the responses you receive if you print my message.

I respect your principles, share many of your values, and admire your thoughtful expression - but I do not believe yesterday's court decision is an insult to Christians, loyal Americans, or the Constitution. It is merely a different interpretation, one of the things our systems of laws allows.

Clayton Bennett, who will go put up the flag now

9th Circuit Ruling

From Andrew:

You wrote: "but it also is fair warning that the forces of atheist humanism are still doggedly pressing on with their agenda to trample Western Christian cultural heritage underfoot."

As an Atheist, I have tried long and hard to find a school for my daughter where Christianity is not pushed down her throat (secular schools are anything but). The phrase "under God" was not inserted until 1954, and I think taking it out is a great thing. Not everyone in this country is Christian, and just as when I joined the military I was permitted to affirm my allegiance instead of swearing it, children too should not be forced to recognize deities which they do not believe in.

I can respect that Bush is a religious Christian, as are most of the people who tend to write on Low End Mac, however nothing in the ruling takes away their ability, or anyone else's, to express their religion. What it does is allows everyone the right to have as much or as little religion in their lives as they wish. Saying that reciting "under God" every single day in school is not religious teaching is simply ignoring the issue. Imagine if your children were forced to recite "Under Allah" everyday, or "Under Vishnu;" I imagine then that the "issue" would become far more heated.

I know that you won't be convinced; I just wanted you to know that not everyone who reads your articles is Christian, and not everyone agrees with Mr. Bush about the 9th Circuit ruling. Personally, I'm hoping it makes it through the Supreme Court, though with Rhenquist (who opposed desegregating schools) and Scalia, sadly I doubt that will happen.

Andrew

Allegiances

From Joe W:

Hmmm,

Not sure what this has to do with Macs, exactly, but perhaps you should take a look at the history of the pledge of allegiance before you launch into a predictable rant against the mythical cabal of secular humanists that are apparently the bane of your existence. The pledge of allegiance was penned in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a socialist Christian minister who knew exactly what he was doing when he assembled 23 words into an oath that summed up the brilliance of the American experiment with poetic brevity:

"I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands - one nation indivisible - with liberty and justice for all."

It was not until 1954 that "under God" was inserted under political pressure from a Catholic organization, the Knights of Columbus, taking advantage of the furor over "reds under the beds" to further their own minority religious agenda. It was Christian revisionists who mangled the pledge, not the terrifying conspiracy of li-i-i-berals (ooh, spoooky!) that conservatives claim to be at the root of every American problem from plumbing leaks to ultrasuede. If you were seriously against revisionism, you'd be in favor of returning the pledge to its populist roots, not defending the jingoist revisionism of the fifties.

You complain about "radical separationists" with a great deal of enthusiasm, but I don't recall reading a single essay of yours about the foibles of the radical religious right, which leads me to believe that you either don't understand or don't care about their own revisionist historical gimmickry.

You've summed up your complaint with a curious statement:

"Radical separationists on and off the bench have no grounds for appeal to the historical principles that built America. Their 'freedom from religion' idea is a postmodern ideological construct dreamed up by radical social activists. Seems like the tail is wagging the dog, and it's a mighty short tail at that."

You may want to actually consult a dictionary before flinging the word "postmodern" around, which does not mean what you seem to think it means (i.e. "even more modern"). What you call "freedom from religion," which any of us actual secular Americans (as opposed to the screeching cartoon characterization that the right seems so committed to) would properly call a freedom from a government-imposed religion, is actually a modern ideological construct dreamed up by radical social activists (i.e., the founders of the largest experiment in democracy ever seen before or since, sometimes known as our "founding fathers"). Check the history books - the pilgrims that came to this country at the very beginning were not fleeing atheism or any other kind of general anti-religious conspiracy. They were fleeing religious oppression by a government with it's own imposed state religion - the very thing you apparently believe we should have in America.

Christians are not prevented from practicing their religion in the United States (unlike many Native Americans), and the various denominations receive tremendous subsidies in the form of tax-free status. All that those of us who don't practice the predominant religion would ask is that, in exchange for the generous benefits that our tax money affords for the religious, our public spaces not be used as pulpits. Is that really as un-American as you claim?

Joe Wall

Pledge Op-ed

From Owen Strawn:

Charles,

I was surprised by your editorial on the brouhaha initiated yesterday's appeals court ruling.

Certainly you make a solid argument that the separation of church and state is not a constitutional requirement and that the ruling is at best pretty thinly supportable on any "constitutionality" basis. In fact, you cast into doubt a vast array of precedent that perhaps ought to be reconsidered.

Still, "the forces of atheist humanism are still doggedly pressing on with their agenda to trample Western Christian cultural heritage underfoot"? You use atheism like a swear word! Don't atheists have as much right to their beliefs as Catholics, Jews, Buddhists, or Rastas? Or is atheism somehow illegitimate when all other faiths deserve at least tolerance, if not respect?

More to the point, why cannot I pledge my allegiance to the state without professing faith in God? Is faith a prerequisite to citizenship or not?

Why is it so important to include exclusionary rhetoric in what is an essentially secular confirmation?

Owen

Huh? US Court Rules Pledge of Allegiance - Unconstitutional

From Al Shep:

I believe you have educated many today.

Of course the "but" is that the "Radical separationists" can simply argue that their religion is anti-God. Therefore pledging before that which they hate, despise, and refute is a violation of their right to preach against God.

It is often argued that the Muslims and Buddhists have few qualms with our using religion in our governmental organizations. They would often use the same phrasing themselves, just meaning a slightly different version of God. Most people believe in a God.

The "Radical separationists," though could argue that the State with its statements is establishing a religion, since they view all religions which serve "God" as equally repugnant. So to them, religion itself is a religion, or more clearly, they only see two Religions, one believing in a divine entity and one that doesn't believe in a divine entity.

Thanks again for clarifying where the "separations clause" actually stands. I myself foolishly thought it was in the Constitution somewhere. I can't believe I have read the thing a few times and missed that the phrase was obviously not in there.

~al

Huh? US Court... etc.

From Stephen Jendraszak:

Charles,

While I typically enjoy your Mac-related commentary, I have to wonder what this court ruling has to do with Macs of any kind, low-end or not. That being said, I feel compelled to respond to the sentiments you expressed.

Separationists love to quote the "Establishment Clause": "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." but usually neglect to complete the sentence: "...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." That's it. No "wall of separation." Nothing about eliminating Christian expression from the public square.

I don't understand how you could read in the Establishment Clause in any way besides meaning that it is illegal for Congress to establish any religion. The sentence seems pretty clear to me. The Exercise Clause ("...or prohibit the free exercise thereof.") is not relevant to the discussion, although it is equally important. This amendment says, in simpler language, "Congress cannot establish or sponsor any religion, nor can it prevent citizens from practicing the religion of their choice."

And to be honest, one can find just as many quotes from the founders of this nation to support separation of church and state as to attack it. I would theorize that their public "religious" activities and votes were used to reassure a largely religious populace that their leaders shared their beliefs. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were both accused of atheism, and from their private papers many scholars have deduced that they were indeed agnostic.

By adding the phrase "under God" to the Pledge in an attempt to stand up to those "Godless Communists" they were so afraid of in the 50s, Congress effectively said that there is a God and describes him in a Judeo-Christian fashion. This is the establishment of Christian theism as a state-supported religion and is forbidden by the Constitution.

How would Americans feel if Congress passed a law adding the phrase "under Vishnu" or "under Allah" to the Pledge? There would be outrage. The United States is perhaps the most religiously diverse nation on earth and must be vigilant to not support the religion of one group of citizens over the religion of another. Christians should be given no special status under our laws. And yes, even agnosticism and atheism are valid belief structures or "religions."

I support the court's decision, so I suppose it is fair to call me a "Separationist." However, I was offended by the label "Radical secularist," as I am a practicing and faithful Catholic. I simply believe that religion is a private matter between a citizen, God, and one's church. The Congress of the United States has no right to say what beliefs are valid and what beliefs are not.

sj

Re: Huh?

From Netdiablo:

Dear Sir,

I am a frequent reader of Low End Mac in my free time, and I just wanted to share with you some of my thoughts regarding your recent editorial regarding the declaration of the American pledge of allegiance unconstitutional as an anarchist and one of those "radical social activists" that you seem to despise so much.

There seems to be a large body of people, yourself included, that sees some great value in "Western Christian heritage." Why is this? In making your rash arguments against "radical separatists", you seem to be forgetting that this grand heritage that you are so favorable towards is also the same heritage that has given us the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, a large part of Western cultural imperialism, and the institutional protection of hundreds of child molesters.

Where is your morality now? Please put down the Bible for just a couple minutes and read a little history!

I think the real problem here is that people of your sort make the terrible mistake of confusing morality and religion. There is no argument that living a moral life guided by kindness and respect towards one's fellow human beings is a good thing, and I feel that it is a goal that all people should strive towards. Religion, however, corrupts simple and pure morality and spiritualism with human edicts and structures of power. When we presume that human beings can know or channel the power or knowledge of God, we are being little more than fools.

With religion, no longer do you have individuals trying to live in the best way possible for them. You no longer have people innocently trying to discover what life is all about. You do, however, have a bunch of corrupt individuals who are taking advantage of faith to hoodwink the general public into following whatever ridiculous crusade that they have devised.

It is even more revolting when political leaders of a country take advantage of the foolish and unquestioning belief of the people to strengthen their own positions of power. By working with religious fundamentalists, politicians are playing with fire. They are indeed solidifying their domestic bases of power, but at the cost of tying the political processes in the country to the edicts and whims of the fundamentalists from which they extract their power. This does not happen quite as obviously here in the West as it does, say, in some Middle Eastern countries, but its results are just as worrisome both in the cost of domestic liberties, and the ridiculous better-than-thou imperialistic attitudes that are forced upon other countries with which the United States must interact. Things such as this are the seeds for the idiotic xenophobia that is currently gripping the United States with respect to those that practise the religion of Islam.

So, let me tell you, under normal circumstances, I could really care less whether or not people want to innocently extoll their beliefs in public. The problem begins to arise when nutty religious fundamentalists attempt to force their religion and their morality on others. This does not have anything to do with kindness or respect of one's fellow man, and the practice disgusts me. If, by getting rid of the pledge, we are taking some of the wind out of the sails of these outlandish fundamentalists, it is all for the better in my mind.

Perhaps one day when people are responsible enough to leave other people alone, we can once again allow the practise of religion in public. The unfortunate fact is that, at the current time, this is not the case.

I used to be a practicing Roman Catholic, and I do recall a very useful religious edict that goes something like "love thy neighbor as you would thyself." Interestingly enough, this sounds a lot like the common adage "treat others as you would like to be treated." It is only when religious fundamentalists renounce the moronic desires for power and control and return to the simple common truths and advice advanced by their ancient religions, Catholics included, that religion will ever be an acceptable organization in society.

I still, however, prefer individual spiritualism and acts of kindness to guide me through life. In my mind, this is the only way that spiritualism can do good, rather than being abused for worldly desires.

Regards,
Sean Caron

'Unconstitutional Pledge'

From Michael Fraser:

Dear Mr. Moore,

As a fellow Canadian and as an interested reader, I feel compelled to respond to your article of June 27, 2002.

While I wholeheartedly support the right of every individual to practice whichever religion he or she chooses, the real point here, and one that was emphasized by the Court, is that no one should be forced into exercising a belief that they do not hold.

As you correctly state, "Separationists love to quote the 'Establishment Clause': 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...' but usually neglect to complete the sentence: '...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.' That's it. No 'wall of separation.' Nothing about eliminating Christian expression from the public square."

The problem that you fail to recognize is that while Christians, and anyone else for that matter, should be free to practice of "exercise" their religion (so long as no other group is hurt in the process), this clause, at least to my mind, clearly holds that the opposite is true: No person should be forced into accepting a religion that they do not believe in. It is much the same way with free speech: You are entitled to say what you please, but at the same time, you are equally entitled to say nothing at all. Let me give you a completely non-religious example from here in Canada.

A few years ago, there was a big push to make cigarette companies print warnings on their products that covered 50% of the packages. At the time (the late Mulroney years), the government insisted that the warnings be simple text, with no indication of who had written them or from where they came. Naturally, the cigarette companies challenged this law, which included several other restrictions on advertising, etc. The law was struck down by the Supreme Court. One of the major problems the Court found with the law was that it infringed upon the cigarette companies right to free speech. For most of the law, it was held that this was a justifiable limit. However, when it came to the bit about printing the warnings on the package without an explicit statement that the warnings were government issued, the court could not abide. The law was struck down.

The problem, it seems, is that the cigarette companies had a right to say nothing. If no indication was made that the warnings were government issued, it could be assumed by the general public that it was the companies themselves that were issuing the warnings, when in fact they were government issued. That is to say, the companies had a right to say nothing; to print nothing, of their own accord, on their labels, if they so chose. If the government wants to write something, they need to take responsibility for it.

Sorry for that enormous detour.

In this case, the phrase "under God" clearly indicates a monotheistic religion. Again, the point was made by the court that believers in a polytheistic religion should not be forced to recite a pledge that clearly does not represent their beliefs. Now, just because the monotheistic religions are more popular at the moment (Christianity, Judaism, Islam), doesn't eliminate the validity of polytheism. Furthermore, as I have said, atheists should not be forced to pledge their allegiance to a flag (and, by extension, to a nation) if doing so means pledging allegiance to God. Note that the phrase "under God" was only added in the 50s by Pres. Eisenhower and was clearly intended as a reference to the Judeo-Christian God.

Organized religion, especially Christians, must realize that they benefit from twists of fate that date back hundreds of years. Were it not for the adoption of Christianity by certain influential people (of dubious distinction, I might add - Constantinople, for instance), it likely would not enjoy the prevalence it does today. Certainly, there are many other, much older religions with equally plausible events that define their religion. Is it that much harder to believe in Zeus firing lightning bolts from Mt. Olympus than to believe in an immaculate conception? Still, one is ridiculed and one is accepted as truth by hundreds of millions of people the world over.

But I digress. My point was not to challenge the validity of Christianity. Perhaps another time. But I cannot agree with a clause that makes it mandatory for a person to acknowledge a God in which they do not believe.

BTW, thank you for all of your wonderful Low End Mac articles (this one included). I am an avid reader and I always look forward to your next installment.

Sincerely,
Michael Fraser

Radical Separationists and Yellow Journalism

From Duncan Holley:

Charles,

I am deeply disappointed by your writing on the separation of church and state issue. Not your opinion, you are free to have that, of course. What bothers me is your painting of those that disagree with you as radical, seemingly rabidly anti-religion. No, you didn't use that last phrase, though "forces of atheist humanism" does have a pretty derogatory tone to it, and the tone of the article certainly felt that way to me.

As a non-Christian, I felt from your writing that you had no respect for my beliefs. Regardless of the wording of the Constitution, Bill of Rights, or any amendments, we all have our opinions on how they should be written. I do believe that separation of church and state is important to the health of a nation that includes so many diverse religions in it.

The world is a very different place than it was when the United States was formed, and it is no longer fair to assume that Christian values alone should guide any democracy. Morality should guide any nation, and many people gain their moral codes from their faith. There is nothing wrong with that at all, but in a nation as diverse as the US, we simply have no choice but to be guided by the opinions of many different faiths, as well as those of nonbelievers. Again, I am not arguing that the documentation of the United States government is any different than you intimated, nor am I even arguing that the founders did not intend a Christian state.

I am arguing that the world has changed dramatically in the last 226 years, and we [need] to consider that when we are making our decisions. Interestingly, until this ruling, children have had either the option to say the pledge or to quietly protest by not saying anything. Two questions on this:

  1. How many unenlightened teachers do you suppose shamed children who wouldn't say it?
  2. What do you suppose happens to an eight year old that takes a stand which makes him or herself different than his or her peers?

Further, I must say that seeing as the bit about "under God" was added in 1954, I don't much groove with the argument that some folks in the late 1700s would have wanted it included. Didn't they sort of have their chance to say so when they were writing the thing?

Please take this in the spirit in which is intended, as a discussion of ideas and not an attack. I've often enjoyed your work and hope to continue doing so. I think that's why I was particularly stricken by this writing. It felt unnecessarily harsh to me, and so I felt compelled to say something.

Duncan

P.S. Okay, in all fairness, I did some further research, and the pledge was not written until the 1890s, not the 1700s as I originally believed. None the less, "under God", the question still holds, didn't the original authors have the opportunity to include it? Not to egg on the argument, but as I learned new information, I thought it was only fair to share it with you.

About the Pledge...

From Scott Boone:

First some background, in the spirit of open disclosure - I am an atheist. I do not say this in any offensive manner or in a manner to denigrate any other religion. I do not believe, but I have no ill thoughts towards those who do have Faith. And I do not actively promote any atheist agendas; I simply am not a believer in any deity(s). Also, I have included links to a site that is an atheist agenda'd site, atheists.org. I don't necessarily support this organization (although I may find myself somewhat aligned with the ideology); I include the links because they happened to come up in a Google search and seemed to be, with some basic confirming research, a rather accurate portrayal of events. That being said...

You missed a couple of facts in your article on the Pledge case, and I'd like to point them out. This is not an argument against religion of any denomination.

  1. The "under God" portion of the Pledge was not added until 1954 <http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/pledge1.htm>, so your argument that this is a postmodern construct is somewhat off . . . it is no more "postmodern" than the very insertion of "under God" itself. The adding of "In God we trust" to currency, at least Federal Reserve notes, occurred after that. Congress would have been much better off passing a rejoinder to the original Pledge (as passed) that recommended, although not requiring, folks to pop in "under <insert deity here>" if they so desired. Perhaps, being an atheist and an engineer, I would insert "one nation, through the extraordinary intellect of humankind, indivisible" . . . you may insert something else.
  2. You stated that this case would "mean that American schoolchildren can no longer recite the pledge" . . . that is inaccurate. The case simply means that no one (school children or adults) can be compelled by the government to make a pledge that includes a reference to a religion-the "God" part. However, this is directly in keeping with the West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 US 624 (1943) case (see <http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/pledge1.htm> again). Just to clarify, school children in America, as has been upheld by the Supreme Court, can in fact recite the Pledge of Allegiance . . . they can recite it with or without the "under God" statement . . . they can even pray in school! They cannot be compelled (forced) to do so, nor can they be disruptive to other students or create an atmosphere towards other students who choose not to participate. This is a distinct fact of importance, often lost on those who promote a pro-religion platform.
  3. You spend a few paragraphs speaking about a massive "separationist" conspiracy centered around a "wall of separation". No such conspiracy exists. As the number of atheists in this country is much lower than the number of believers, if such a conspiracy did exist it would require the complicit help of many believers. You use several examples (Declaration of Independence, First Amendment) to bolster your argument that such a wall does exist. However, your logic is both faulty and misleading. The Declaration, in each of the four instances where it references something relating to a higher power, does not use the term "God," "Almighty," "Lord," "Jesus" or any such Christian term. In fact, in the most pronounced declaration, it uses the rather unorthodox (for the time) term "Creator". And the fact that the term was so unorthodox for the time should show how carefully crafted the document was in order to not tie to a Christian ideology. Creator could be a god, a parent, a epoch, or mitichlorians. From all my research and reading of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin (an atheist), and Alexander Hamilton, I have come to the conclusion that these men most definitely did not want to hamstring the work they were creating by immediately engaging it in a theocratic debate. Therefore, I think it should be more correctly inferred that they were dancing lightly around the issue.
      As for the First Amendment, you state that it does not create a literal separation of church and state. You are correct, there is no literal verbiage used. However, since it states that a/the government may not "respect an establishment" nor "prohibiting the exercise thereof," it places a logical entrapment upon the government. Last section first - the government cannot prohibit the people (in the course of their daily lives) from practicing a religion. They cannot decree a religion illegal (unless, as later tested in the courts, said religion violates the safety of the common good) nor can they try to coerce a specific religion to be followed at the expense of freedom to believe in another. Basically this was to prohibit the actions similar to those which occurred in England and France, whereby the government would either decree a national religion that the governed were forced to follow or to persecute parishioners of religions the government disliked. Simply, you cannot have a government with a religious bend and not expect it to begin to impact the rights of the citizens that don't believe that way-therefore, the government should have no stated, agreed upon, singular religion. As for the first portion, "establishment" is often treated as a verb - it is, in fact, used as a noun. If it were a verb, it would have been written "respecting the establishment". The difference in language means a legal difference of whether the government can recognize (as in allow) any particular religion to begin to exist or whether the government can recognize them once they do. Many misconstrue this statement in a secular sense to mean that the government can't start a religion. The true sense is that the government can show no preference or "respect" to any specific religious doctrine. By included "under God" in the Pledge by law, the government did just that, by showing preference to the Christian theology's sense of a higher power.
  4. You use statements from Justice Rehnquist (a dissenting opinion, you did note), President Bush, and John Adams that seem to all support the notion that religion, specifically Christianity, belongs in the US Government system, that it has always been there, and that denying that is somehow devious. There have been man religions that have built America; and many different kinds of people. There is absolutely no evidence that citizens of no religion, or differing religions, are more or less moral than Christian citizens. So I would present that perhaps the individuals you quote have merely allowed their personal belief systems to come a bit far to the surface in an arena where personal beliefs and representative will are in fact separate. Do not forget, it took 144 years before women could vote . . . that did not mean that they didn't deserve it or that the representatives in government were right. It just means that sometimes, good people's personal beliefs aren't correct.

I have seen many people claim that this is "petty" and "ridiculous" . . . on the other hand I have read a fair amount of opinion by outwardly Christian authors that see it as "necessary" and "timely." I'm sure that many of the Christian citizens of the US that find this ruling to be "petty" and "ridiculous" would vehemently rail against the inclusion of "Jehovah," "Yahweh," "Satan," "Buddha," or even "Primordial Sludge" in the text of the Pledge. And on that lack of tolerance towards other accepted deities, I suggest that this is not "petty" or "ridiculous," but only called so because it is their "God" that is currently excepted and being spoken of. Once again, it just becomes easier to simply not inject the words of specific religions . .  . not "respecting an establishment of religion" . . . into government affairs . . . it is both unnecessary and problematic.

OPINION: As for the next steps, I do, in fact, hope that "God" is taken off all things in relation to the US (and hopefully states') governance. Currency, logos, buildings, seals, songs - all of it. Our government is of, by, and for the people . . . not of a majority, for a few, or by some . . . of all, for all, by all. And given that, in logic a complete set, the union of disparate sets, religion - a variable amongst otherwise united citizens - gets excluded. That isn't to say that religion isn't a factor in the principles of uniting . . . merely that religion is not one of the universal uniting principles itself. I also have no problem with flag burning . . . I wouldn't do it, but if some other shmuck is that torqued at America, he should have the freedom to make such a statement and burn his $10 piece of cloth. Along the same lines, I think they need to redo the Oath given in courtrooms . . . do you believe that Osama bin Laden would take an oath "To tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God?" I'd bet not. If he affirms that oath, does it relinquish his responsibility for truthfulness because it was inaccurate? I have been in court twice in my life, once defending a traffic ticket and another testifying at my parents' divorce proceedings; both times, folly ensued when I refused to take that oath. In the divorce case, the judge was visually irritated because it took up time to find the "other" oath. Personally I saw it has the honorable thing to do, as I could not ideologically pledge such an oath and would not simply dismiss the importance to others of pledging before "God" by doing so. Furthermore, I was always a shy child in school and I found that having to stand up and say the Pledge of Allegiance out loud to be very scary. I would literally get nervous in the morning during homeroom because of it. Did that mean that I would have, given the option, not done it? Absolutely, I would have passed. But would that mean that I didn't agree with the statement? (all but the "under God" part) That I was unpatriotic? Absolutely not! To me, a pledge is something that should be felt and can be expressed at will (sometimes even privately) . . . it isn't a prayer, it isn't a spell, it is a acknowledgment. And it isn't a pledge to a god, it is a pledge from me (who may believe in God, may not believe in gods, may believe in different gods) to support my government (which, because it is comprised of the ideologies of all, can have no singular god). And in the basis of most religions, mentioning "God" is completely unnecessary as making such a pledge while standing before God is binding enough . . . it is rather understood by your belief system that what you pledge is bound before that god.

Keep writing about the Mac (have you noticed that there is no mention of church or God or Buddha, etc. anywhere in the Mac OS . . . I suggest we keep it that way), and I'll keep reading.

Scott Boone

Ruling on Pledge of Allegiance

From Jojo Mathen:

I am a Christian and by no means intending to offend. However, it's always puzzled me that the phrase "...under God..." was in our pledge of allegiance. It especially bothered me that it was only recently (relatively speaking) inserted by Congress. The Constitution says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. Isn't that what they did when they inserted "...under God..." into the Pledge of Allegiance?

Huh? US Court Rules Pledge of Allegiance - Unconstitutional

From Randy Peterson:

Mr. Moore:

I read your recent column on Low End Mac, as I do all your columns, with interest. I rarely agree with your political positions, but your arguments are often thought provoking. In this case, I think your conclusions about the ultimate end of this case are correct - it will ultimately be overturned on appeal. However, as clear and insightful as your legalistic arguments are, I think you failed to consider the human dimensions of this issue. Since I feel you are a reasonable and decent person, I want to share my own experience with you.

I am 35 years old, and devout Jehovah's Witnesses raised me. As a result of that sect's well-known objection to the Pledge, every day of my life from kindergarten through sixth grade, I was forced to make a spectacle of myself by obviously refusing to recite the Pledge while everyone else did. Every year I had to explain to each new teacher and every new substitute that my family's religion prohibited reciting the Pledge. Some teachers, to their credit, were respectful and sensitive to the fact that a child has no control over these issues. Many, many more, however, were disdainful or openly hostile. It was clear to everyone that the teacher and the school disapproved and condemned my behavior and only grudgingly permitted it. Certainly my classmates understood that it was all right to ridicule and harass me for it.

This went on for seven years. Almost twenty-five years after it ended, I am still angry about it: I am angry with my parents because I had to pay for their oddball religious practices. I'm angry at my classmates, who mindlessly subjected me to needless abuse, but I'm even more angry at my teachers, the school, and the government that each day forced a five-year-old to choose between loyalty and obedience to his parents and loyalty and obedience to his country.

As you can probably guess, I have not called myself a Jehovah's Witness since I was eighteen and first had a choice in the matter. However, given what I've seen and experienced of the way so-called Christians behave toward those different from themselves, I don't call myself "Christian," either. Furthermore, although an American flag will be flying at my house this 4th of July, I hesitate to call myself "patriotic," because I know how much ugliness and hurt can be associated with that word.

I don't claim to be knowledgeable enough to state an opinion on the constitutionality of the 9th Circuit's decision. The US Supreme Court is the only legitimate authority on those matters, and I am sure we will be hearing from it soon. I have, however, read Judge Goodwin's decision, and it rings true with the experience of my childhood. In particular:

"Although students cannot be forced to participate in recitation of the Pledge, the school district is nonetheless conveying a message of state endorsement.

The Pledge, as currently codified, is an impermissible government endorsement of religion because it sends a message to unbelievers that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.' Lynch, 465 US at 688 (O'Connor, J., concurring).

[T]he policy and the Act place students in the untenable position of choosing between participating in an exercise with religious content or protesting.

The coercive effect of this policy is particularly pronounced in the school setting given the age and impressionability of schoolchildren, and their understanding that they are required to adhere to the norms set by their school, their teacher and their fellow students."

Many times in adulthood I have voluntarily recited the Pledge of Allegiance at various meetings and ceremonies. I don't really have a problem with the words themselves. None the less, every time I get to the part about "one nation . . , indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," I remember all the times when I was little and was laughed at, lectured by a teacher, or called names because of my religion, and a part of me wonders if there is any truth in those words at all.

Again, I do enjoy your work. I hope that I have given you something to think about, as you have given me on many occasions.

Thanks,
Randy Peterson

Ramblings

From Edward Morris:

Mr. Moore,

If I wanted to read right wing Christian garbage I'd go to right wing Christian web sites.

I do not.

I resent your use of your position as a simple computer writer to post fundamentalist dribble that, seeking verbage related to the MacIntosh, I used my bandwith to download.

As an American I resent a Canadian attempting to lecture me about the intent and meaning of the Bill of Rights. Law evolves. The foundng fathers owned slaves and supported slavery. Shall we restore slavery to the United States? Actually as a Canadian I could care less about your opinion about such matters. I promise not to inudate you with my opinon about the Meech Lake accord or nation's current one party political system.

Religion is responsible for most of the worlds ills. Be it the nightmare of the Middle East, the 9-11 fundamentalists attack in New York, Northern Ireland, the problems in Ethipoia and the Sudan, Pakistan and India....

The United States benefits from the separation of Church and state. However should you persist...

As a resident of Massachusetts, my first religious act would be to ban all fundamentalist Protestants from practicing their faith. The largely Catholic population would undountedly support such a move. The Catholic God is far better than the Protestant God.

I have no doubt the Supreme Court will restore your God to American public life. Heck, they installed a President who lost an election by more than a half million votes.

You're a decent tech writer. Stick to what you know.

Edward Morris

Huh? US Court Rules Pledge of Allegiance - Unconstitutional

From: Jason Walsh:

Quotation

President Bush himself has declared the ruling "ridiculous," and so it is, but it also is fair warning that the forces of atheist humanism are still doggedly pressing on with their agenda to trample Western Christian cultural heritage underfoot.

End quotation

Come on Charles! As an atheist and humanist (I love tautologies, don't you?), I'm perplexed by your above assertion.

Surely it's more the forces of tokenistic political correctness at work? This is gesture politics at it's finest.

I'm not convinced that the "forces of atheist humanism" are on the march, though I may wish that it were so. If anything the growth areas in social science research indicate that postmodernism and fundamentalist religion (not just of the Christian variety) are on the up. I'm not even sure if many atheists really care about pledges - and if they do, they shouldn't - though I must plead ignorance of goings on in the US

The forces of atheist humanism, as you put it, along with their coconspirators in liberalism, socialism, modernism, and so on, are all products of the Enlightenment, and as such belong to the Western tradition as much as Christianity does.

You know all of this. I've read much the same in an article which you wrote explaining the origin of the term "liberalism."

The events of September 11th allowed us, left and right alike, to come together and defend our modern civilisation in our own ways, against ignorance. It is to our great shame that we have failed to do so, though sadly I must place most of the blame on my, ahem, "fellow travelers" on the left, who seem to think that "tolerance" is a substitute for politics.

Best wishes.

Yours etc.,
Jason Walsh

So your Macintosh website is now a Political and religious site?

From Jason Lazzara:

[This email was sent to both the publisher of Low End Mac and Mr. Moore]

Frankly if I want news and opinions other than Mac I will go to www.foxnews.com or www.indymedia.org. It really annoys me that these two articles have been published on your site. I frequent you site daily and now plan to find another. I recommend your site to many people and will now recommend another. I suggest that you not piss off your future viewer base like you have me. If you want to write about politics or religion or your opinion on those matters, start up a different site. [Editor's note: one of the two articles Lazzara references was posted on a different site and not on Low End Mac at all.]

As a kid growing up in the States, I was always uncomfortable with saying the pledge. Especially the "under god" part. My family was different, and I was not allowed to express that difference. I was forced to conform to the ideals and beliefs that others held. Yes, I was forced. When I was in school, it was mandatory that you say the pledge or be punished.

Finally, your article was well written in a narrow opinionated sort of way. You never stopped to think that it would be offensive for a child of Hindu faith to hear "under God." "Under god" implies that there exists only one god. Many other religions have multiple gods.

God has no place in politics at all. No place in government. No place on our money or in our schools. God is a personal thing to be observed or unobserved by the individual. Being forced to hear "under god" is no different that being forced to sit through a Muslim prayer every morning in class.

Jason Lazzara
Mac Enthusiast

"Huh" column

From John DeMillion:

Dear Charles,

I've appreciated your columns on LEM for quite awhile. I wanted to weigh in as a "radical separationist" in regard to your recent column, "Huh? US Court Rules Pledge of Allegiance - Unconstitutional." This kind of stuff that goes on regarding the separation of church and state puts the Mac vs. Wintel "platform wars" to shame, but I thought I'd try to shed some light how we radicals think. ;-)

The "under God" phrase was added to the pledge by Congress in 1954 during the height of the "Red Scare" after a campaign by the Catholic Knights of Columbus (I was raised Catholic and know the church well). The K of C were also responsible for a number of other church/state violations in the same time period, including the bolting of the Catholic version of the Ten Commandments onto the front limestone wall of my Pennsylvania county's courthouse.

It's very clearly a meddling of religion (not to mention bad poetry) in the otherwise secular and patriotic pledge, similar to the addition to "In God We Trust" on the dollar bill, which also happened in the 1950s for the same reasons.

Another church/state violation is the Oath of Office that the President of the United States takes. The oath is actually presented verbatim in the constitution, and nowhere does it have "so help me God," but a Supreme Court Justice dumped the phrase in there capriciously at some point, and it stuck, however inappropriately.

There's little doubt that Adams was a religious guy, Jefferson less so. His unedited letter to the Danbury Baptists <http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpost.html> sheds a little more light on the subject and his mindset. Since we're interpreting the Founders' thoughts and intentions here a few hundred years later, it's useful reading. Jefferson's other writings on the subject are also illuminating, removing the argument that the Founders approved of "freedom of religion" but not "freedom from religion":

Convinced that religious liberty must, most assuredly, be built into the structural frame of the new [state] government, Jefferson proposed this language [for the new Virginia constitution]: "All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious institution": freedom for religion, but also freedom from religion. (Edwin S. Gaustad, Faith of Our Fathers: Religion and the New Nation, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987, p. 38. Jefferson proposed his language in 1776.)

Despite the Supreme Court's largess in 1892 regarding Christianity, it says nothing about the Founders and makes no legal basis for that claim. On the other hand, the Treaty of Tripoli of 1796, signed by John Adams while Jefferson was Vice President and ratified by the Senate, states very precisely in it's first sentence, "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion. . . ." John Adams had only this to say regarding the treaty that he signed: "Now be it known, that I, John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said treaty do, by and within the consent of the Senate, accept, ratify and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof." ("Treaty of Peace and Friendship between The United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary," 1796-1797. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Edited by Hunter Miller. Vol. 2. 1776-1818. US Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., 1931, p. 383; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 45.)

The critical issue (and the one involved in the case that came before the 9th Circuit recently) is whether people can be compelled (whether by legal force or through embarrassment or intimidation) to pray to, or acknowledge, a god. Allowing "under God" in the pledge is a small but telling example, and it should not stand. A more serious example is in a western state that requires it's citizens to sign their tax forms with "so help me God." One freethinker refused to sign it as written and crossed out the "so help me God" before he signed it . . . and was prosecuted for his trouble. This is the beginnings of the kind of trouble that Jefferson, Madison, and to a lesser extent the other Founding Fathers sought to avoid, because they had seen it destroy people and societies in Europe throughout history.

The religious person's knee-jerk reaction is that their right to practice their religion is being take away, but it's a nonsensical notion. The principle is simply that religion should not be associated with any state-mandated or state-associated practice, be it a pledge, a courthouse building, a tax form, testifying in court, or any other "official" exercise. Religious people are free to practice their religion and pray anywhere. The Ten Commandments may be posted on the church, the private bank across the street from the courthouse, in people's front yards - literally everywhere except the courthouse. Prayers may be recited anywhere that one pleases, from the rooftops if desired . . . literally everywhere except where a representative of the state in an official capacity compels the exercise or where it's an official state function.

Why are religious people are so disturbed when the Ten Commandments must come down from the courthouse, school-led prayers are prohibited at graduation, or a commie-scare phrase inappropriately injected into a patriotic pledge is removed? Simply because those associations and compelling venues are extremely powerful . . . which is the precise reason why the Founders wanted nothing of it, and that the Establishment Clause prohibits them. Religious people may utter their prayers or admonitions to their gods at any other time, in any other place, but they [may not] seek to compel others into uniformity with their beliefs, even if that belief is that a god (or a single god) exists. Another Jefferson quote, then, speaks to us on this subject: "Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth." (Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782; from George Seldes, ed., The Great Quotations, Secaucus, New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1983, p. 363.)

Thanks for taking the time to read all of this; I hope that it helps you to understand our viewpoint, and that we don't seek to eliminate religion or prayer, nor to infringe on anyone's rights to practice their faith, just to keep it a non-state affair.

Sincerely,
John DeMillion
IT Director and Agnostic Freethinker

Supreme Court Disses Itself

From Dean Arthur:

The "separation of church and state" was taken out of context from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote to a Baptist sect in Boston, wherein he stated that the First Amendment prohibited the government from establishing a national religion, thus "erecting a wall of separation between church and state."

Prior to 1890, almost all court decisions made some reference to the fact that the people were sovereign in their adherence to whichever form of Godly worship they practiced, and the government had no power to interpose itself between them and said worship. After 1890 the gov't via the supremes started defining the various forms in which worship could take place and where. I wonder where "it" found the authority for this.

Reference to the Treaty with the Barbary Pirates [early 1800s] will elicit the statement that "...this nation was not founded in accordance with Christian principles...", et cetera, ad nauseum. So, I guess it was founded under either Rosecrucian, Masonic, or satanic principles, n'est ce pas?

re: Pledge of Allegiance

From Lee Kilpatrick:

In your recent article on Low End Mac, you say:

...[the] "Establishment Clause" of the First Amendment makes no reference, explicit or implicit, to "separation of church and state," and only inhibits government from establishing a particular denomination as the official state religion.

The ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance was not made on the basis of "separation of church and state" but instead on the basis of not establishing an official state religion. The phrase "one nation, under God, indivisible" has been interpreted by the court to imply an endorsement of Christianity by the use of the term "God" (capitalized).

Though the writer of this article uses the term "separation of church and state," the quotes from the judges involved make it clear that the ruling was based on the implicit support of one religion over another:  <http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/27/national/27PLED.html> (free registration required) to quote from the article, referring to "under God":

From a constitutional standpoint, those two words, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote in the 2-to-1 decision, were just as objectionable as a statement that "we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion."

Lee

Re: Huh? US Court Rules Pledge of Allegiance - Unconstitutional

From Kevin Schrage Jr.:

Personally, I've always found the "under God" part to be a bit hypocritical (but not as hypocritical as "with liberty and justice for all" - that's just an outright lie). I just think back to the first grade, when we were told that the first amendment meant I could say anything I wanted (as long as it was true), I could hang out with who ever I wanted, and the government couldn't tell me what to believe. This was reinforced by my parents telling me, "We don't want you to believe everything you're told; we want you to think for yourself." Over the years, I've come up with my system for what I believe in. God does not fit in that system. So every time that I hear the Pledge, I think, "That's not what I believe in, how dare they tell me what to believe." Yes, I know "In God We Trust" is on all US money. That's why I use my Visa card whenever I can (I've yet to see any reference to God on my billing statement) and carry as little cash as possible. This is the Pledge I say:

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

You have your opinion, that's good. It's also good that you shared you opinion. Just let me ask you this, should I have to pledge my allegiance to a god that I don't even believe exist.

This ruling is to protect the freedom of people like me.

Your work is very good and I will continue to read it, I just thought that you should know that I strongly disagree with you on this point.

Kevin Schrage Jr.

"HUH?" is right!

From Jeff Preischel:

"Huh? US Court Rules Pledge of Allegiance - Unconstitutional'"

M'kay, this article has what to do with computers?

Pro or anti religious establishment articles have no place at the LEM site regardless of how well they are written.

Jeff Preischel

Radical Thoughts:

From Malcolm Dean:

"Their 'freedom from religion' idea is a . . . ideological construct dreamed up by radical social activists."

Umm . . . That was what brought many early settlers to the Americas in the first place....

Malcolm Dean, ex-Canadian ;-)
Los Angeles

'Radical Separationists'

From: Bob Friede:

Never saw that term before. A great rant, Charles. But I'm really writing to say that I just bought a neat used Pismo/500, spurred on by one of your columns a while back. I'm looking forward to seeing how it does compared to the WallStreet 500 I've been using. Anyhow, thanks for the nudge. I feel so much more modern now! Temporarily, I'm going to have to use a SCSI-fiwi converter in order to use the same old SCSI-1 DVD-RAM burner I use for backups, but FireWire beckons...

Cheers,
Bob Friede

One Nation

From Travis Glaab:

Mr. Knight,

I have been visiting Low End Mac for over a year. In fact, it is the one site I log onto almost every day. Just last week I saw that you have a newsletter, so I thought I would give it a try. Believe me, I very seldom subscribe to online newsletters.

Then in the first issue I receive I am confronted with "One Nation Under God?"

I read it, and chose not to write. Then today I see your endorsement of Charles W. Moore's article and felt I needed to respond.

The court did not prohibit the recitation of the pledge. They stated that it was unconstitutional for Congress to add the words "under God" and that this form should not be used in public schools.

"A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect of religion," said the court.

This is not a free speech issue. Individuals are not being prevented from saying anything. Teachers are not allowed to present the 'under God' version as being endorsed by the American government.

Teachers and schools can still recite the pledge in an earlier form, with the words omitted.

You are correct when you assume that the words were added because of McCarthy era patriotism. It was an attempt to falsely characterize the United States as a Christian nation and enforce the idea of atheistic communism.

From your article:

Congress cannot choose a religion and make it the official state religion, nor can it prevent adherents from freely exercising their religion. Simply putting "In God We Trust" on currency or the phrase "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance does nothing to establish any particular faith as the religion of the state.'

You have already stated that the use of the word "God" implies a Christian god. It's capitalized; you only capitalize the word when you mean it to be the Christian god. Christianity as a whole is a faith. These words endorse Christianity as the state religion. The President swearing on a Bible does the same, as does Congress opening with a prayer. It may not be Dan Knight's vision of Christianity, but it still supports the idea that the American government(and the American people) follow the religious doctrine described in the Bible.

I respect your right to be a Christian. I am an atheist. There is no room in my life for any god or demon. When asked, I tell people that I'm an atheist. I discuss it with them if they have questions. If a child asks me, then I am careful. I will tell them and explain to them why I believe what I do, if they ask. Parents have a right to raise their children however they want, and I would not infringe on that. I would not encourage a child who is not my ward to believe what I believe.

You are wrong when you say that Mr. Newdow's daughter was not compelled to recite the Pledge. That is specifically the idea behind reciting something like the pledge, whether it's in a classroom or in a public square. Many adults are compelled to believe ridiculous things because of the power of large groups. Why would you think a child would not feel pressed to recite along with her classmates?

I am also sending this letter to Mr. Moore specifically because I want to emphasize that the United States of America is not a Christian nation. You may think it is because you are Christian, your friends are Christian, maybe their friends are Christian. But you are wrong. There are Americans (and Canadians) out there that you don't know. We pay taxes. We vote. We take responsibility for the actions of our government, which is full of people we elect to represent us. We are not Christians. We are not some wild force of "atheist humanism still doggedly pressing on with their agenda to trample Western Christian cultural heritage underfoot." We are Americans.

It is my hope that everyone will someday realize that the "western Christian cultural heritage" has done enough of the trampling for the past 1500 years, and it can stop any time it wants to.

This country needs a government that is neutral on some issues. Religion is one of them. The world needs to be neutral on this issue. Too many people have died (and trust me, the majority were killed by Christians) because of their religious beliefs.

We all must have the right to maintain our own beliefs as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. The recitation of the Pledge in the classroom infringes on the rights of others.

I will fight to protect the spiritual beliefs of myself and my family. Believe me, even if I have to fight a misguided Canadian or two.

If you choose to ignore this and post another article so forcefully slanted to the Religious Right without thinking to represent the other side of the argument, then please put that little fish emblem on your web site so that we know to stay the hell away.

-Travis Glaab

Pledge of Alleigence Not Unconstitutional - What Are Your Sources?

From N30:

In your article, you said that "US Court Rules Pledge of Allegiance 'Unconstitutional.'" You also said that "American schoolchildren can no longer recite the pledge in the nine Western states covered by the 9th Circuit Court." Both of those statements are false. The pledge of alleigence is not "unconstitutional," and children are still alowed to say it.

The pledge of Alleigencestates that the United States is "one nation under god." This statement therefor declares faith and belief in god. By asking the schoolchildren to say this pledge, they are asking them to declare faith in god. This in itself may or may not be unconstitutional, but do you really think a 6 year old is going to stand up to the teacher and say, "No, Mrs. Robinson, I will not say the pledge with the other children because I am a Muslim." Asking children that do not know better to declare their faith in god should not be legal. If you think otherwise, then simply ignore this email. Adressing your claim that "American schoolchildren can no longer recite the pledge in the nine Western states covered by the 9th Circuit Court," that is simply wrong. Children can still recite the pledge, but teachers are not allowed to ask the children to recite the pledge and by doing so declare their faith in god.

Something to think about: would you feel the same way if the pledge said "one nation under Allah" or "one nation under Zeus"?

Having been through the American school system, I would understand the tremendous pressure put on kids not to stand out (i.e., not to declare themselves any minority religion).

I will attribute this lack of understanding to the fact that being Canadian your only source of American news may be the Internet. The Internet reporting on this issue in complete crap at best, and I would like to know your sources on this issue.

Dear N30,

I just have to answer this one. Talk about "walls of separation"! Sometimes it seems as if there is a giant one-way mirror erected along the 49th parallel with the reflective side facing south.

The points of discussion I dealt with in the preamble above.

I am constrained to note that here in the Great White North every American television network, including CNN, is available on cable, by satellite, and in many of the most populous parts of Canada - off the air as well. Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and dozens - probably hundreds -  of other American periodicals and newspapers are available on newsstands. Personally, I subscribe to The Atlantic Monthly and read Time frequently. I also read The Economist, a British periodical that comments extensively on American affairs.

However, US media aside, the Canadian media, including television, magazines, and newspapers, cover US issues extensively - some might say obsessively. There is usually about 20 minutes of news originating in the United States on my local TV station's one hour suppertime newscast.

As a professional journalist for a decade and a half, including six years as a columnist for San Diego-based Continental Newstime, and as a lifelong history buff with a particular interest in American history (on which I am probably better informed than I am about Canadian history), I figure that I'm reasonably well equipped to comment intelligently on American issues as an an outsider looking in.

Sources? In addition to major American news media, how does the Library of Congress grab you?

Charles

PS: With regard to the number of misspellings and grammatical errors in your letter, I'd suggest that you not brag about being a product of the American school system.

Go to Charles Moore's Mailbag index.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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