Jul '02 [Home]
Legislating God, with a Disclaimer|
James I & Pope Paul V: 'Been There, Done That, in 1610'
If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.
In Barnette, the Supreme Court held unconstitutional a school district's wartime policy of punishing students who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, newly composed in 1942. Eisenhower heralded the 1954 addition of the words, "under God," saying,
From this day forward, the millions of our school children [unlike those scary atheist Communist kids, vide: 'infidels'] will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty.
The bill's sponsors, aware that they may be running afoul of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause ("Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion"), led with a pre-emptive disclaimer:
This is not an act establishing a religion. . . . A distinction must be made between the existence of a religion as an institution and a belief in the sovereignty of God. The phrase, "under God," recognizes only the guidance of God in our national affairs.
In Newdow v. U.S. Congress, (No. 00-16423), decided 2-1 on June 26, the Ninth Circuit held this distinction irrelevant, and found a prohibited government endorsement of religious beliefs, scorning the Seventh Circuit decision in Sherman v. Comm'ty Cons. School Distr. 21 (980 F. 2d 437 (1992)) for holding the "under God" phrase "devoid of any significant religious content." The Newdow dissenter argued, in essence: 'Hey, [God-fearing] majority rules!' and 'If you don't like my music, you must hate music altogether.' ("I recognize that some people may not feel good about hearing the phrases recited in their presence but, then, others might not feel good if they are omitted.")
To recite the Pledge is not to describe the U.S.; instead, it is to swear allegiance to the values for which the flag stands: unity, indivisibility, liberty, justice, and—since 1954—monotheism.
Congress immediately resolved 99-0 to recite the Pledge for the press. Senator Byrd (D-WVa) vowed to "blackball" those "stupid" judges. Minority Leader Hassert called for "common sense" appointments. Chief Justice Rehnquist is sharpening his proven, chad-eyeing smarts. What result if their copies of John Donne's Pseudo Martyr (1610) were as well-worn as their leather-bound Federalist Papers?
While Newdow's dissenter projects great mourning over the outlawing of spontaneous public choirs of God Bless America (and the third and er, umm fourth verses of My Country 'Tis of Thee—complete list of banned gazebos tunes forthcoming), authors complain adamantly of droit moral-analog copyright violations by school board officials who edit their texts to delete or rewrite non-PC elements.
News article follow-up's inform that Dr. Newdow 'never married' his daughter's mother, who has instructed her counsel in the custody battle to oppose Newdow on the First Amendment issue if the U.S. Supreme Court grants certiorari to hear the case, and assured all who care that her daughter 'doesn't mind at all' saying the Pledge and attends church on a regular basis.
—MH (J.D., LL.M)