I have been writing in recent days about the importance of objecting to 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance and 'In God We Trust' as the national motto.
What are we going to do about it?
Here is what I want you to do.
I want you to go to some public forum somewhere – write a letter to the editor, post a comment to a relevant blog, enter a relevant online discussion, stand up on a soap box in a shopping mall, address your local city council or school board – and make a statement like the following:
'Under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance has never been about allowing God in the public square. It has always been about excluding non-religious people from public office and all aspects of civic life.
Perhaps adding the phrase:
And I can prove it.
I will get to that proof in a moment. I first want to make some preliminary remarks by answering the question, "Why should I do this?"
For the past 50 years, while secularists have been hiding behind judicial robes, sectarians have been out in the public concealing the real nature of these policies in a fog of rhetoric and misconceptions. They have been so successful that even secularists are having trouble seeing the real nature of these policies.
They have framed the debate in terms of allowing God on the public square, and portrayed their opponents as being enemies of freedom of speech, enemies of freedom of religious practice, and enemies of freedom of conscience.
Secularists, in the mean time, have been using legal (not the moral) principle of separation of church and state as if it is some sort of trump card. They have acted as if merely putting this card on the table will convince everybody (or at least a substantial majority) that these policies must be rejected. They have not noticed how 40 years of unanswered sectarian propaganda have turned 'separation of church and state' into something so distasteful in the eyes of the majority of Americans that it has no power anymore.
There are a lot of ways to change a law, other than by passing legislation or Constitutional amendments. One way is to simply change what the words mean. "Separation of church and state" is on its last legs in this country. People have been throwing it into battle after battle without taking even a moment to tend to the wounds it has received. When it falls, every principle of government that has been thrown onto its shoulders will fall with it.
We can see the death blow coming. I wrote about it last month in the post, A New Constitutional Test for Religious Liberty, where I reported that the Supreme Court may be near to adopting a new test for First Amendment cases. Called the Coercion Test, this test renders everything permissible except direct coercion - fines and imprisonment for failure to participate in a religious ritual.
It is time to quit hiding behind the judicial robes (because they will not be there for us to hide behind much longer) and to take the debate to the people themselves in moral terms, not just legal terms.
The moral issue is that 'under God' in the Pledge and 'In God We Trust' as the national motto posted on the money, in government buildings, and (particularly) in school classrooms are part of an attempt to use the government to promote hostility against peaceful citizens based on their religious beliefs and to put nearly insurmountable barriers between those 'infidels' and elected public offices and positions of public trust.
The Proof . . .
I can prove that 'under God' is not motivated by the simple desire to mention God in the public square or to honor the values of the founding fathers. It is actually easy to do.
When the founding fathers wrote the Constitution, they wrote an oath for public office:
I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
There is no mention of God in this official oath. In fact, the Constitution explicitly prohibits a religious test for public office.
. . . no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
However, they left officials free to add any religious addendum to their oath of office that they would be comfortable with. When George Washington took the oath of office for the first time it is reported that he voluntarily appended the phrase "so help me God" to the end.
An option that both honors and respects the intention of the founding fathers, and that allows for a mention of God in the public square, is one in which the Pledge itself does not mention God or make any religious reference, but one in which citizens are free to tack onto the end the phrase "so help me God" or any other phrase that suits their particular, individual, beliefs. Or to add nothing at all.
Since this both allow the mention of God in the public square and honors the founding fathers, it should be suitable to anybody who has these goals. If somebody does not find this option suitable, we may assume that she has something else in mind - some other value that 'under God' fulfills, but 'so help me God' does not.
That value can be found in the fact that 'under God' written into the pledge equates those who do not support 'one nation under God' with those who do not support 'with liberty and justice for all'. It puts a barrier between those who do not believe in God and public office by equating belief in God with patriotism and patriotism with fitness for public office. These are the values that keep 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance - not 'honoring the founding fathers' or 'allowing God into the public square'.
Unfortunately, we have allowed sectarians to use these smoke screens without the slightest challenge so, now, the vast majority of the population have come to think of their claims as unquestionably true. Certainly they must be true if nobody has questioned them.
The facts that we need to establish are that "Under God" and "In God We Trust" were passed 50+ years ago to promote public hostility against atheists and to put a nearly insurmountable barrier between them and public office and positions of public trust. They were made a part of school rituals and civic life to encourage children to look down on anybody who did not favor 'one nation under God' - Soviet Communists in specific, but all atheists in practice.
These are morally objectionable practices quite independent of any legal arguments. These practices will remain immoral regardless of any changes made in the law. The law, in this case, can only be made more or less just.
It is time to remind the secular community of these facts so that, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals releases its decision, the secular community can take advantage of the opportunity to make the rest of the country of these facts.
The ultimate goal is that, when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals releases its decision, there are people out there asking a new question that exposes aspects of this case that have long been buried. "What business does the government have teaching children that those who do not support 'one nation under God' are as bad as those who do not support 'liberty and justice for all', and using this to put political barriers between law-abiding citizens and public office and positions of public trust?"