Monday, June 09, 2008

The Pledge Project: An Endorsement of Religious Belief

I know that this is not a blog in Constitutional law. However, there is a statement in the Supreme Court record that:

(1) Is blatantly absurd.

(2) Can be easily shown to be blatantly absurd.

(3) I have never seen the proof of its absurdity anywhere other than in this blog.

The absurd proposition appears in County of Allegheny et al. v. American Civil Liberties Union where, with an eye towards previous Supreme Court decisions, the statement was made that:

Our previous opinions have considered in dicta the motto and the pledge, characterizing them as consistent with the proposition that government may not communicate an endorsement [492 U.S. 573, 603] of religious belief. Lynch, 465 U.S., at 693 (O'CONNOR, J., concurring); id., at 716-717 (BRENNAN, J., dissenting).

I have been reading the briefs for the 9th Circuit Court case that will be decided in the next 20 days or less. I have seen repeated references to this absurdity. Yet, nowhere have I seen what to me is the most obvious proof that it is absurd.

The easy proof that this is an absurdity requires a simple substitution that brings the absurdity right into the light.

Our previous opinions have considered in dicta the pledge, characterizing them as consistent with the proposition that the government may not communicate an endorsement of one nation, indivisible.

Or

Our previous opinions have considered in dicta the pledge, characterizing them as consistent with the proposition that the government may not communicate an endorsement of liberty and justice for all.

There is no proposition that the government may not endorse union, or that the government may not endorse liberty and justice for all. Yet, these two statements make clear how absurd it is to claim that 'indivisible' does not endorse union, and 'with liberty and justice for all' does not endorse liberty and justice for all.

It makes clear the absurity of the claim that 'one nation under God' does not endorse the proposition of 'one nation under God'.

I am going to be redundant here simply to make sure that the point gets through.

It is absolutely absurd to say that the Pledge is not an endorsement of liberty and justice for all.

It is absolutely absurd to say that the Pledge is not an endorsement of one nation, indivisible.

It is equally as absurd to say that the Pledge is not an endorsement of 'one nation under God'.

In fact, I can hardly think of a statement so easily proved false as this statement that the Supreme Court has repeated through a whole string of decisions – that the words 'under God' added to the Pledge does not endorse religious beliefs. Anybody who believes that the Pledge does not endorse 'one nation under God' has to believe that it does not endorse 'liberty and justice for all', and that is simply unbelievable.

Yet, as I have said, in nearly 30 years of Supreme Court decisions in which this claim has been made, I am surprised never to have seen this very simple proof as to its absurdity.

Situations like this make me wonder if I am not the person who is overlooking something obvious. How is it that a whole nation can miss what to me is entirely obvious – that the words 'under God' endorse religious beliefs in the same way that 'indivisible' endorses union and 'with liberty and justice for all' endorses liberty and justice for all?

To me, this is truly a case of a people, so overwhelmed by culture and tradition, that none of them even thinks to consider the fact that the Emperor has no clothes. Not only do they refuse to say what is completely obvious, but in their minds they manufacture an image of clothing and convince themselves that they see it. That this applies to proponents and opponents alike. Nobody dares to admit what is too obvious to deny – that 'one nation under God' endorses the religious belief of one nation under God in the same way that 'with liberty and justice for all' endorses liberty and justice for all.

If it is not the case that I am missing something – if this argument is as obvious as it appears to be – then this is an argument that needs to be made a part of the public debate before the Supreme Court actually passes judgment on the issue.

If the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declares 'under God' to be unconstitutional, then the Supreme Court will likely hear the case in its 2009-2010 term. Oral arguments will likely be heard in late 2009, giving us about 18 months to make this argument so much a part of the public consciousness of this issue that no news commentator and no Supreme Court judge can ignore it.

I have been giving this argument for 2.5 years now. I first gave this argument in the story, A Perspective on the Pledge. I expanded on the argument to make the book by the same name, "A Perspective on the Pledge."

I would like somebody to explain why this argument does not utterly destroy the claim that the Supreme Court has used for 30 years to assert that 'under God' does not violate the First Amendment.

Anybody?

5 comments:

Matthew said...

The pledge endorses one nation under God, but the Federal government does not because it does not require that an individual take the pledge against his will.

plum grenville said...

That is a really dumb argument, Matthew. The pledge is not separable from the the government. It was written by the government and is imposed by the government. (It was the Supreme Court, not Congress which decided that forcing someone to say the pledge was unconstitutional.)

How can the pledge possibly be anything other than a statement of what the government endorses and wants citizens to endorse?

The separation of church and state sets the bar higher than simply not forcing people to mouth religious statements with which they disagree.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Matthew

Thank you. Your statement is one that I should reasonably expect to be a response to this objection.

However, note that the Supreme Court quote that I used said "communicate an endorsement".

My statement that people should vote for Barak Obama for President would count as "communicating an endorsement" regardless of whether or not I require individuals to pledge to vote for Obama. To count as "communicating an endorsement", I nearly have to recommend the option.

The same is true of the Pledge. It "communicates an endorsement" of "one nation under God" in the same way that it "communicates an endorsement" of "liberty and justice for all".

When Congress voted to put "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, it "communicated its endorsement" of a pledge containing the words "under God" over a pledge that did not contain the words "under God".

Matthew said...

I didn't catch the wording difference there. Thanks!

timplausible said...

I believe a great many people who support the pledge know that it endorses religion. They want it to endorse religion. They argue that it does not because they know that the Constitution, as currently interpreted, requires them to make that argument if they want "Under God" in the pledge. It seems likely that judges rule in favor of this argument, not because it is sound, but because either they also want "Under God" in the pledge, or because they fear the reaction by those who want "Under God" in the pledge.