"Vote for me, and I will turn America's court system over to you." This appears to be Republican presidential candidate John McCain's strategy to get religious conservatives to support him, the way they supported Bush in previous elections.
I would bet good money that the McCain campaign is counting down the days to the 9th Circuit Court opinions on 'under God' and 'In God We Trust' (now between 0 and 21 days away). They have probably prepared a full-court press on the topics of "patriotism" and "judicial activism" starting the day that the decision comes out, and following through to the day of the election.
With millions of votes, tens of millions of dollars, and millions of hours of volunteer time on the table, the release of the Court opinion – particularly if it goes against 'under God' in the Pledge – will be harvest time for the McCain campaign.
Meanwhile, I would also bet good money that the Obama campaign doesn't even see this one coming. Some time before the end of June some Obama staff worker will be working with CNN on in the background when the news channel will break with some important news. "The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has again ruled that 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the First Amendment." Uttering a string of profanities she will then drop everything as she starts making frantic phone calls saying, "We need some kind of response, and we need one quick."
This, of course, is pure speculation on my part.
Obama does have a part of his campaign directly focused on evangelical outreach.
Nevertheless, the Obama campaign plans to add a full-time evangelical-focused staff member to its existing religious outreach team and is rolling out an effort over the summer to organize over a thousand house parties built around an hour-and-a-half-long curriculum on faith and politics.
Part of Obama's evangelical strategy seems to be getting them focused on issues like poverty and the environment, rather than homosexuality and abortion. Still, I suspect that Obama will see no need to have an outreach program for secular America. Why should he, given that secular America has very little to offer in return in terms of votes, money, or volunteer labor?
If the people involved in this outreach are competent, they are ready for the upcoming 9th Circuit Court opinions regarding 'under God' and 'In God We Trust', and they will not get caught by surprise.
Obama has already stated that he expects McCain to attack him largely on issues of patriotism, and the 9th Circuit Court opinion will provide the best possible opportunity for such an attack.
The smart response from the Obama campaign would be to denounce the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in no uncertain terms – even more harshly than McCain. Politically, it would be wife for him to express as much hatred for the secularists who are 'seeking to remove all mention of God from the public square' and to profess how important it is that Americans express their religious views in public ceremonies and rituals. He will then talk about the importance of faith in his own life and state how religion is good for Americans (implying that no religion is bad for Americans).
The reason that this is the smart response is because he has little to lose in siding against secularism, and a great deal to gain. There are few votes in embracing secularism. There is almost no money in it. There are few volunteer hours to be expected from those who identify themselves as secularists. Siding with secularism in this country is the same as handing huge amounts of resources to one’s opponent. This is not something that a candidate who wishes to win will be prepared to do.
I suspect, Obama is in this election to win.
In Obama's only statement on this issue that I am aware of, he said that he did not feel oppressed by the words 'under God' when he went to school. (Call to Renewall Keynote Address) I would like to know if he feels the same way now that he has been the victim of a smear campaign that motivates people against him on the basis of a lie that he does not say the Pledge. Has this made him aware of what the political consequences are for those who cannot honestly pledge allegiance to 'one nation under God'?
Secularists are not going to get any help from either side of the political isle until they make it worthwhile in terms of votes, in terms of cash, and in terms of volunteer labor hours worked to give that support.
This is the situation that we have gotten ourselves into by 40 years in which secularists have presented their arguments to the courts in the form of politically unpopular lawsuits, but not to the people. While secularists have expected the wall of separation of church and state to stand forever, sectarian sappers have been tunneling underneath.
Once they control the judges, there will be no wall.
These are the political facts. Let's not ignore reality here.
Politics is fueled by the making of political deals – the "you wash my back and I'll wash yours" method of social interaction. In McCain’s case, the deal that he is going to propose will be, "You give me the White House, and I will give you the courts."
This is a deal that the religious base will accept, because they appreciate the power of the courts. Though they cry against 'judicial activism', they define 'judicial activism' as 'any judicial decision that produces a result that I do not like'. 'Judicial activism' for these people means, 'Any decision on the part of any judge that I disagree with.'
Since the defense of secularism will not come from Obama, it has to come from people outside of politics who recognize the value of secularism – from you and me.
We have to create a nation where it is once again safe for a candidate to say that he supports the separation of church and state and to say that he opposes the government declarations that question the membership of those who do not trust in God. We need to make it safe for politicians to suggest that there is something wrong with the moral character or patriotism of a citizen who does not support 'one nation under God'. Then, and only then, will we have politicians on our side again. Then, and only then, will we atheists themselves be able to run for public office and win.
We need to put some votes, some cash, and some willingness to do work behind secularism. Then, we will have a voice that the politicians will have reason to listen to.