Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Pledge Project: House Resolution 5872

The moral principles that I am applying to 'under God' in the Pledge and 'In God We Trust' as the national motto in this series of posts are meant to be applicable to a range of similar behavior. In fact, a moral principle is not a moral principle if it is not applicable to a range of behavior.

One example of similar behavior is the passage in the House of Representatives yesterday of HR5872, "To require the Secretary of the Treasury to mint coins in commemoration of the centennial of the Boy Scouts of America, and for other purposes." It passed by a vote of 403 in favor to 8 against. (See, Congress's $3.5 million "bake sale" for the Boy Scouts By Chris Rodda)

Effectively, this is an act by Congress that will provide the Boy Scouts of America with about $3.5 million in funding from the proceeds of a commemorative coin.

Two Types of Wrong

There are two types of wrong associated with this act. The first is a traditional violation of the separation of church and state. The government is promoting religion by acting in such a way that will provide a religious organization with $3.5 million. In this project the government will put up taxpayer dollars to fund the commemorative coins. However, the project is geared to see that the government is paid back before the Boy Scouts see any revenue.

This is the level at which most people who would raise objections to this law will speak against it. It is a government entanglement with a religious organization and, they will declare, we do not want the government supporting religious organizations. Can we expect the government, in a few years time, to provide the same type of support for Camp Quest – an organization that sends children to a summer camp that is founded on reason rather than myth?

However, I consider this wrong to be rather trivial. It may count as a legal violation, but I do not even know that I can make the case that it is a moral violation outside of the moral obligation to obey the law.

Yet, there is a second level of wrong that is clearly a moral violation independent of any Constitutional or other legal provisions.

The Boy Scouts has as their statement of religious principles:

The Boy Scouts of America maintains that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing an obligation to God. . . His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship

So now imagine a House Resolution that supports raising $3.5 million to put a series of signs in American schools (because these signs are meant to target young children) that say, "Nobody who doubts the existence of God can be the best kind of citizen. Good citizenship is only possible for those who believe in God."

It is one thing for a religious organization to assert its beliefs that a God exists and that morality requires that followers perform certain types of acts and are prohibited from performing other acts. It is one thing to question the government's sponsorship (or attempts to raise money for) an organization that promotes a particular religious view.

It is quite another for the government to help raise $3.5 million dollars (or any amount of money for that matter) to give to an organization that is actively involved in a campaign to impugns the quality of my citizenship and denigrates and belittles the quality of my contribution to this country. When the federal (or state or local) government involves itself in this type of campaign, it has gone beyond a simple violation of a legal principle separating church and state. It has become an agent of bigotry that is immoral for any government to involve itself in regardless of what anybody might have thought to have actually written into a constitution and bill of rights.

Even if there is nothing special about my own citizenship that allows me to raise objections against organizations that call it into question, or against legislators who fund teaching children that my citizenship is suspect, the legislature is also paying this organization to question the citizenship of my father. William Fyfe volunteered to join the army in 1946 with the intention of making a career out of serving his country. He served through the Korean War and beyond until an airplane crash ended his military career and sent him home with a medical discharge (100% disabled).

Four hundred and eight representatives voted yesterday to support an organization that says that my father (an atheist) was incapable of "the best kind of citizenship".

Gee, thanks.

The principles that I am applying here to House Resolution 5872 are the same principles that I have been applying this week to 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance and 'In God We Trust' as the national motto. 'Under God' in the Pledge also says that those Americans who do not favor 'one nation under God' are incapable of the best kind of citizenship. "In God We Trust" as the national motto says that the best kinds of citizens are those who trust in God, and those who do not trust in God fall short of this idea.

One thing we can say about this resolution to fund the advertisement to children that atheists are incapable of the best kind of citizenship is that it is consistent with government policies regarding 'under God' in the Pledge and 'In God We Trust' on the money. These practices are also meant to advertise to children that atheists are incapable of the best kind of citizenship. However, consistent immorality is no virtue.

The moral case does not depend on the sentiments of the founding fathers and is fully independent of the beliefs that might be attributed to them. Their sentiments on this matter are as relevant as their sentiments about slavery. To the degree that the founding fathers might have sanctioned a government that denigrated and belittled the citizenship of peaceful law-abiding atheists, this does not demonstrate the moral legitimacy of the practice. Instead, it would demonstrate (if true) another area (like slavery) where the founding fathers would have been in need of further moral advance.

By what moral right does the Federal Government agree to help raise $3.5 million to advertise to young children the view that you and I are incapable of the best sort of citizenship? That is the question at issue here, and that is way in which this issue should be presented to and debated in public forums. The legal question of the separation of church and state is still relevant. However, that question should not be discussed to the exclusion of the moral question of the government raising $3.5 million to advertise to children that we are incapable of being the best sort of citizen.


Anonymous said...

I sent an email to my Congressman expressing my disappointment that he voted in favor of this resolution.

Anonymous said...

I sent an e-mail to my congressman as well. I was not surprised to find that he was a co-sponsor. As an atheist, my son is ineligible for scouts. I am still fuming at the idea of supporting an organization that says that my son and I cannot be good citizens!