Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Tempest in a Teapot

I see a tempest brewing over NBC inadvertently cutting the words "under God" from a broadcast of people reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance" at the US Open on Sunday. Since those two words weren't added until 1954 (back when we were fighting Godless communism) it really doesn't seem that important to me.  But I see there are people who are afraid that America is abandoning God and therefore going to Hell.

But we won't get God back into our world by yapping about it on TV, especially at a golf tournament.

We bring God into the world through our thoughts and actions. It is in us and through us that God is made manifest. Our compassion for the sick and the poor, the concern we show to our fellow humans and to the animals that live with us in the world, our desire for peace forgiveness, and righteousness, these are the conditions that bring Godliness into the world. Not the blind, obedient recitation of a pledge to a flag, not ours nor anyone's.

Many people believe that America was founded under religious principles. While there is a strong religious character to Americans as individuals, and it is a popular belief that this religious foundation for the country is historical, the documents simply don't support that view.

The Declaration of Independence does, in fact, contain three distinct references to the Divine, though none of them are couched in religious terminology. The first reference in the first sentence of the Declaration is to the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God", the second reference in the second sentence is the most famous "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" and the third reference comes at the very end of the Declaration when the authors (Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Benjamin Franklin) call upon "a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence" in declaring the colonies' independence from Great Britain. Not a particularly strong religious context there.

The Constitution, on the other hand, makes absolutely no mention of God or religion, except in Article 6 where the Constitution states that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

The only Oath specified in the Constitution is for the swearing in of the President which reads "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Again, the popular "so help me God." is not part of the official oath, regardless of how many Presidents have been heard to utter it.

In the Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendment to the Constitution, the government is prohibited in the most absolute of terms from making any laws "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". It does not specify one religion over another, it does not grant any particular religion official recognition and, in fact it guarantees every religion free and equal status throughout the land.

These men, these brilliant Founding Fathers, were mostly Christians, members (until the Revolution) of the Church of England, and yet, they saw the need to separate the role of religion from the affairs of the government. At one and the same time they protected our religious freedom of choice and worship, and mindful of the disastrous toll exacted by religious fanaticism in history (for example: the Inquisition or the Salem witch trials) they protected our government from the undue influence of religion.

Now, the official motto of the United States, "In God We Trust" while in use on coinage since the 1860's was, like "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance officially adopted in the 1950's, the heyday of anti-Communist fervor. Some critics contend that the motto's placement on money constitutes the establishment of a religion or a church by the government, thus violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Separation of church and state.

The motto was first challenged in Aronow v. United States in 1970, but the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled: "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise." In fact, in Lynch v. Donnelly (1984), the Supreme Court upheld the use of the motto because it has "lost through rote repetition any significant religious content". So-called acts of "ceremonial deism" have supposedly lost their "history, character, and context".

Outside of constitutional objections, President Theodore Roosevelt took issue with placing the motto on coinage as he considered it sacrilegious to put the name of God on money. And I think this whole stink over the Pledge of Allegiance at the US Open is that same kind of affair. While not sacrilege it's seems a tempest in a teapot. Not worth spending a moment thinking about it.

In fact, I have more objection to the concept of the Pledge of Allegiance than I do to the phrase "under God" being a part of it. The whole idea of having to repeatedly swear your fealty to the flag smacks of Fascist indoctrination. You either love America or you don't. You either believe in the ideals enshrined in the founding documents or you don't. Swearing allegiance to a flag or even to the Republic is not called for in the Constitution not even in the Oath of Office for the President. The President is simply required to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution" and faithfully execute his official duties. No more than that should ever be required of us.

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