Court upholds inexcusable violation of church/state separation

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday, on a 2-1 vote, that “The Pledge [of Allegiance containing the words ‘under God’] is constitutional… [because it] serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded.”

Judge Carlos Bea’s claim is a baldface lie. Many Europeans fled to America for religious freedom. By writing an explicit ban on government’s right to legislate religion (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) into our Constitution, our Founding Fathers intended everyone to be free to worship whatever gods or God they wished or not to worship at all. Religion is religion, and governance is governance. They would be shocked to learn that a 21st Century appeals court has ruled that “one nation under God” in no way violates their Bill of Rights.

Our Founding Fathers did everything in their power to ban government control or imposition of religion. The words “under God” were tacked onto the Pledge in the 1950s during witch hunts aimed at “godless communists.” Injecting religion into a patriotic pledge blatantly violates the separation of church and state, one of the true cornerstone “ideals upon which our Republic was founded.”

The original Pledge of Allegiance, written by a socialist in 1892, made no mention of “under God,” and that’s how our Founding Fathers would have wanted it:

[T]he founders opposed the institutionalization of religion. They kept the Constitution free of references to God. The document mentions religion only to guarantee that godly belief would never be used as a qualification for holding office—a departure from many existing state constitutions. That the founders made erecting a church-state wall their first priority when they added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution reveals the importance they placed on maintaining what Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore have called a “godless Constitution.” When Benjamin Franklin proposed during the Constitutional Convention that the founders begin each day of their labors with a prayer to God for guidance, his suggestion was defeated.

“Under God” was wedged into the Pledge during America’s shameful Joseph McCarthy Red Communist witch hunt era:

Hand in hand with the Red Scare, to which it was inextricably linked, the new religiosity overran Washington. Politicians outbid one another to prove their piety. President Eisenhower inaugurated that Washington staple: the prayer breakfast. Congress created a prayer room in the Capitol. In 1955, with Ike’s support, Congress added the words “In God We Trust” on all paper money. In 1956 it made the same four words the nation’s official motto, replacing “E Pluribus Unum.” Legislators introduced Constitutional amendments to state that Americans obeyed “the authority and law of Jesus Christ.”

The campaign to add “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance was part of this movement. It’s unclear precisely where the idea originated, but one driving force was the Catholic fraternal society the Knights of Columbus. In the early ‘50s the Knights themselves adopted the God-infused pledge for use in their own meetings, and members bombarded Congress with calls for the United States to do the same. Other fraternal, religious, and veterans clubs backed the idea. In April 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut, D-Mich., formally proposed the alteration of the pledge in a bill he introduced to Congress.

The “under God” movement didn’t take off, however, until the next year, when it was endorsed by the Rev. George M. Docherty, the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Washington that Eisenhower attended. In February 1954, Docherty gave a sermon—with the president in the pew before him—arguing that apart from “the United States of America,” the pledge “could be the pledge of any country.” He added, “I could hear little Moscovites [sic] repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity.” Perhaps forgetting that “liberty and justice for all” was not the norm in Moscow, Docherty urged the inclusion of “under God” in the pledge to denote what he felt was special about the United States.

The ensuing congressional speechifying—debate would be a misnomer, given the near-unanimity of opinion—offered more proof that the point of the bill was to promote religion. The legislative history of the 1954 act stated that the hope was to “acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon … the Creator … [and] deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism.” In signing the bill on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, Eisenhower delighted in the fact that from then on, “millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town … the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.”

The stated purpose for including these words conflicts directly with the U.S. Constitution’s ban on bringing religion into government. It’s shameful that our Appeals Court erred so horribly on a case so simple.

Posted by James on Friday, March 12, 2010