Jim Porter: In God We Trust and One Nation Under God
Special to the Sun
Two blockbuster federal cases that affect each and every one of you were decided last month.
In 1954, at the height of the Cold War, Congress amended the phrase and#8220;one Nation indivisibleand#8221; in the 62-year-old Pledge of Allegiance to read and#8220;. . . one Nation, under God, indivisible . . .and#8221;
Similarly, Congress adopted our National motto and#8220;In God We Trust,and#8221; which is prominently featured on United States currency.
Both references to God have been challenged by atheist attorney/doctor Michael A. Newdow, who represents himself and files these cases at every chance he gets. Dozens of others filed briefs and#8211; on both sides of this thorny issue.
One Nation, Under God
The original version of the Pledge of Allegiance, without any reference to God or religion, was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 (not by our Founding Fathers, notwithstanding what Sarah Palin tells us). In 1942, the Pledge was officially codified by Congress.
But in 1954, in the heat of our cold battle with communism and the USSR, President Eisenhower signed into law Congressand#8217; addition of the words “under God.” The words were added with great fanfare as a and#8220;victory for God.and#8221;
Ever since, schools and town hall meetings around the country commence with the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, although our local schools, along with many in the country, allow students to opt-out, which I imagine is easier said (or not said) than done.
Plaintiff Newdow sued, arguing the words and#8220;under Godand#8221; are inherently religious and were put into the Pledge specifically for religious reasons and#8211; to distinguish us from godless communists (which is true). Just as school prayers were ruled inappropriate, so should fall and#8220;under Godand#8221; and#8211; as a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
‘In God We Trust’
In his other suit, Newdow claimed that when Congress adopted our National motto, it and#8220;constitutionally places the Governmentand#8217;s imprimatur on a belief in a monotheistic Godand#8221; and reinforces the notion that belief in God is and#8220;good,and#8221; and disbelief is and#8220;bad.and#8221;
The placement of and#8220;In God We Trustand#8221; on the Nationand#8217;s money forces Newdow to and#8220;repeatedly encounter a religious belief he finds offensive.and#8221; He wouldnand#8217;t have that problem if he was a spendthrift like me.
He wants the federal mint to stop printing those words on coins and bills and hints he wants previously coined and printed currency pulled from circulation. Like that is going to happen.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment states: and#8220;Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.and#8221; Taking those words literally would seem to allow a lot of government policy about religion and#8211; like a cross on a hill or a Christmas manger scene -and#8211; without constituting and#8220;establishmentand#8221; of religion.
However, court cases have ruled that government may not adopt any law or policy that and#8220;establishes a religion or religious faith, or tends to do so.and#8221; A law may not endorse religion. Anything beyond secular is deemed religious and is taboo.
Of course, Newdow argued that and#8220;one Nation, under God, indivisibleand#8221; and and#8220;In God We Trustand#8221; are and were intended to be religious. Frankly, I donand#8217;t know how you could argue otherwise.
The Federal Court of Appeals found that the 1954 revised Pledge was predominately to and#8220;inspire patriotism,and#8221; and changing the phrase and#8220;one Nation under Godand#8221; did not turn that patriotic exercise into a religious activity.
The Court found the National motto and#8220;has no theological or ritualistic impactand#8221; … it has and#8220;spiritual and physiological valueand#8221; and and#8220;inspirational quality.and#8221; I.e. it ainand#8217;t religious, it is a reference to our and#8220;religious heritage.and#8221; Humm.
Our coins and currency will stay as they are. We will recite the Pledge of Allegiance and#8220;one Nation, under God, indivisible.and#8221; Sometimes I wonder why we even recite the Pledge.
A Blistering Dissent
Justice Reinhardt wrote a blistering 100-page dissent essentially arguing that the majority opinion failed to follow federal law that for years has found that government actions that encourage, support or advance religion violate the Establishment Clause, especially with impressionable children. As one child put it, and#8220;We better be good cause God is watching us even if he is invisible.and#8221; My favorite quote in the case.
I think the Court took the politically popular route rather than follow long standing federal law that generally outlaws anything that is even vaguely connected to religion and#8211; based on the Establishment Clause.
I guess Iand#8217;m what they call a strict constructionist, a literalist, on this issue, as it seems to me that government should be able to do all sorts of things concerning religion like putting up a cross or having a National motto or allowing a Christmas display on public property. I.e., thatand#8217;s not and#8220;establishment of religion.and#8221;
On the other hand, if I were one of our 2 million atheists or the 15 to 20 percent of America that does not believe in God (I saw both stats in the cases), I might think otherwise.
We have not heard the last from Dr. Newdow who may be heading to a full 9th Circuit Panel or the U.S. Supreme Court. These are difficult cases, but I predict Newdow will lose in the end.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe, Incline Village and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at email@example.com or at the firmand#8217;s website.
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