Sunday, August 30, 2009

Latest from the United States of the Offended

So apparently someone has gotten it into their heads to try to remove "In God We Trust" from the U.S. dollar. Enough already! God has already been removed from our schools, public squares, and public events. Here's the full story from MSNBC. It's worth quoting in full because of the sheer brazenness of it all:

Atheist challenges ‘In God We Trust’

SAN FRANCISCO - An atheist who has spent four years trying to ban the Pledge of Allegiance from being recited in public schools is now challenging the motto printed on U.S. currency because it refers to God.

Michael Newdow seeks to remove “In God We Trust” from U.S. coins and dollar bills, claiming in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday that the motto is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.
Newdow, a Sacramento doctor and lawyer, used a similar argument when he challenged the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools because it contains the words “under God.”

He took his pledge fight to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2004 said he lacked standing to bring the case because he did not have custody of the daughter he sued on behalf of.

An identical lawsuit later brought by Newdow on behalf of parents with children in three Sacramento-area school districts is pending with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, after a Sacramento federal judge sided with Newdow in September. The judge stayed enforcement of the decision pending appeal, which is expected to reach the Supreme Court.

Congress first authorized a reference to God on a two-cent piece in 1864. The action followed a request by the director of the U.S. Mint, who wrote there should be a “distinct and unequivocal national recognition of the divine sovereignty” on the nation’s coins.

In 1955, the year after Congress inserted the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, Congress required all currency to carry the motto “In God We Trust.”

It is interesting that the guy making the complaint has made similar complaints before, and been rejected summarily by the Supreme Court.

Let's start with something basic here, like the actual Constitution, not the court-ruling-based interpretations of it:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Now, does adding "In God we trust" to our currency establish a state church? No. Despite the 5-10% of the population that is actually atheist or the larger percentage of people who just act that way, this is still a nation that believes in God. In God We Trust is more or less a statement of fact. For example, the statement was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1955, at the height of the Cold War, to distinguish this nation from the freedom-suppressing, communist Soviet Union, which did have a state religion, with that religion being worship of the state. Worship of God and public expressions thereof were suppressed, often violently.

This bears thinking about: if you don't believe in God, who or what is the strongest "power" left on Earth? It's ungoverned human beings with guns, knives, and fists. A nation that acknowledges no higher power eventually is ruled by those with the greatest will to power. A nation acknowledging a higher power than Man understands that it, too, must eventually answer for whatever crimes it commits in the hereafter, and limits its ambitions accordingly.

Now I've occasionally gotten into arguments with people who tell me that fundamentalist Christians want to turn this country into a theocracy, and therefore all Christians are suspect. First of all, this is not the actual state of things, though a few preachers here and there might think of it. They mostly protest, as I do, the diminishment of God and faith in the public square and desire a stronger role of faith among elected officials.

Second, the use of Church-imposed discipline on the state is part of a Calvinist inheritance in the Baptist movement that was not embraced by all forms of Protestant religion. John Calvin, the French Protestant reformer, set up a humorless and harsh theocracy in the city of Geneva in the 1500s. A similar arrangement existed among the New England Puritans. Both systems eventually died out, but the notion of using human (secular) law to impose Christian discipline (sectarian law) is not a doctrine supported by other mainstream Protestant denominations today, such as Lutheranism, Methodism, or Anglicanism (or, I believe, Catholicism).

What Lutherans believe is that saving souls is a job for the Church, not the state, and that faith should be achieved through persuasion and free, independent choice, not the sword. That would be a sin. Salvation should be the goal of the individual, not the enforced conversion of the masses to one denomination or the other through state power. So if anyone preaches a separation between church and state, it's the Christian Church, not the Constitution. It is a painful lesson Christians had to learn over the course of 500 years of European history, but most of us did learn it. But this does not mean we seek to end the role of religion or God in the workings of the United States of America. It does mean changing how we as individuals think about our relationship to God and the state...and not a moment too soon.


Unknown said...

While I agree with you on the silliness of the suit and similar such measures, can we talk about there being a huge diminishment of God in U.S. politics, when avowed Christians hold just about every elected office on the federal stage, and could not attain said election without making the right noises about religion and their faith?

Obama's religion was a major campaign issue (seekrit Mooslim! crazy preacher!), Bush's faith was a major plank in his platform and in his's not like the country is being overrun by the godless heathens. :)

Bart said...

>>avowed Christians hold just about every elected office on the federal stage, and could not attain said election without making the right noises about religion and their faith<<

You say that like it's a bad thing. Admittedly, politicians often say what they do to get elected, but if the majority of voters are Christian, saying you're not or anti- is a sure way not to get elected, yes?

And even if you leave aside election rhetoric, most of the rest of the political culture--from the courts to the lawsuits presented in them to the media people reporting on them to the actors and comedians mocking them daily--is working very, very hard to keep God and religion for even being necessary in election rhetoric. Throw God out of the conversation, and you can throw out everything that goes with Him, including Christian morals and several of our most cherished freedoms. That is precisely the goal of this lawsuit and others like it, and that's why it bugs me.

Recall, if you will, the atheist who sued because Apollo 8 astronauts read from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the Moon. It's only gotten worse since then. I believe this lawsuit needs to be stopped, and I hope the Supreme Court will, as before, see the wisdom of doing so.


Unknown said...

I think it's a bad thing only insofar as I don't think we need the religious equivalent of "loyalty oaths" for office-holders. Religion does not hold exclusive claim to ethical behavior, and it gets old hearing people assume that they do.

My larger beef is the whole persecution complex that the Moral Majority has, throwing around scare tactics about being "under attack," when they've been running the country for as long as I've been alive.

I would just as soon see religion return to being a personal thing that *informs* someone's public activity, rather than be a constant drum banging on in the public square. It turns into another cheap rhetorical weapon to turn on those who disagree. People who don't like Policy X are "unChristian" or "forgetting the founding principals" or what have you (never mind the huge number of Deists involved in the founding...that's a whole 'nother kettle of fish).