Monday, October 31, 2011

The Undersigned oppose "Under God"

In order to boost citizen engagement in everyday political activities, the Obama Administration created a section of the White House website called “We the People” which allows citizens to create and sign petitions. Once these petitions reach a certain amount of signatures, the White House will review them and make a decision on them. The Obama Administration recently rejected two of the more salient petitions: one for the removal of “In God We Trust” from our nation’s currency and the other for the removal of “One nation under God” from the pledge of allegiance.

These petitions are of particular interest because what they have inadvertently hit on in their quest for complete governmental secularization is a very good example of the limits of the establishment clause. While the phrases “In God We Trust” and “One nation under God” do not necessarily establish one particular religion, in the petitioners’ eyes it places a premium on religion over non-religion.

I personally disagree with this blogger’s view on the matter. While he clearly sees an issue with the Obama Administration rejecting these petitions, I think that the white house made the correct decision in this case. This particular incidence falls into the category of justifying church and government entwinement based on legacy and history as well as the extent of the entanglement. This rationale has been used before by the Supreme Court to decide on issues such as the town of Pawtucket’s inclusion of a crèche in their state sponsored Christmas display (Lynch v. Donnelly) and the constitutionality of state funded chaplains opening state legislatures with a daily prayer (Marsh v. Chambers). In both of these instances, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the inclusion of the religiously affiliated acts (crèche and chaplain). They maintained that history/tradition as well as the extent of the entanglement were deciding factors. In Marsh v. Chambers, Chief Justice Burger states that “The opening sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country. From the colonial times through the founding of the Republic and ever since, the practice of legislative prayer has coexisted with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.” In Lynch v. Donelly Burger again stated that “… it is clear that Government has long recognized – indeed it has subsidized – holidays with religious significance.” However he continues with his lack of entanglement argument (which I personally think holds more water in this case): “Entanglement is a question of kind and degree. In this case, however, there is no reason to disturb the District Court’s findings on the absence administrative entanglement.”

Ultimately, history, tradition and the extent of the entanglement is what this case comes down to. These two phrases have been used to describe the United States government for long enough now that they have become secularized. When I say those phrases I don’t feel that I am appealing to a higher power or some supreme deity, rather I feel like a patriotic American. Moreover, even if people dispute the fact that “One nation under God” is not really historical since it was added in the 1950s; there just is not a case of excessive entanglement. I simply cannot see how an American citizen could legitimately claim damages merely against saying or reading a simple phrase. I could understand if it was occurring on a special occasion, or if the religious entanglement was of some heinous degree, however the fact that these phrases are used so regularly (and have been so for more than 50 years) and that the entanglement in practice is so minor, I cannot sympathize with the undersigned.

12 comments:

Zoey Goldnick said...

I agree, here I can see a clear case for secular historical purpose of these phrases. In addition, there are religious exemptions so that students are not forced to say “Under God” in the pledge of allegiance. In many cases I think history in the sense that we have always done these things before (i.e. Sunday closing laws) was not enough of a justification but here it can be justified as American phrases.

Harry R. said...

I agree with Mike that these usages of "Under God" do not constitute government establishment of religion. Similar to the crèche from Lynch v. Donnelly, these phrases have taken on secular, American meanings independent of their religious aspects. These sayings are not forced upon our citizens, for one need not state the Pledge of Allegiance and the sayings on our currency are not blatantly imposed on citizens. Rather, they are sayings used to promote American unity, not to support a national religious belief.

Elena T said...

I completely agree with Mike that "In God we Trust" and "One nation under God" have become secularized due to the fact that they have been so involved in our nation's history. I feel that an Establishment argument cannot be made regarding these phrases because of the secularity associated with them now and because it is not forced on any citizen to believe or agree that we are united under a supreme being or God. There are many ways people can work around these phrases, for example refraining form saying the line "One nation under God" when saying the pledge of allegiance. I don't think that the U.S. should have to edit something so vital in our nation's founding.

Allison S said...

I agree with Mike completely. As others have stated the phrase “one nation under god” is entirely secular and has become part of the American tradition. No one is forced to say this phrase, or any of the pledge of allegiance for that matter. I think the White House made the right decision; the pledge is about national pride in our country, not religious establishment.

Zermeno A. said...

I agree with Mike and the others who commented in the fact that although these two phrases may have the word "God" in them, they are used as secular phrases, rather than as religious ones. People are given the choice to say the pledge or not, it is up to an individuals discretion. These two phrases make up a big part of American's history and pride! With that said, I believe the Obama Administration did the right thing in this case.

Jack Ness said...

Mike, my friend, I disagree with you on this issue. To me, any acknowledgement of a higher being is a religion. The government publicly saying that it is "under God" is showing an establishment of religion. If we are to take the establishment clause seriously, there should be no religion in government. I realize that I am taking a strict separationist stance on this issue because I feel that it is the most appropriate in this instance. It is very easy to remove both of these phrases, and nobody's lives would be affected. I don't buy the history part of it at all, people can still be American and patriotic without God. While the government is not establishing a specific religion here, I feel that it is establishing religion, which is unconstitutional in my mind.

Kathryn M. said...

I agree with Mike that statements such as “under God” and “in God we trust” do not establish deism. While I consider the crèche to contain more religious connotations, these phrases are part of a secular tradition that contains unifying language meant to inspire patriotism and does not contain diction akin to prayer such as the word "amen." Federal law and the presidential oath, for instance, contain references to God and these phrases have not been removed. Lastly, no one is required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Therefore the argument that the Pledge establishes religion by forcing people to meditate on God is unfounded.

Liz Petrillo said...

I believe there is no fair way to approach the issue of the pledge of allegiance. Although I feel strongly that the red flag terms are purely secular and part of America's tradition, it clearly upset those who do not believe in any sort of God. However, if the terms were taken out, it would upset a lot more people than it would please. Yes, this would make the pledge of allegiance completely non-religous, but that is not neutral. In addition, what would replace the phrases that are taken out? It would ruin an American tradition that has been recited for hundreds of years

TNTbo said...

I disagree with the blogger here. At the end, Mike acknowledges that these phrases have been used so regularly that when he sees or reads them he does not feel that he is appealing to a higher power, but simply being patriotic. This is to me sounds like the phrases "In God We Trust" and "Under God" are essentially meaningless from a religious standpoint. So I argue, why have them at all? Our currency does not have any religious value, so why should God even be mentioned on the bill? And many of the so called "non believers", myself included, do not feel that we are under God in anyway; and if we are truly a nation of "jews, muslims, christians...and NON BELIEVERS" , then why is the phrase still in the Pledge of Allegiance? I feel that this is an example of the government establishing and fostering religion, and that it should be eliminated from our American culture for not appealing to all of our nation's people. This is a very small yet controversial aspect of our American life that could be amended with ease compared to some of our more important issues; I propose we just get it over with and actually eliminate these phrases so that our currency and our Pledge of Allegiance are totally secular.

Justin E said...

I agree with Mike. Although once again the argument of defense is resorting to "history and tradition", these phrases truly have taken on secular meanings. There is no establishment of religion in saying the Pledge of Allegiance (if so offended, one may skip that line) and whatever is written on our state currency is not imposed on citizens either. I am surprised enough people petitioned for this to make it to the white house. I do not see the harm in having these two phrases exist in such areas, although I do understand the counterargument.

Justin E said...

I agree with Mike. Although once again the argument of defense is resorting to "history and tradition", these phrases truly have taken on secular meanings. There is no establishment of religion in saying the Pledge of Allegiance (if so offended, one may skip that line) and whatever is written on our state currency is not imposed on citizens either. I am surprised enough people petitioned for this to make it to the white house. I do not see the harm in having these two phrases exist in such areas, although I do understand the counterargument.

kanderson said...

I realize that God is definitely not a secular term. i don't think that anyone would argue that it is. But, our pledge of allegiance, though has some strongly religious words and thoughts, has become something that is much more secular than a prayer. it has become something that is a part of the nation's identity and "tradition". Now, are all included in this identity and tradition is the question. the answer to that is no. But, how important is it to change something that has been engrained into the minds, hearts, textbooks, and documents of many? I think maybe not as important as ensuring that the government does not look to assert and establish the majority religion on the masses.