"As I'm standing in line, I'm looking at the twenty dollar bill, and it says 'In God We Trust'...I thought, 'What is going on here? I don't trust in God. I'm an American.” -- Michael Newdow
Person of the week
Although the court's ruling was later overturned on a technicality, Newdow has been dogged in his efforts to rid the Pledge of its reference to God. A key to his argument is that, "under God," was not part of the original Pledge and, thus, represents an imposition of religion by the government.
Newdow is partly right. The Pledge, as first penned in 1892, didn't mention God. But in 1954, with the rising influence of communism, there was concern that the Pledge sounded too similar to the affirmations of atheistic regimes. Thus, Congress amended the Pledge as it currently reads.
Was the revision an effort to coerce religion on the citizenry? Was it an unconstitutional endorsement of religion? Or was it intended as a reminder of our country's historical foundation?
At the heart of the American experiment is the Declaration of Independence. By proclaiming opposition to the monarchal rule of
Whereas, under the British governmental system, the rights of citizens came from the king, the founders of the new republic acknowledged a different source of rights: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal: that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights..."
Similar sentiments are found in the statements of Founding Fathers like, George Washington, who said in his inaugural address, "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the
Many cite Thomas Jefferson and his famous "wall of separation" to argue that
How about Abraham Lincoln who, in his second inaugural address, referenced God 14 times in a speech of only 700 words and, who coined the -- what would be -- controversial phrase at the conclusion of his Gettysburg Address: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom..."
Then there was Supreme Court Justice, William O. Douglas who wrote in Zorach v. Clauson (1952), "We are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being...We cannot read into the Bill of Rights a philosophy of hostility to religion."
Engraved in stone
Anyone further questioning the religious heritage of our country need only examine the countless edifices of our nation's capital. Prominent portrayals and references to the Creator-God are displayed at the Washington Monument, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, the Capitol building, the Library of Congress, the White House, the World War II Memorial, and the Arlington National Cemetery among others. Engravings, images, and sculptures of the Bible, the crucifix, Moses, and the Ten Commandments stand as enduring testimonies to our country's indebtedness to God.
Interestingly, some of the most overt representations of our Judeo-Christian heritage are displayed at the Supreme Court Building. For example, an image of Moses with the Ten Commandments is displayed in the sculpture over the East portico of the Supreme Court and in a picture inside the actual courtroom. The Ten Commandments are also engraved on the Supreme Court doors and over the chair of the Chief Justice. Furthermore, each session of the court begins with the announcement, "God save the
The irony here is that the Supreme Court's interpretation of the Establishment Clause in Everson v. Board of Education (1947), has been marshaled to deem such public displays unconstitutional in states like
Why it matters
While the great majority of Americans appreciate these public expressions our country's religious heritage, the "Michael Newdows" of the world are incensed by such displays and are intent on cleansing the public square -- from money to monuments -- of any religious representations. But why all the fuss? After all, we’re only talking about words and images.
Perhaps the clearest reason was given by Jewish author Kevin Abrams who asserted, "Remove the Bible as the constellation that guides the American Ship of State and the whole edifice of American civilization collapses."
Like the Framers, Abrams understood that an institution's presuppositions mean everything. In a nation under God, it is God who gives rights to people who, in turn, transfer some of their rights to the State to govern.
But in the atheistic vision of Michael Newdow, rights come from the State which, in turn, grants some of those rights to the people. Having no transcendent basis, those liberties are ultimately determined, as Malcolm Muggeridge once commented, "by] the drive for power or the drive for pleasure, the clenched fist or the phallus, Hitler or Hugh Heffner."
Newdow launched his crusade, he told Time, after noticing the money he was carrying had the inscription, "In God We Trust." Upset over this "breach" of church-state separation, Newdow felt that his best chance to win was to protest the Pledge of Allegiance his daughter was required to recite; this, despite the fact that Newdow's daughter was not yet in school, and was a professed Christian who did not object to the Pledge.
After Newdow's suit was dismissed because he lacked sufficient standing to represent his daughter (who was under the primary custody of his estranged wife), Newdow filed another suit, earlier this year, on the behalf of three other parents for an identical grievance. In September, the U.S. District Court reviewing that case concluded that the Pledge was not unconstitutional, but decided that the recitation policy of the plaintiff’s school district was.
Emboldened by that half-win, Newdow recently came full circle, announcing his intent to get "In God We Trust" removed from
Starting as a hobby
"It all started out as a hobby," said Newdow, who also admitted to having had aspirations for political office. But, Newdow chided, "in
One gets the sense that Newdow is less concerned about his daughter's welfare and his fragile relationship with her, than he is about imposing a godless agenda that goes far beyond religious neutrality. By discounting the religious foundation of our country and demanding that public commemorations of it be expunged, Newdow's agenda amounts to the religious hostility that those like former Justice Douglas refute.
The guiding light of this agenda is found in the solitary creed of the First Amendmist "Church," which Newdow founded in 1997: "Do only that which is right." Right, of course, being what each individual decides, free from moral correction or criticism. The "end in mind" is moral autonomy: a state of radical individualism, in which the ideal of freedom has been recast from the liberty to pursue happiness through virtuous living, to the license to pursue fulfillment through unrestrained self-expression.
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote that when it came to the law, "the ultimate question is what the dominant forces of the community want and [whether] they want it hard enough to disregard whatever inhibitions may stand in the way."
What we are seeing is the natural development of Holmes' ends-justifies-the-means logic, where even the best interests of our children can be disregarded in the pursuit of our personal desires. What was it Muggeridge said about the clinched fist or the phallus?
"When all that says 'it is good' has been debunked, what says 'I want' remains." -- C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Regis Nicoll is a Centurion of Prison Fellowship Ministries Wilberforce Forum. After a 30-year career as a nuclear specialist, Regis has worked as a freelance writer addressing current cultural issues from a Christian perspective. His work regularly appears on BreakPoint online, Crosswalk, and the Crux Project among other places.
Regis publishes a free weekly worldview commentary to demonstrate how Christian thinking can be applied to every sphere of life. To be placed on this free distribution list, e-mail him at: [email protected]