Long winded about the
Okee dokee. :)
All of these quotes have been throughly researched. None are "out of context" or otherwise misleading. For example, the bogus John Adams' quote, "...this would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it ..." is not included.
Although many of America's colonial statesmen practiced Christianity, our most influential Founding Fathers broke away from traditional religious thinking. The ideas of the Great Enlightenment that began in Europe had begun to sever the chains of monarchical theocracy. These heretical European ideas spread throughout early America. Instead of relying on faith, people began to use reason and science as their guide. The humanistic philosophical writers of the Enlightenment, such as Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire, had greatly influenced our Founding Fathers.
John Quincy Adams was a Unitarian.
Much of the myth of Washington's alleged Christianity came from Mason Weems influential book, "Life of Washington." Weems, a Christian minister portrayed Washington as a devote Christian, yet Washington's own diaries show that he rarely attended Church.
Washington revealed almost nothing to indicate his spiritual frame of mind, hardly a mark of a devout Christian. In his thousands of letters, the name of Jesus Christ never appears. He rarely spoke about his religion, but his Freemasonry experience points to a belief in deism. Washington's initiation occurred at the Fredericksburg Lodge on 4 November 1752, later becoming a Master mason in 1799, and remained a freemason until he died.
To the United Baptist Churches in Virginia in May, 1789, Washington said that every man "ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience."
After Washington's death, Dr. Abercrombie, a friend of his, replied to a Dr. Wilson, who had interrogated him about Washington's religion replied, "Sir, Washington was a Deist."
In his, "A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" [1787-1788], John Adams wrote:
"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses."
Called the father of the Constitution, Madison had no conventional sense of Christianity. In 1785, Madison wrote in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments:
"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
"What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."
No one disputes the faith of our Founding Fathers. To speak of unalienable Rights being endowed by a Creator certainly shows a sensitivity to our spiritual selves. What is surprising is when fundamentalist Christians think the Founding Fathers' faith had anything to do with the Bible. The faith of many of our Founding Fathers was deist, not theist. It was best expressed earlier in the Declaration of Independence, when they spoke of "the Laws of Nature" and of "Nature's God."
I may grow rich by an art I am compelled to follow; I may recover health by medicines I am compelled to take against my own judgment; but I cannot be saved by a worship I disbelieve and abhor. (Thomas Jefferson, notes for a speech, c. 1776. From Gorton Carruth and Eugene Ehrlich, eds., The Harper Book of American Quotations, New York: Harper & Row, 1988, p. 498.)
So if you want to talk about our founding fathers, I certainly can. :) If you'd rather talk about the exact nature of the separation of church and state in today's society, I can capitulate there too:
Michael Newdow, an atheist, has a daughter who attends public elementary school in the Elk Grove Unified School District in California. Each day, in accordance with state law, the teachers lead students in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The specific law states that public schools begin each school day with "appropriate patriotic exercises" and that the Pledge of Allegiance would be sufficient to comply. The specific school policy states that "Each elementary school class [shall] recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag once each day."
At no point was any student, including Newdow's daughter, forced to recite the Pledge. That has already been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (although it should be noted that Barnette was decided in 1943 and the words "under God" were not added until 1954). Instead, Newdow argued that his daughter suffered harm because she would:
watch and listen as her state-employed teacher in her state-run school leads her classmates in a ritual proclaiming that there is a God, and that our's [sic] is 'one nation under God.'
In other words, Newdow's position was that it is unconstitutional for a state employee to lead students in an exercise which is fundamentally religious in nature because that represents the state endorsing some particular view. The fact that his daughter was not required to participate in this exercise was not sufficient to make it constitutional - the mere fact that she was a recipient of the message that certain religious beliefs are endorsed by the government was sufficient to entail harm.
The school district sought to have the case dismissed. The United States Congress and the President of the United States joined in this motion, which was approved by a District Court judge. Newdow appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Court recognized very early on that this was fundamentally a religious issue when it found that Newdow, as a father, had standing to bring his suit in the first place. According to the Court:
Newdow has standing as a parent to challenge a practice that interferes with his right to direct the religious education of his daughter.
This effectively set the stage for considering whether or not the Pledge has enough of a religious component to prevent the State from endorsing it or leading children in recitation of it. Although being affected is one component of standing, another is harm - if Newdow could not demonstrate harm, then the suit would be dismissed. Many people who object to the decision base their argument on the idea that there is no harm done because the students are not compelled to recite the Pledge.
The Court, however, accepted Supreme Court precedent which stipulates that the mere enactment of a policy by a school district could be held to cause harm to students and/or parents if that policy violates the separation of church and state. One case was Wallace v. Jaffree, in which the Supreme Court found that law which specifically listed "silent prayer" as a possible use for a moment of silence was unconstitutional, even though no students were forced to pray.
Another precedent cited was Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, in which the Court upheld a challenge to a school policy of permitting, but not requiring, prayer led by a student at football games. In the latter case, the Supreme Court held that the government violates the Constitution by the "mere passage ...of a policy that has the purpose and perception of government establishment of religion." Thus, it isn't necessary for a student to participate in prayers or the Pledge in order to be harmed when the government endorses and encourages participation.
After settling those points, the Court considered whether or not the Pledge survived the "Endorsement Test," formulated by Jusice O'Connor in Lynch v. Donnelly. According to the majority opinion, the Pledge definitely endorses religion and religious belief:
...the phrase "one nation under God" in the context of the Pledge is normative. To recite the Pledge is not to describe the United States; instead, it is to swear alle-giance to the values for which the flag stands: unity, indivisibility, liberty, justice, and - since 1954 - monotheism. ...A profession that we are a nation "under God" is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation "under Jesus," a nation "under Vishnu," a nation "under Zeus," or a nation "under no god," because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion.
Clearly, if "under no god" would entail a discouragement of religion and religious belief, then "under god" entails an encouragement of religion and religious beliefs. If "under no god" is unconstitutional, then "under god" must also be unconstitutional - they are two sides of the same question. Use of "under no god" would tell theists that they are outsiders; similarly, the Court held that the phrase "under god" sends a message to unbelievers "that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members of the political community." (quoted in the decision from Lynch)
The Court further held that the Pledge fails the Coercion Test, as used in Lee v. Weisman. Just as in the Lee case, the Pledge forces students to choose between participating in an exercise with religious content or protesting - not something which the government should be permitted to do.
Although the Pledge could be invalidated on either of the above points, the Court then proceeded to apply the Lemon Test. To survive the Lemon Test and be found constitutional, a law must: (1) have a secular purpose, (2) have a principal or primary effect that neither advances nor inhibits religion, and (3) not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.
According to the Court, the Pledge readily fails the first prong because the legislative history makes it clear that the purpose of the words "under God" was to advance religion. The defendants argued that the whole Pledge was not religious, but the Court recognized that this wasn't relevant due to the fact that the problematic words "under God," were specifically inserted long after the Pledge as a whole was formulated.
The school district's policy itself failed the second prong of the Lemon Test because "the policy is highly likely to convey an impermissible message of endorsement to some and disapproval to others of their beliefs regarding the existence of a monotheistic God."
In effect, the Court applied every possible test to the Pledge and the policy of reciting the pledge, finding that none of the tests were successful. As a result, the Court held that both the addition of the words "under God" and the school district's policy itself were violations of the Establishment Clause.
The decision of this panel of three judges was not unanimous. According to the dissent, the conclusions reached above would end up being problematic because:
...we will soon find ourselves prohibited from using our album of patriotic songs in many public settings. "God Bless America" and "America The Beautiful" will be gone for sure, and while use of the first and second stanzas of the Star Spangled Banner will still be permissible, we will be precluded from straying into the third.
Unfortunately, it does not appear as though the dissent really understands the decision, because neither of the aforementioned songs have had their lyrics dictated by law, and it is such laws which are at question.
It should be noted that the plaintiff, Michael Newdow, successfully represented himself in this case.
Note: one day after issuing the ruling, Judge Goodwin (who wrote the above decision) prevented it from taking effect until the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals can consider it. The case may be remanded back to the same three judge panel for a rehearing, or the entire Court may want to hear it.
This is the first time in a long while that the rights of those who do not accept the majority's religious beliefs have been vindicated.
Because this is only a panel decision, a review by the full Circuit Court might overturn the decision if they feel that it was not argued properly. Because the Ninth Circuit Court is the most liberal of all the Circuit Courts, there is also a high likelihood that the Supreme Court, which is very conservative, might overturn it.
Judge Goodwin, the author of the decision, was very careful, however. The decision cites Supreme Court decisions in the area of religious liberty constantly - thus if the Supreme Court wants to overrule, it will either have to spend a lot of time demonstrating the Goodwin interpreted badly, or a lot of time overruling previous Supreme Court decisions.
Goodwin also spent some time quoting Justice O'Connor. This is important because she is widely regarded as a "swing" vote in Establishment Clause cases. She tends to be very conservative, but she has also written things which very much support religious liberty for minorities. Supreme Court justices like to be quoted and cited - moreover, they don't like to vote against decisions which make extensive use of their past writings.
Another fact worth noting is that the decision takes pains to argue that the phrase "under God" fails to pass every Establishment Clause which has been used by the Supreme Court in recent years. Obviously, the more reasons there are to reject that phrase, the better - that is a general principle. But in this case, it has added meaning.
In the case of Marsh v. Chambers, the Supreme Court ruled that the practice of beginning the legislative session with a prayer given by the publicly funded chaplain was constitutional. This is related because that is often defended as a facet of "ceremonial deism" - an idea used by the dissent in the Newdow case.
What makes that case interesting is that although the decision in Marsh acknowledged that the lower court found that all three prongs of the Lemon Test were violated, the majority opinion didn't even mention the Lemon Test. It was ignored totally - probably because it wasn't possible to claim that the Lemon Test was passed. Because the Newdow decision spends so much time explaining how and why the Pledge fails various tests, that little trick won't be so easy to accomplish again.
This will almost certainly be appealed to the full Ninth Circuit Court. If that Court refuses to hear it or agrees with the panel, it will certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court because it conflicts with a decision by the Chicago-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit upholding the pledge.
Although this decision only applies to the jurisdiction of Califronia, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii, the Supreme Court may still take it because it is so radical. I think that they will want to overrule it and that they will likely overrule it - but the decision will have to be constructed in an interesting way in order to achieve the desired results.
Politically, the reactions have been very predictable. A GOP memo to all Republican members of Congress and those running for spots in Congress implored Republicans to contact local school boards and ask them to "nullify this decision" by allowing the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited "as is" in classrooms the next morning. A Senate resolution "expressing support for the Pledge of Allegiance" and asking Senate counsel to "seek to intervene in the case" passed 99-0.
One common problem with many of the reactions is that they so often portray the decision as banning the use of "under God" when the Pledge of Allegiance is recited. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone, including any school student, who wants to include "under God" when they recited the Pledge of Allegiance is allowed to do so and there is no reason to think that that will change. What this decision held was that it was unconstitional for the government to officially insert that phrase into the Pledge of Allegiance and for government officials (in schools) to lead students in reciting the Pledge with that phrase included. In other words, individuals continue to be free to do as they will, but the government is prohibited from telling them what they should do - exactly as was the case when the government banned state-sponsored and state-organized prayers in public schools.
The predicatable personal attacks also arrived. Senator Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, the only remaining member of Congress who voted for the addition of "under God" on June 7, 1954, warned the judges who declared the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional to never come before him because they would be "blackballed." Tom Daschle, D-South Carolina, said, "This decision is nuts." Sen. Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, said "This is obviously an unbelievable decision, as far as I am concerned, and an incorrect ruling and a stupid ruling." At no point have any of them explained in any detail where the majority decision errs.
The above case has bearing because of this line:
"What this decision held was that it was unconstitional for the government to officially insert that phrase into the Pledge of Allegiance..." The same thing applies to a 2.5 ton monument to any specific religion in a courthouse. It implies that in order to receive justice in the manner of the American Court System, you need to follow those commandments. I would have the same problem if someone wanted to put a 2.5 ton monument to Druidic faith.
I look forward to your reseponse.