By David Waters
We at Under God would be remiss if we did not thank the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals for upholding the name of our blog in the Pledge of Allegiance, but we must question the court’s logic in dismissing the “religious significance” of a two-word phrase that includes the word God.
“True the words ‘Under God’ have religious significance,” but that doesn’t automatically turn them into “a prayer of other religious exercise,” the court ruled 2-1 last week in a California case.
Perhaps the word God has some sort of non-religious significance in the state of California. That might explain Hollywood. What else can explain this ruling?
“The phrase ‘Under God,” the court went on to rule, “is a recognition of our founders’ political philosophy that a power greater than the government gives the people their inalienable rights.”
A power greater than government, which might or might not be the Judeo-Christian God upon which this country might or might not have been founded, apparently depending on the court, the year and the case.
Remember, this was the same Ninth Circuit that touched off a major election-year, culture-war battle in 2004 by declaring the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to be an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. Congress formally condemned the ruling and President Bush called it “ridiculous.”
Once burned at the stake, twice shy. Upon further review (this new case was an updated version of the old case, refiled by plaintiff and now famous atheist Michael Newdow), the Ninth Circuit now sees that it was making too much of the word God.
“Not every mention of God or religion by our government or at the government’s direction is a violation of the Establishment Clause,” the court ruled. In studying the history and context of the 1954 insertion of the words ‘under God’ into the 1892 Pledge (written by a Baptist minister), “we find the pledge is one of allegiance to our Republic, not of allegiance to God or to any religion.”
True, the 1954 revision of the Pledge was in large part America’s symbolic and defiant response to the rise of godless communism, but at the time no one was dismissing the new phrase’s religious significance. In fact, it’s religious significance was the point.
“From this day forward,” President Eisenhower said when signed the legislation, “the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim, in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.’
The Almighty, a.k.a. God, now a.k.a. (in California) A Power Greater Than Government.
So why would a court that ruled ‘under God’ to be an endorsement of religion reverse itself and call it nothing more than an endorsement of government?
In his sharply worded dissent, Judge Stephen Reinhardt advanced a theory: “Only a desire to change the rules regarding separation of church and state or an unwillingness to place this court on the unpopular side of a highly controversial dispute regarding both patriotism and religion could explain the decision the members of the majority reach here and the lengths to which their muddled and self-contradictory decision goes in order to reach the result they do.”
A power greater than government, save the United States and this honorable court.
In a separate but equal ruling, the same court upheld the use of the national motto, “In God We Trust,” on coins and currency. The use of the word God is patriotic and ceremonial, not religious, the court ruled 3-0. Reinhardt joined this decision, saying he was bound by the court’s newly established precedent in the ‘under God’ case.
This sort of legalistic parsing won’t doom the Republic, but should people of faith be concerned about any branch of government’s decision to downgrade God from religious to patriotic?