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If Not “Under God,” then What? Print E-mail
By Francis J. Beckwith   
Friday, 14 September 2012

Editor’s Note: Professor Beckwith reminds us today of a truth that should need no repeating for Americans – but it does today. We’re now living in a time in which God is no longer thought of by many as the source of our freedom, but as a delusion and a limitation on it. Cardinal Dolan was speaking in Washington to the John Carroll Society last week about religious liberty and quoted from one of our esteemed colleague’s column from a few weeks back on that subject. I don’t often toot our horn about the stories told me about the similar ways in which we not only make strong arguments in this space, but influence leaders within the Church as well as outside of it. We have new plans for still more ambitious projects that I’ll be talking about here in the future. But we need your support now to keep The Catholic Thing strong and moving. We’re close to our goal and late in our fund drive. Please become part of our efforts through a generous contribution to our work today. – Robert Royal
  

The recent scuffle over God’s temporary absence from the Democrat Party’s 2012 platform is a reminder of how the understanding of “God” in certain enclaves of American life has become diminished. His critics have ceased to comprehend the meaning of His absence – or even to understand the role His presence has played in our understanding of our natural rights.

It was in 1954 that the U. S. Congress inserted “under God” into “The Pledge of Allegiance.” Although uncontroversial at the time, the phrase has become a point of contention in recent years.

In the 2002 case of Newdow v. Elk Grove School District, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the public school recitation of the Pledge violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment because “the text of the official Pledge, codified in federal law, impermissibly takes a position with respect to the purely religious question of the existence and identity of God.”

The U. S. Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit’s decision, but only on a technicality: Michael Newdow, the parent who had brought the suit on behalf of his public school student daughter, did not have standing to file suit because he did not have legal custody of his daughter. Although three justices had argued that the recitation of the Pledge with the words  “under God” did not run afoul of the Constitution, the Court’s holding did not address that question.  

What stands out about the controlling opinions of both courts is how little care they take in understanding the primary reason why the 1954 Congress amended the Pledge. Here’s what the 1954 Congressional Record states (as quoted in the Ninth Circuit’s opinion):

At this moment of our history the principles underlying our American Government and the American way of life are under attack by a system whose philosophy is at direct odds with our own. Our American Government is founded on the concept of the individuality and the dignity of the human being.  Underlying this concept is the belief that the human person is important because he was created by God and endowed by Him with certain inalienable rights which no civil authority may usurp.  The inclusion of God in our pledge therefore would further acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon the moral directions of the Creator.  At the same time it would serve to deny the atheistic and materialistic concepts of communism with its attendant subservience of the individual.

The Ninth Circuit, though it acknowledged this reasoning, does not take it very seriously. As we have already seen, it dismissed any appeal to God to account for any contingent reality – in this case, human rights and dignity – as merely an answer to a “purely religious question.”

Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the Supreme Court’s controlling opinion, does not even quote from this passage, but from another portion of the 1954 Congressional Record that suggests that “under God” in the Pledge is more about the country’s long tradition of believing in God rather than the reality of God as the guarantor of our natural rights: “[f]rom the time of our earliest history our peoples and our institutions have reflected the traditional concept that our Nation was founded on a fundamental belief in God.”

But the whole point of inserting “under God” in the Pledge was neither “religious” nor an appeal to “tradition.” It was to address the philosophical claim that our natural rights, grounded in the natural law, are imparted to us by an Eternal Lawgiver, and how that claim differs from the understanding of rights embraced by a government, the Soviet Union, committed to atheistic materialism.  

Thus, the question that the 1954 Congress was answering was no more a “religious question” or a matter of historical observation than was the grounding of the Thirteenth Amendment’s prohibition on involuntary servitude purely the result of a change in national labor policy.

For the 1954 Congress, as for most ordinary Americans, whether one’s natural rights issue from an Eternal Lawgiver or from a state with no higher authority than itself and its will, makes all the difference between a limited government constrained by moral principles it did not invent and a government based on nothing more than its own power to stipulate whatever ends it desires. It is the difference between liberty and tyranny.



 
Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University. He is co-editor (with Robert P. George and Susan McWilliams) of the forthcoming A Second Look at First Things: A Case for Conservative Politics, a festschrift in honor of Hadley Arkes.
 
 
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Comments (13)Add Comment
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written by essJack,CT, September 14, 2012
We have become so PC it is really sad,if atheists do not want
their kids pledging allegiance to their country tell them
not to participate! One gets tired of all this sillyness.
I bet if there was still a draft people would have no problem with pledging allegiance to "OUR" Nation.
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written by Jack,CT, September 14, 2012
I just heard a group of children were kicked out of a
Walmart for singing "God bless America",proves the
point we are way to "PC"!
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written by Manfred, September 14, 2012
1954 was the height of the Cold War. We wanted to distinguish ourselves from atheistic communism. It predates Vat. II and Roe v. Wade. If you are going to have the Gov't cooperate in 50 million abortions, the subjects being aborted cannot have souls and they cannot have been created by "God". The fresh remains of US military were recently discovered in a landfill in PA. What, no Gettysburg Cemetery anymore? If they do not have souls as fetuses, they never acquire them. In the upscale area where I have my offices, they do not even have funerals when they die, just cocktails and eulogies. An IL state senator voted four times that a baby who survives an abortion must be left to die.That senator, now our President, will be swapping jokes and pats on the back with his host, CDL Dolan at the Al Smith Dinner in a month.
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, September 14, 2012
When it comes to the matter of God in our civic life, I have recently wondered about what transpires in our courts of law. It has been the practice that when one gives testimony, one swears to the truth of the testimony to be given. It was assumed that the swearing was addressed to God ("...so help me God"). One was voluntarily placing what was said under God's authority such that if it were not truthful, God's justice would be called upon the person so swearing.

If God is removed from all sworn oaths, under whose judgement are we placing ourselves? Our own? It begs the question of who has authority over us. In our secular culture where God has no place and we are our own judge about matters such as truthfulness, then all is relative. In such a culture we cannot rest on the truthfulness of any testimony because the ultimate authority over us has been removed.

Is it the government that we now swear to, as if it has ultimate authoirty over us? But governments come and go. Quite a dilemma as I see it. We need a discussion about what it means to swear an oath.
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written by Dennis, September 14, 2012
The way forward is not going to be through the courts.
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written by Jack,CT, September 14, 2012
Deacon Ed,
Your thoghts are very provoking, Thank You!
Jack
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written by Grump, September 14, 2012
The author of the Pledge was one Francis Bellamy, a defrocked Baptist minister from Boston who identified himself as a Christian Socialist and who preached in his pulpit that "Jesus was a socialist."

As author/economist Tom Di Lorenzo wrote in 2003 when the U.S. Supreme Court said it planned to review the "under God" wording in the Pledge: "Francis Bellamy said that one purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance was to help accomplish his lifelong goal of making his cousin's socialist fantasy a reality in America. He further stated that the 'true reason for allegiance to the Flag' was to indoctrinate American school children in the false history of the American founding that was espoused first by Daniel Webster and, later, by Abraham Lincoln."

Bellamy considered the "liberty and justice for all" phrase in the Pledge to be an Americanized version of the slogan of the French Revolution: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity." The French revolutionaries believed that mass killing by the state was always justified if it was done for the "grand purpose" of achieving "equality."

Di Lorenzo concludes, "If the Supreme Court decides that the "under God" wording in the Pledge is unconstitutional, it will be doing the right thing for the wrong reason (it does not "establish a religion"). The Pledge itself is an oath of allegiance to the central state, and the "under God" language only serves to deify the state. From the perspective of a Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, or James Madison, nothing could be more un-American. After all, they and their contemporaries had fought a long and bloody war of secession to sever their forced allegiance, complete with loyalty oaths, to another overbearing and tyrannical state, namely the British empire."
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written by Mack Hall, September 14, 2012
With my modest contribution we have at the moment eight responders; statistically, only four of us voted in the last presidential election. Perhaps the rest of us were too busy talking.

Democracy is not a spectator sport.
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written by Grump, September 14, 2012
@Mack. I'm still trying to decide whether to vote for Tweedledum or Tweedledee.
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written by S. Walter, September 14, 2012
Excellent column making the crucial distinction re "under God" in the Pledge. It is not a statement of theology, stemming from religious beliefs in a particular revelation, but a statement of political philosophy, stemming from a knowledge of nature that requires no revelation.

This is made clear by the fact that the Knights of Columbus were the ones in the 1950s who led the national crusade to have Congress add "under God" to the Pledge. They succeeded, but it certainly wasn't because most Americans then agreed with Catholic theology! If "under God" in fact meant, "under the revelation of God as taught by the Pope in Rome," the additional words would have been rejected. But non-Catholic Americans in the 1950s were, like the Knights of Columbus, vigorously in agreement on the philosophical principle that man's rights come from the Creator, not the Communist Party.

Still, in his limited space today the author wasn't able to make 2 important additional points: (1) under American law, no one can be compelled to speak the Pledge (whatever their objection may be). (2) Newdow went back to court, using children whose parents actually had custody of them, and in 2010 the 9th Circuit handed down a second decision awarding victory to the Knights of Columbus & their lawyers at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which made precisely this argument. The 9th Circuit adopted the argument, and the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the decision, just as it refused to hear an appeal from another Knights-Becket Fund victory over a Newdow suit in New Hampshire. Visit the Becket Fund's case page on the Pledge lawsuits for more information.
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written by Maggie Louise, September 14, 2012
With possible four vacancies upcoming on the Supreme Court, the choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee should not be difficult.
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written by Grump, September 14, 2012
@Maggie. Chief Justice John Roberts was named by George W. Bush and wound up siding with Obama and the Democrats. Other than Ginsberg, the other justices aren't going anywhere for awhile.
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written by Sue, September 14, 2012
"..only four of us voted in the last presidential election."

True-blue conservatives voted for John McMarshmallow in 2008 and George "have to abandon free market principles to save the free market. stem cell sell-out, zero down payment, Big Pharma pet" Bush in 2004 and 2000, Bob "Viagra" Dole in 1996, George HW "No New Taxes, Skull and Bones Eugenics" Bush, Ronald "hid the rape/incest abortions in the Hyde amendment, help the Soviet Union fake its own death" Reagan, Gerald "Rockefeller puppet" Ford, Richard "abortion necessary when you have a black and a white, ping-pong and detente with Communist tyrants" Nixon. Oh, and Dwight "forced repatriation of Russian POWs and Slime McCarthy, not the Fifth column commies" Eisenhower.

At some point, it's time to see the controlled dialectic for what it is.

"Elections in the USSR
In theory, citizens selected the candidates for election to local soviets. In practice, at least before the June 1987 elections, these candidates had been selected by the local Communist party, Komsomol, and trade union officials under the direction of the district (raion) party organization. Voting took place after six weeks of campaigning. Though voters formally had the right to vote for or against the unopposed candidate, until 1987 all candidates usually received about 99 percent of the vote." wikipedia entry

Voting participation has no relation to true democracy if the candidate choices are all socialist and controlled by one corrupt entity.

What a blast it would be if every Catholic American wrote in a true Catholic for president, for once. Cardinal Dolan could invite just him for dinner.

If that meant losing the Church's tax status, I'd be willing to trade our cathedrals for the catacombs if it meant we weren't selling out the faith.

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