Thursday, January 8, 2009

"So help me God"

A group of athiests, led by Michael Newdow - who unsuccessfully sought to remove "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance - has sued to "challenge the constitutionality of the invocation of God in the oath and in prayers" during the upcoming Inauguration. Of course, the argument here is that these invocations are a violation of the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment. According to the lawsuit, these invocations
"are completely exclusionary, showing absolute disrespect to Plaintiffs and others of similar religious views, who explicitly reject the purely religious claims that will be endorsed, i.e., (a) there exists a God, and (b) the United States government should pay homage to that God."
I'm not a constitutional scholar - I did take several church/state classes - but I think this would be considered a ceremonial display, like "In God We Trust" on our coinage.
The Supreme Court ruled more than two decades ago that such public "acknowledgments" of God are ceremonial, not theological, and serve "the legitimate secular purposes of solemnizing public occasions, expressing confidence in the future, and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society.
The Inauguration is on January 20th, and the motion for the preliminary injunction will be heard on Jan. 15th. Of note, Newdow brought similar suits against the 2001 and 2005 Inaugurations, both unsuccessful.

You can read the full text of the lawsuit here.

Update: Obama requests the phrase "So help me God" be added to the oath of office.


Darren Staley said...

This is very interesting to me. I am of two minds on this:

1- I am fully supportive of separating church and state.

2 - I do not care about In God We Trust on the money or God in the invocation.

But let's say we take the "in God" stuff out of everything. Who does that hurt?

People that believe in God will still believe in God, and people who do not believe will continue not to believe.

And it ends these silly arguments.Wars are raging. The economy is tanking. People are starving and dying. Yet we have the hubris to think that God gives two shits about whether His name is on the dollar bill?

It's just so crazy to me. As Thomas Jefferson said: "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

Anonymous said...

Great points Darren!

James said...

How then does it hurt Michael Newdow or any other if the new President of the United States says at the end of his formal oath, "So help me God?" Mr. Obama has made no effort to hide his Christianity, nor his openness to other religious peoples. How does it hurt Michael Newdow or any other if a right-leaning pastor from California says a prayer?

Michael Newdow's quad-annual law suits are for his self glory, and take valuable time in our court system. Under our Constitution the new President has the right of free speech, and the right of his own beliefs. Who is he harming by saying "God" and who will be forced to believe in God by hearing him say the word?

To expand on what Darren has said, what will change of January 20? Michael Newdow will be no closer to being a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Wiccan or Buddhist on January 20 than he is today, which gives little merit to his suit. He does not have to watch or even read about what happens, that is his right of separation.

Some things never change, however, Michael Newdow, following his spiritual guide Madalyn Murray O'Hair, will rise again in four years to seek payment for what the nation puts him through by allowing our people to say the word "God" in public.

See you in four Michael.

Good Points Dannen!

Max said...

This guy has no legal standing to bring the case--the Supreme Court will undoubtedly throw it out.

Don't get me wrong, I consider myself a progressive Christian who believes in separation of church and state--for the good of both institutions. But I don't understand why Michael Newdow feels threatened enough by something he does not believe in to bring a lawsuit every four years.

Katie said...

This topic is one that troubles me. On the one hand, on behalf of atheists (not to mention agnostics, Buddhists, Hindus, Pagans, Wiccans, Unitarians, and followers of many other non-monotheistic paths), I say get rid of the word "God" in any government proceedings and texts. We are not one nation under God, we are one nation under one God, or many Gods, or no Gods -- depending on who you are. (Unfortunately that doesn't fit too well on a nickel)

It may come off to some as whining, but for those who don't follow the path of monotheism, the use of "One Nation Under God", etc., may seem like a reminder that (1) they're not Real Americans and (2) their government doesn't count them as being valued enough to have their beliefs aired as well. Or something.

On the other hand, some of the founding tenets of our Constitution and culture are based on the Judeo-Christian monotheistic tradition. The vast majority of Americans believe in a higher power, and the vast majority of those are followers of Abraham, in one form or another. They are of the majority opinion, and in this land of democracy, the majority rules.

So... there's my rambling, incoherent two cents. :-)

Kent H said...

I think it ironic that Michael Newdow has spent much of his adult life fighting something he doesn't believe exists.
Seriously though, this matter is not as flippant as some have made it. We do have separation of church and state. We do not have state churches being told what to proclaim by a national governement. We do not have an organizational church structure in power over the policy makers. What we have are two separate entities in place over their separate spheres of influence.
But we also have a governmental structure that rises out of the view of the Judeo-Christian ethic that believes every person's viewpoint is valid and should be respected -- every life is precious and should be protected.
The first person to insert "so help me God" into his inaugural pledge was George Washington - president of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Not one of the enormously brilliant constitutional scholars around him (e.g. James Madison, etc) ever made one peep.
Can't we safely say that the separation of church and state is not a demand for separation of God-fearing people from government. And as such, we have freedom to profess our beliefs. Then, if we are elected with those beliefs, the people have spoken (democracy).
Good blog, Drew.