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Separation Issues Still Matter
2006.06.15 (Thu) 22:38
Judicial thorn and outspoken atheist "Rev. Dr." Michael Newdow's most recent bid to get rid of government-sanctioned declarations of religious faith — in this case, his call for the removal of the National Motto™ "In God We Trust" from our currency — was dismissed by a Federal district court judge. In point of fact, this isn't a setback for Newdow; it's the expected progression of his case. The district court was bound by an appeals court ruling, and so had to dismiss the case, which merely sets up Newdow's expected appeal.
We can all debate the finer points of these issues, both in a broad sense and as it pertains directly to Newdow's efforts. We can certainly debate Newdow's motives, methods, and timing. His adoption of that "Reverend" title, and his assertion that atheism is a religion, are particularly stupid. His timing could certainly be better, as his tactics could easily result in the reinforcement of precedent in favor of these ridiculous religious affirmations, thanks to the current makeup of the Supreme Court — which would only make it harder to correct these problems further down the road.
But despite the man, and despite the timing of the suits (we can see both sides of that latter argument), we still remain quite firm in our assertion that these issues do matter.
We feel that many very intelligent people are missing the point with regard to the Pledge of Allegiance, the motto on our currency, and all these other "little things." Are they small issues? To an extent, yes. While the Pledge issue creates situations in which children can be singled out for punishment or ridicule, the currency issue is, quite frankly, an annoyance and little more. So, yes, each of these is a minor instance of blurring the line between church and state, when taken individually. But it's time to stop thinking about them individually — because the opposition damn well isn't.
We've discussed this before. The point isn't that each of these annoyances is an egregious offense in and of itself. The point is that leaving all of these references to religion in government practices — in our laws, traditions, mottos, currency, or whatever — gives the religiosos who are (quite literally) fighting for a theocracy a strong foothold from which to argue for their larger goals. No, the goddish motto on our money isn't really a big deal...but it can be used by the aspiring theocrats to say "Oh, this country isn't religious? Then what's this on our money? Now, put our damn commandments monument in front of the courthouse, you godless bitch."
As we said in our earlier Rant about Newdow's Pledge case (which applies to this case as well):
At first glance, this issue seems like it really isn't that big of a deal. We understand — that was the initial reaction that one of our members had to it as well. Hey, we said the pledge in school every day from preschool through high school, and it was little more than a muttered chant whose words we spoke without really thinking about them or their underlying meaning. We also managed to become atheists in spite of this daily recital containing a pledge of allegiance to a nation said to be under the Christian God. What's the big deal?
However, we can't afford to say that. The people of this country already say that about far too many "small issues" just like this. We have "In God We Trust" on every piece of US currency that we carry in our wallets, and our courts display the same motto behind the judge's bench. Our Presidents — not just the current one — end their speeches with "God bless the United States of America." The bible is still used, albeit optionally, as a reinforcement for legal oaths — such as the promise to be truthful before giving legal testimony — in public courthouses, implying (often quite justifiably) that religious people cannot be trusted to tell the truth without the threat of punishment by their chosen deity. The oath of office for the highest position in our nation ends with the phrase, "So help me God." These are all small things. A lot of small things. All of these things are wrong, and all of them should be challenged and deemed unconstitutional.
Taken on their own, some of them may not mean much or have much of a detrimental impact, but together, they add up to a sturdy platform for the radical Christians to stand on when they reach for larger items on their agenda. If we take away the pile of small "givens," we take away their ability to reach beyond them. Instead, we keep them working to maintain the small items, on defense instead of offense. It's not a matter of being offended by this stuff — personally, we are hardly ever offended by anything — it's more about making sure that the so-called "little things" mandated by the government are inclusive of all of its citizens, and not just the Christian ones, whether they are in the majority or not. That's why it's important to fight the small battles as well as the large.
Sure, Newdow is being something of a prick, and he's remarkably obtuse when it comes to relating to other atheists, but he's absolutely right that these issues must be addressed, because they are currently the ammunition that the religiosos use to fire off shots for their bigger dreams of theocracy. Yes, these individual issues don't amount to much individually...but there's a bigger picture, here, and too many people are looking at tiny dots of paint and not seeing Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Put simply, it's shortsighted, and we can't afford to not care.
Some wonder how Newdow's various suits could "change" the religiosos into more enlightened individuals, no longer intent on forcing their beliefs on the rest of us. The answer is simple: it won't. That's not the goal, or the point. What it will do, if successful (which we highly doubt it will be, at this point in time), is take away each stepping stone these people are using in their bid to institute a full-blown theocracy. We aren't interested in changing these people — we're interested in stopping them from turning our country into a Christian Theocracy.
To proactively cut-off another rebuttal we've heard before, this is not a slippery slope argument. We aren't "worried" that one thing will lead to the next; they have declared that one thing leads to the next. That's their whole damn plan! The pledge, the money, "intelligent design" in our schools — it's not a slippery slope argument on our part, it's a slippery slope strategy on their part. Lest you think we're making this up, one must look no farther than Justice Breyer's deciding opinion in the Van Orden Ten Commandments case:
But the Establishment Clause does not compel the government to purge from the public sphere all that in any way partakes of the religious. Such absolutism is not only inconsistent with our national traditions, but would also tend to promote the kind of social conflict the Establishment Clause seeks to avoid.
Neither can this Court's other tests readily explain the Establishment Clause's tolerance, for example, of the prayers that open legislative meetings; certain references to, and invocations of, the Deity in the public words of public officials; the public references to God on coins, decrees, and buildings; or the attention paid to the religious objectives of certain holidays, including Thanksgiving.
Breyer's decision, which caused the Van Orden Ten Commandments monument to be deemed Constitutional, was based, in part, on these same "little things" that we are talking about here. Hey, perhaps they're not so little after all....
And to those who think that cases like Newdow's are a waste of the government's time — well, we agree. We feel that Newdow's cases are a waste of time in just the same way that the Dover suit challenging the teaching of creationism (sorry, "Intelligent Design") was a waste of time. But it isn't the rationalists who filed the suit who are responsible for that waste — that waste of time is entirely due to the ignorant theocrats who decided that teaching the Bible in a public school was just peachy in the first place. As a result, the plaintiffs were forced to engage in a time-wasting trial in order to safeguard their rights.
The Pledge issue, the National Motto, swearing on Bibles, teaching creationism — they're all part and parcel of the same problem, and we'd better start looking at them that way. Because you'd better believe that the religious right is doing just that.
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