Posts Tagged ‘establishment clause’

One Nation, Indivisible, As Long as You Believe In God

March 11, 2010

As a science teacher, I’m required by Washington state law (RCW 28A.230.140) to lead students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. I despise doing so. For one, it reminds me uncomfortably of the fascistic pledges of loyalty we observe in the subjects of every oppressive regime through history. For another, it contains the words, “under God.” Now, I may be an atheist, but I respect every student’s right to whatever beliefs they arrive upon. The words are a problem because they force teachers to lead their students in chanting that the USA is God’s country, that you can’t be a patriotic American unless you believe in God. This seems to me as obvious a violation of the Establishment Clause as is humanly possible. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed with me at least twice.

Not so anymore. I’ve just started reading the decision in Newdow v. Rio Linda today, in which the 9th Circuit ruled that the current wording of the pledge is perfectly constitutional. I don’t have much knowledge of the law, but there are some things that stick out at me about this.

One, the decision holds that the words “Under God” don’t violate the Establishment Clause because the purpose of their inclusion was “to foster national unity and pride.” In other words, because the purpose was not to establish a religious viewpoint, the phrasing does not violate the Establishment Clause. But the Lemon test has two parts: purpose and effect. While the government’s purpose in adding the words “Under God” to the pledge may not have violated the First Amendment, its effect is certainly to discriminate against those who hold no theistic belief. If the purpose is to foster national unity, but the effect is to imply that only God-believers are true patriots, how is this not an establishment of religion?

Two, the decision holds that “not every mention of God or religion by our government or at the government’s discretion is a violation of the Establishment Clause.” The decision goes on to mention some decisions by the Supreme Court to uphold such actions, such as the display of the Ten Commandments at the Texas State Capitol. The decision goes on to claim that, were we to focus on the religious aspect of government actions, we would have to overturn these actions on the basis of the Establishment Clause. Not only would we have to remove “Under God” from the Pledge, but we would also have to strike the Ten Commandments monument, and the Nativity scenes on public property, and the explicitly Christian prayers outside so many police stations. To which I say: It would be about time! All of these are unwarranted uses of public funds to favor one religious view over another. The Supreme Court’s position that they are valuable for their “history” is laughable, given how divisive they are.

Finally, the decision references the Founding Fathers’ belief that “people derive their most important rights, not from the government, but from God: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’ ” Well, the Declaration of Independence might refer to a Creator (not necessarily to a God), but it is not the highest law of the United States. The Constitution has that honored place, and it makes no mention whatever of a God. A cursory glance at the Preamble reveals that it is We the People, not God, who endow ourselves with rights, among them freedom of religion.

This is a bad decision in a long line of bad decisions in Establishment Clause cases. For the foreseeable future, at least, it looks like I will be dragging my students through a Pledge that divides this Nation right down the middle.

Was the US founded on Christian principles?

July 5, 2008

No. No it wasn’t.

Pharyngula links to the webpage of the Family Research Council, which currently holds a poll titled, “Do you believe that America, as a nation, was founded upon Christian principles?” Due to the Pharynguloid influence, “No” is currently leading at 91%, but that’s not the point. The point is that this question should not be asked in the first place.

The US is emphatically not founded on Christian principles. This is explicitly stated in the Constitution, both in the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”) and in Article VI, section 3 (“…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”) In addition, the Treaty of Tripoli, itself a legally binding document, bears these words: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”

The United States is a secular nation, not a Christian nation. Any claim to the contrary is founded in ignorance of the Constitution, or in delusion. Check mate, I’m afraid, for the Dominionists.

We’ll see him in court

June 18, 2008

Word to Pharyngula for running this story: John Freshwater, the lovable Ohio high school science teacher who burns crosses into his students’ arms and generally supports evangelism in the public classroom, is being taken to court for violation of the Establishment Clause.

Freshwater is apparently guilty of far more transgressions than a simple cruciform branding. He keeps Bibles in the classroom, not for his own use, he openly teaches his religious beliefs to students, he taught intelligent design as early as 2003, he distributed Bibles to students, including extras so give to other students who were not present, and on and on. Perhaps most galling, a guest speaking at his invitation imparted this little gem to the students: “they should disobey the law to further their own religion, even if it means going to jail.”

These are the actions of an evangelist, not a science teacher. If even half the above allegations are true, this is an open and shut case. Mr. Freshwater violated the Constitution left and right, and by all appearances is proud of it. It is a sad testament to the condition of some school districts that he wasn’t fired years ago.

South Carolina Senate permits display of 10 Commandments

May 31, 2008

The South Carolina Senate recently passed a bill that would allow the public display of 11 “historical documents” that “make up the nation’s foundation of law and government.” I use the scare quotes because this set includes two “documents” that manifestly do not make up the foundation of US government: the ten commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

I’ve got an idea for a law: legislators should have to read the Constitution before taking office. The Establishment Clause clearly forbids the passing of any law with the purpose or effect of establishing religion. This bill would allow public schools to post the Ten Commandments. Do they not see how blatantly unconstitutional that is?

The Establishment Clause exists for a reason: to preserve the freedom of every American to believe what they wish. This bill would singles out Christianity and Judaism. Why don’t they include Muslim commandments? Why don’t they include the Five Precepts of Buddhism? Why don’t they include the Eight I’d Really Rather You Didn’ts of the Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

In order to guarantee freedom of religion, public places and proceedings must either exclude all religion, or include all religion. To endorse one religion specifically, as this bill does, denies the freedom of those who follow all the others, or who follow no religion at all.

The bill has already passed the House, but the version passed in the Senate included one or more amendments (e.g. the inclusion of the Lord’s Prayer) that will need to go before the House before the bill can be sent to the governor. Let’s hope a majority of the representatives get some sense. If this bill passes, it will be challenged and struck down in federal court, but not before a gob of taxpayer money is pissed down the drain.

Ah, Chuck Norris

May 27, 2008

This is pretty funny, but I must first apologize for being fixated on the NCBCPS for the moment.

They have an article written by Chuck Norris on the need for Bible courses in US public schools. If the NCBCPS’s motivations are suspect, Chuck Norris’ are openly unconstitutional. Consider this quote, referring to a proposed law in Texas that would mandate Bible education.

The Texas Freedom Network, or TFN, is one of them – a self-admitted adversary of any biblically conservative movement, calling themselves “a mainstream voice to counter the religious right.” The TFN, for example, is requesting five unnecessary changes to the Texas bill, which is intended to assure students are taught this classic text: (emphasis mine)

Mandate that teachers have appropriate academic qualifications and sufficient training on legal and constitutional issues surrounding instruction about the Bible in public schools.

Require rigorous, scholarly reviewed textbooks and other curriculum materials for all courses.

Include strong and specific language that protects the religious freedom of students and their families by barring the use of Bible classes to evangelize or promote personal religious perspectives.

Require the Texas Education Agency to regularly monitor and report on the content of public school Bible courses to ensure that they are academically and legally appropriate.

Continue to allow districts the option to offer – or not offer – such courses.

Let me get this straight. Requiring that teachers be qualified to teach the material is unnecessary? Scholarly reviewed textbooks are unnecessary? Barring evangelism in a public school course is unnecessary?

Chuck Norris clearly has little regard for religious freedom, if his goal is to use the Bible to indoctrinate American students. Further, the NCBCPS’s posting of his article can only be taken as an endorsement of his views. I predict that, for this reason, the Craig County School Board’s Bible course, authored by the NCBCPS, will not withstand scrutiny.

Is this legal?

May 27, 2008

That’s the title of a page within the website of the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools. This organization is responsible for producing and supporting Bible study curricula for American public schools. The mission statement assures that the curricula are perfectly objective and neutral, and thus in line with the requirements of secular government. I have my doubts, and I’ll demonstrate the source of them.

On the one hand, the page titled Is This Legal? ends with this quote:

It might be well said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization. It certainly may be said that the Bible is worthy of study for its literacy and historic qualities. Nothing we have said here indicates that such study of the Bible or of religion, when presented objectively as part of a secular program of education, may not be effected consistently with the First Amendment.

School District of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203,225 (1963)

This is a perfectly admirable quote, and nothing within it betrays an intention to subvert the Establishment Clause. However, the page begins with these words:

There has been a great social regression since the Bible was removed from our schools. We need to refer to the original documents that inspired Americanism and our religious heritage.

These words are manifestly untrue. The US has suffered no such “social regression” (whatever that might mean), and the foundation document of the United States is not the Bible, but the Constitution. The Constitution is the defining statement of Americanism (whatever that might mean), and it carries no mention of God, and mentions religion only to guarantee the free practice (or nonpractice) thereof. If the goal of the NCBCPS is to rewrite history so as to name the Bible the foundation of US culture and religion (ignoring the dozens of other faiths followed by Americans, and those who follow none), then they are no better than the “America was founded as a Christian nation” crowd.

The Quest for Right (It’s pretty wrong)

May 16, 2008

C David Parsons, author of a series of creationist textbooks called The Quest for Right, left a comment on one of yesterday’s posts. In it, he described the bizarre content of his books, in which he apparently takes on atomic theory and quantum mechanics, as if they both are cornerstones of modern evolutionary theory. I’ll let his words speak for themselves:

The backbone of Darwinism is not biological evolution per se, but electronic interpretation, the tenet that all physical chemical and biological processes result from a change in the electron structure of the atom which, in turn, may be deciphered through the orderly application of mathematics, as outlined in quantum mechanics. A few of the supporting theories are: degrading stars, neutron stars, black holes, extraterestrial water, antimatter, the absolute dating systems, ant the big bang, the explosion of a singularity infinitely smaller than the dot of an “i” from which space, time, and the massive stellar bodies supposedly sprang into being.

The philosophy rejects any divine intervention. Therefore, let the philosophy of Darwinism be judged on these specifics: electron interpretation and quantum mechanics. Conversely, the view that God is both responsible for and rules all the phenomena of the universe will stand or fall when the facts are applied. The view will not hinge on faith alone, but will be tested by the weightier principle of verifiable truths – the new discipline.

The Quest for Right is not only better at explaining natural phenomena, but also may be verified through testing. As a result, the material in the several volumes will not violate the so-called constitutional separation of church and state. Physical science, the old science of cause and effect, will have a long-term sustainability, replacing irresponsible doctrines based on whim. Teachers and students will rejoice in the simplicity of earthly phenomena when entertained by the new discipline.

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I think we should get a trial separation

May 15, 2008

Did you like that clever play on “trial” and “separation?”  As in “separation of church and state?”

No? Oh.

Anyway, this week UC Berkeley will be taken to court over a webpage they host that provides resources to teachers of evolution. According to the Pacific Justice Institute, this website contains an egregious crime against the secular government guaranteed by the Constitution, an unspeakable assault on the Wall of Separation erected by the great Thomas Jefferson.

The crime?

They said that most religions don’t have a problem with evolution.

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