Under God… for Now

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In the biggest anticlimax since Matrix: Revolutions, the Supreme Court dismissed Michael Newdow's challenge to the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance on standing grounds, not even reaching the Establishment Clause claim. But as Jacob Levy points out over at Volokh Conspiracy, that's not entirely bad news even for folks like me who thought Newdow's claim was pretty obviously correct. It strikes me as most likely that the court would've made the wrong decision had it reached the merits. Since the wrong decision wouldn't make any sense—the addition of "under God" patently fails even the weakest "secular purpose" test for an Establishment Clause violation—we'd have ended up with a bad piece of precedent likely to be seen as a license for further state endorsement of religion. Even if they'd gotten it right, we'd be treated to another noxious culture war skirmish with public officials competing to see who can belt out some dead socialist's doggerel the loudest. Given the relatively small stakes involved in the case itself, seems better to leave this battle and take it up again in a few decades.

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  1. Thank God ! Else we would have been treated to the spectacle of $400 cigar chomping Senators & bazilionaire religious activists denouncing the "godless elites".

  2. You couldn't be more right. I don't think the stakes are quite as small as you make them out to be (as I've described here), but the benefits of "the right decision" still couldn't possibly outweigh the costs in terms of one more culture war wedge issue distracting the voting public from issues of greater importance.

  3. I think there's much to be said for a ruling of "Hey, if you want us to consider an issue, make sure that the person who brings the suit actually has standing to bring the suit!"

    And the last thing we need right now is one more culture war skirmish. I'd like this election to be about foreign policy and the economy, not gay marriage and the pledge.

  4. Ridiculous! Simply reciting the pledge (which no one is compelled to anyway) doesn't "establish a religion". Too many people, many with good intentions, have bought into the notion that any reference to God violates the Establishment Clause. The Founding Fathers were very clear that they were trying to avoid a Church-State situation like Mother England had. To deny our religious heritage and the role that religion and the early church played in the forming of our country is just plain ignoring history. Most of the early hospitals, schools, colleges and other prominent institutions in the early years of our republic were started by religious men, women and the church(s). Let's get over this phobia, led mainly by Barry Lynn and the ACLU, that any mention of God is an "establishment" of a church. Today's decision by the High Court was a sound legal one. Michael Newdow was not the parent with custody of the child, and the mother and child both admitted no harm had been done,; in fact, they wanted to recite the pledge. Therefore, Mr. Newdow's case was built on falsehoods.

  5. But we are all agreed that the GOVERNMENT led recitation of a loyalty oath with a particular national theology thrown in for political and religious reasons IS a bad thing, right? I mean, it's not like these kids aren't free to pledge to the flag voluntarily anytime they please. The only purpose of having the pledge in the school day is so parents can enlist the government in pressuring them to recite it.

    I have even more of the same confusion with the whole moment of silence for prayer thing. If kids really desperately need an extra minute of the day to pray (and, of course, they can already pray silently anytime they want in school, and out loud when it isn't class time), why not just start the school day a minute later so that they can pray unencumbered and any way they'd like, including ina big group out loud dancing around a cross or something? Why does the school have to be involved in giving them a special minute in class? If the government has no purpose to have kids in class (i.e. it's just going to be a minute of nothing), then there's no reason for them to be there.

  6. Dennis, reciting the Pledge does not violate the establishment clause. You are correct on that point.

    What violates the establishment clause is that Congress passed a law declaring this "one nation, under God", with the explicitly stated purpose of establishing that, unlike the USSR, this was a religious nation.

    In any case, I agree that it's a good think the Supreme Court dodged this bullet. The equally cut-and-dried flag-burning ruling was handed down over a decade ago, and people are *still* up in arms about it. I hate to think what they'd do if the Supreme Court told them they weren't allowed to declare this a religious state.

  7. "To deny our religious heritage and the role that religion and the early church played in the forming of our country is just plain ignoring history."

    Sure, but the Pledge doesn't cite a history, it references a particular theology. And since when is NOT reciting a particular litany tantamount to denying anyone's heritage? Kids learn about religion and Christianity's role in history classes and social studies and religion classes. So how is this heritage being denied. And if you mean the heritage of the pledge, don't give us that bullcrap. It was the "under God" people that originally CHANGED the pledge under fairly dubious circumstances and for reasons that look pretty darn silly these days. So much for a respect for "heritage"

    "Let's get over this phobia, led mainly by Barry Lynn and the ACLU, that any mention of God is an "establishment" of a church."

    Funny, you would think that an organization who thought that wouldn't take on cases defending student's rights to wear religious T-shirts or put Bible verses in their yearbooks. And yet, that's exactly what the ACLU has done.

  8. "Simply reciting the pledge (which no one is compelled to anyway)..."

    That's not true, either -- I remember, in grade school (and i'm not exactly old by any means), being pulled to the front of the class during pledge recitation time because I wasn't really saying the pledge, just mouthing along. The teacher, unable to hear my voice distinctly, wanted to make *sure* i was pledging my allegiance with the best of them. school's may react a little different these days, but I personally had a spot front-and-center the rest of the year in that class.

    and, while those two words may not "establish a religion" on their own -- what exactly do they mean to you? it seems like their intentions are aimed squarely in that direction. as echoed in the rest of this topic, it's not a particularly huge battle -- it's just another dig at those awful god-less folks by the people in this country that see absolutely nothing wrong with making this an officially christian nation once and for all.

  9. I could have sworn that the SC decided long ago that the "under god" portion of the Pledge was optional. Meaning that you don't have to say it.

  10. Dennis, esblishing official beliefs is just as out of bounds as establishing official religious institutions. The existence of God is a religious belief, and any attempt by the government to declare a certain position on the question to be the official one is the establishment of religion - perhaps not the establishment of A religion, but the establishment of religion, as official government doctrine nonetheless.

  11. The stakes are not small. The elder George Bush used the words "one nation, under God" in the PoA to justify his notion that atheists should not be considered citizens. Each step which a government takes in establishing a religious doctrine (and Congress declaring the nation to be "under God" is definitely establishing a religious doctrine) makes it easier to take the next. Bush wasn't able to proceed with disenfranchisement of atheists, but if the culture shifted, politicians trying to turn America into a "Christian Nation" would have the PoA and Bush's words to build on.

    The claim that "under God" is merely a recognition of history is nonsense. If the PoA were a recitation of history in the present tense, it would also have to say "one nation, under God, with slavery for blacks, no votes for women, etc., and liberty and justice for whoever is left after that."

  12. the GOVERNMENT led recitation of a loyalty oath with a particular national theology thrown in

    "God" does not reference any "particular" national theology; "God" has a meaning to even the polytheistic Hindi (Brahma + Vishnu + Siva), although it is neither the Judeo-Christian god, nor Allah, nor Odin, nor Zeus, nor any other instantiation of the "Supreme Being" that has been the hallmark of humanity's latent preoccupation with the crop cycle. The amendment says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment - an indeterminate but atomic instance, as opposed to "the" establishment - of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The First Amendment was plainly written in the sense that, "you are free to worship divine Providence in whatever manner you see fit," so you should probably base your justification towards secularization on something other than the Constitution. It's a convenient sledgehammer but that little hemprag can only take you so far in the world.

    that the "under god" portion of the Pledge was optional.

    The entire pledge is optional. You could just as easily open with, "I'll piss a liter on the flag..." and you are wholly and absolutely protected from prosecution. Contrast with requiring pictures of the Kim family on the walls of every North Korean home.

    Saying that the First Amendment requires the government to be wholly secular establishes Atheism as the state religion. Make no mistake about it, atheism is very much a religion; the self is its supreme being and moral referent.

  13. Garym: Good point. I'm more or less looking at the matter from a utilitarian "what will do more harm in the short term" perspective. I believe we should pick our battles, and while PoA could be a potential cause for bible-beater mischief, I just feel that there are more pressing matters at hand.

    We had our own recent wave of PoA trouble in Wisconsin. In a wave of post-9/11 patriotism the State passed a law mandating that the Pledge be recieted by ALL public schools, no ifs ands or buts. However, the Madison school board protested the law by going to the other extreme and banning all utterances of the PoA, even if it was voluntary.

    The debate between Central Wisconsin's flag waving right-wingers and Madison's New Left wannabes was hilarious to watch. However, with a election year nigh, the school board backed eventually backed off.

  14. what exactly do they mean to you?

    Exactly the point. The pledge is an optional exercise, regardless of how ignorant the average NEA member may be to that end. Being optional, you alone provide the impetus to speak it; when coerced by a teacher the problem is not the pledge but the coercion. In the end it is you alone will either hold yourself or not hold yourself to that pledge. Pledging allegiance to a flag precludes burning it, yet many who have said the former freely do the latter. It is an empty poem that holds you as an individual to nothing whatsoever.

  15. "Saying that the First Amendment requires the government to be wholly secular establishes Atheism as the state religion."

    rst:

    THAT has to be the stupidest thing I've read all day right after your statement that atheism is a religion. (Atheism is a philosophical tenant. You need more to make it a religion.) A government has a "hands off" policy regarding religion (e.g. the Establishment/Free exercise clause) and basing its policies on secular rational is not endorsing atheism. Saying that the state doesn't base it's policies are not based on religion, while recognizing the freedom to participate in religious practices does not place any coercive force on anyone to not believe in a god/gods.

  16. I think most of us can live with the Supreme Court decision reversing the lower court's decision on the "under God" suit. Newdow is another atheist with an agenda who didn't have sufficient standing because he didn't have custody over his daughter, and there was no evidence that she "suffered" because she had to say "under God". We all know that the "under God" was added during the McCarthy era so as to make us feel superior to the "godless" communists in Russia. I interpret the Establishment clause in the conservative way...not having an established church as in England. The ACLU and like organizations have gone way overboard in their zeal to make any mention of God in public a violation of Church and State. This has to be stopped because it is getting ridiculous. Personally I am wary of the religious right that also wants to limit other public expressions because of their belief that the society at large should be based on "biblical morals". Both ends of the spectrum are harmful to civil liberties.

  17. ""Saying that the First Amendment requires the government to be wholly secular establishes Atheism as the state religion."

    lol, so having kids recite the alphabet is an atheist action because there's no reference to god in it?

    "Atheism is a philosophical tenant."

    Ain't even that. It's the LACK of a particular philosophical tenet: theism.

  18. WHOA! Let me edit that last post. Never reply when you're steaming mad:

    Saying that the First Amendment requires the government to be wholly secular establishes Atheism as the state religion."

    rst:

    THAT has to be the stupidest thing I've read all day right after your statement that atheism is a religion. (Atheism is a philosophical tenant. You need more to make it a religion.) A government that has a "hands off" policy regarding religion (e.g. the Establishment/Free exercise clause) and basing its policies on secular rational is not endorsing atheism. Saying that the state doesn't base it's policies on religion, while recognizing the freedom to participate in private religious practices does not place any coercive force on anyone to not believe in a god/gods.

  19. ""God" does not reference any "particular" national theology;"

    Of course it does. At very base, there is the idea of a being whom we are "under" implying some sort of rulership (oops, there goes all sorts of different conceptions of God) But also has no relation to what other religions reference their deities. Muslims call him Allah, not God. Conservative Jews don't like to speak the name of G-d aloud in such trivial ways. Jehovah's witnesses cannot reference God like that in a pledge, or take any pledge.

    "First Amendment was plainly written in the sense that, "you are free to worship divine Providence in whatever manner you see fit,"

    And if you actually read Madison, the author of this language (who opposed similar religious trappery things being inserted into the Constitution and national ceremony on the grounds of his own amendment), he writes that the whole point is that the authority to direct and submit to religious worship and reference is reserved to the people soley. The whole point is that everything the government does, it does by taking is authority from the people. But the people aren't supposed to have granted any authority to the government to have religious opinions: those are the sole province of the people. The government has no legitimate purpose leading anyone in the affirmation of particular religious beliefs, and no legitimate authority to do so.

    "Make no mistake about it, atheism is very much a religion; the self is its supreme being and moral referent."

    So, you thought that ending your post with slander would make it more compelling? Why?

  20. THAT has to be the stupidest thing I've read all day

    Ok, so that was a bit hyperbolic, but so was "having kids recite the alphabet is an atheist action because there's no reference to god in it". Apples and oranges.

    right after your statement that atheism is a religion.

    Atheism is a religion; it is a man-made establishment oriented around the belief - accepted on faith - that there is no god.

  21. you thought that ending your post with slander would make it more compelling?

    Why do you take that as slander?

    the Establishment/Free exercise clause

    What part of "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof" explicitly requires the government as a whole to have "a 'hands off' policy regarding religion"? Congress cannot establish a religion (like England did). Beyond that, your "Establishment Clause" is case law; a few court cases can swing that needle in either direction.

  22. Atheism is not "a belief...that there is no god", it's the lack of belief that there is a god. If you can't see the difference between these two statements, try harder.

  23. rst wrote -
    ""God" has a meaning to even the polytheistic Hindi."

    Try "hindu". Hindi is a language.

  24. Garym made a very good point, and it bears repeating. The ill-informed "court of public opinion" will no doubt take this as "proof" that the United States is officially a Christian nation.

    A few years ago, I heard a public school teacher admit that she leads her students in prayer because "the Pledge of Allegiance says we're one nation Under God."

    Soon, less informed people will likely be claiming that a breach of church/state separation is okay because "the Supreme Court ruled that we are one nation Under God."

    That is the spin that accomodationists will put on this ruling, and will no doubt use it to further erode the wall so wisely erected by Madison and Jefferson.

  25. "Atheism is a religion; it is a man-made establishment oriented around the belief - accepted on faith - that there is no god."

    No, it's not. Atheism maybe the belief that there is no god, but in order for it to qualify as a religion you need a general cosmology from which to operate on. Is "monotheism" a religion? How about "polytheism?" No, they are terms used to describe aspects of various religions, but they are not religions in and of themselves. It is possible for there to be have religion that does not profess the a belief in an ultimate devine being, like Buddhism. However, Buddhism completes the theological picture by adding an official, supernatural tenants on the nature of the universe, it's creation, where you go when you die, etc.. However, to say that the term "atheism" describes a monlithic belief system is false, and can't stand as a religion in and of itself.

  26. "What part of "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion..."?"

    Nope. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

    There's a clear difference between "the establishment of a religion" and "an establishment of religion".

  27. "Atheism is a religion; it is a man-made establishment oriented around the belief - accepted on faith - that there is no god."

    Umm, No. Unless you are redefining words on the fly, religion means: (from M-W)
    (1)the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.

    If -you- are the one claiming a supernatural being, -you- have to prove it. I don't need "faith" to disbelieve something for which there is no evidence.

    I don't "accept on faith" that there is no god, I've looked for the evidence, and it aint there.

  28. Just the kind of argument I expected from a bunch of well known adherents of the cults of a-Santaclausism and a-toothfairyism.

  29. Although I'm not very religious the "under god" part is the part that bothers me least about the pledge. The part about pledging allegiance (or swearing an oath) to a piece of cloth representing the state is what makes me really dislike the pledge.

  30. "Umm, No. Unless you are redefining words on the fly, religion means: (from M-W)
    (1)the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance."

    Also from M-W.com:

    "4 : a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith"

    Funny you missed that.

    From Bartlby.com, a definition of religion is

    "4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion."

    I don't want to get into this argument, but everytime the theists and atheists go at each other here, some atheist pastes in an incomplete definition of religion from some damn online dictionary, to counter a theists assertion that atheism is a religion, so I thought I'd throw that out there.

  31. I just think it's too bad that a judge didn't tell this idiot to shut up 2 years ago.

    The fact that I agree with him doesn't make his actions any less idiotic. In fact, some around here might say that my agreement with him makes his actions even more idiotic 🙂

  32. We need Jean Bart (was it JB?) to tell us who's a strong atheist, who's a weak atheist, who's agnostic, and such.

  33. It's very revealing psychologically when religionists use the term "religion" as an accusation. They know that their own beliefs are based on the invalid method of arbitrary assertion, so they try to tell us that rejection of their groundless claims is as arbitrary as acceptance.

  34. Good point, garym. I'm actually a Catholic and quite secure in that fact. I've never looked at atheists and thought "Oh my God! They're attacking religion! Only one insult will suffice: I'll accuse them of being (gasp!) religious!"

    BTW, my father was an ardent atheist. My mother was Catholic. My father tried to force atheism down my throat. That certainly isn't the only reason I dislike him (there are plenty of other issues there) but my experiences with him persuaded me that religion (or the lack thereof) should be uncoerced. Hence I'm a big fan of separation of church and state: I fear the effects that the coercion might have on religion.

  35. What strikes me as amusing about all this "atheism is a religion" talk is that it comes from theists, people for whom the word "religion" presumably does not have negative connotations. It's an extremely defensive rhetorical posture that doesn't really get them where they want to go.

  36. Well, under various Establishment Clause cases, the state can run afoul in two ways: establishing one religious sects over the others; and establishing religion over non-religion.

    From the jurisprudential standpoint, non-religion or atheism is a belief system on a par with theism. So the argument that atheism is a religion - well, it's not quite on target, but it isn't exactly a short round either.

    Personally, I think we won't be safe until every last reference to religion in the public square is eradicated. As Prof. Volokh notes today, he was a little surprised, but not really, to notice that now the invidious cross is gone from the Los Angeles County crest, that some journalist is starting to agitate to get rid of those other religious symbols - the names of cities in Cali. Los Angeles - shorthand for the City of Our Lady of the Angels. San Francisco - Saint Francis. Santa Cruz - I dunno - who's the patron saint of stoners & surfers?

    Moreover, let's get rid of the tax exemption for religious institutions. It's like an establishment of religion. So's allowing the churches to be visible on the public square - hell, kids might see them, and feel compelled to worship. And those big steeples surely offend those among us who are sensitive to the phallocentricity of traditional, patriarchal and oppressive judeo-christian religions.

    Then there's the matter of public swearing. Jeeeezus Cripes, that makes me Goddam mad. We need to get rid of that too. Never mind the money, the military Chaplains, and NBA player God Shamgod. After all, the airwaves are a public property, right?

    And so forth, so that once we've stamped out every publicly available trace of religion, we will be free from the state establishment of religion so feared by the framers.

    Matter of fact, this is kind of the inverse of the porno argument, as I've seen it voiced around here. That argument runs: we really don't enjoy free speech rights until there's a sex shop on every corner, and anything short of allowing live sex shows on the street is chilling free speech; any local efforts to get sex shops zoned out of residential neighborhoods and from in front of elementary schools is basically like a Nazi book-burning.

    So let's be clear - for good libertarians like us, the First Amendment means public sex shows for everyone, public displays of non-sectarian religion for none.

    I think in the future I'll just call myself a godless pervert, rather than a libertarian. It's easier to spell, and at the rate libertarianism is going in these parts, probably more socially acceptable too...

  37. "Only one insult will suffice: I'll accuse them of being (gasp!) religious!"-thoreau

    The effectiveness of an insult is a function of what the insulted regards as odious, not the insulter. Your activist atheist usually regards religious people with such complete contempt that turning the tables on them is a highly effective insult, as can be seen by the indignant atheist responses on this thread. It attacks the atheist zealot's prime conceit, his belief in his own intellectual superiority.

    It also exposes the double standards of atheism. If "under God" represents an unconstitutional establishment of religion, despite the fact that it implies no overarching belief system, then a atheist statement "under no god" would also constitute such an establishment. Also, if atheism does not count as a religious belief, then logically, atheists have no "free exercise of religion" rights. Right?

  38. JDM opines:
    "I don't want to get into this argument, but everytime the theists and atheists go at each other here, some atheist pastes in an incomplete definition of religion from some damn online dictionary"

    Don't want an argument? Don't post!

    ""4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.""

    There is a reason this definition is #4. It describes the use of the term outside it's normal perview. As in: "In Texas, football is a religion". But when the church folk come to proselytize me, they never talk about football. They talk about God's plan for me. If a "cause pursued with zeal" defined religion, than -any- strong interest is a religion. Not bloody likely, ehh?

    The problem with those damn dictionaries, JDM, is that you have to know how to use them.

  39. JDM said: "but everytime the theists and atheists go at each other here, some atheist pastes in an incomplete definition of religion from some damn online dictionary..."

    Yeah, I'm also surprised at how often those responses come up. It seems obvious that when someone here posts that atheism is a religion, the sense they mean is of some belief taken on faith and held/pursued with zeal, or something along those lines (and not an institution with some supernatural being, rituals of observance, etc.).

    At the same time, when the word atheist pops up here a lot of people seem to automatically assume it can only mean a positive statement of belief in no god, despite the many times the distinction between hard and soft atheism has been discussed here. Regardless whether or not you think "atheism is a religion" applies to hard atheism, I don't see how it applies to soft atheism. The whole point of soft atheism is that you _don't know_ if god exists, but you see no evidence that he does.

  40. "...then a atheist statement "under no god" would also constitute such an establishment."

    Sure. This atheist agrees. But Newdow wasn't asking for that statement to be inserted, so you are pushing a strawman argument.

    "Also, if atheism does not count as a religious belief..."

    Atheism is a belief -about- religion. That does not mean atheism -is- a religion. Atheism usually implies a scientific or naturalistic worldview, which in and of itself shouldn't be referred to as a religion, because many religious folk are also scientific. Atheists espouse a wide variety of philosophies, which are properly called philosophies, -not- religions. So, atheists have -no- religion. And yeah, atheists should be free to exercise their lack of religious belief, whatever that means.

  41. "There is a reason this definition is #4. It describes the use of the term outside it's normal perview."

    That's just wrong.

    At any rate, I fail to see how any of that makes your dismissal of "atheism is a religion" posts based on the dictionary definition of religion any less pointless.

  42. Last week I went to the DMV to get a new driver license. I was fingerprinted, photographed, forced to give up my home and mailing addresses, and required to provide my social security number.

    When does the ACLU intend to work on THAT problem?

    Whooops! Never.

    Gotta keep our priorites straight.

  43. Yes I know this particular case was not an ACLU case. However, the issue is front burner for those guys....

  44. "But Newdow wasn't asking for that statement to be inserted, so you are pushing a strawman argument."

    Good grief. I was not saying that Newdow was, I was not talking about Newdow at all. I was making a point that activist atheists use an extremely broad definition of "religion" when attacking things like "under God" and an extremely narrow one when characterizing their own beliefs. If you buy the atheist's denials that atheism counts as a religion, then logically you have to accept that the concept of religious freedom does not apply to atheists.

    "Atheism is a belief -about- religion."

    Inspiring this kind of semantic contortionism is why tweaking a radical atheist's nose is such an amusing sport.

  45. MJ:
    "Good grief. I was not saying that Newdow was, I was not talking about Newdow at all."

    Lets see, this thread is about Newdow, right? So if you are not talking about Newdow, your statement:
    "...then a atheist statement "under no god" would also constitute such an establishment."
    is apropos of what? Is there any atheist asking for said statement to be inserted into the pledge?

    Perhaps what you mean to say is that inserting the phrase "under no god" into the pledge would be just as wrong as "under God" is today. Thanks for making my point.

    Me:
    "Atheism is a belief -about- religion."

    MJ:
    "Inspiring this kind of semantic contortionism is why tweaking a radical atheist's nose is such an amusing sport."

    Again (From M-W):
    2 a : a disbelief in the existence of deity.

    I.E. a belief that there is no God.

    It feels like english is a second (or third) language for MJ and JDM. Where's Jennifer (the english teacher) when you need her?

  46. The "under God" part of the Pledge obviously makes *some* people uncomfortable (me, among them). I am beginning to come around to the idea that this isn't a "make or break" issue, though.

    But:

    To all you people who want those words in the Pledge, or who tolerate them: Why should the government go out of its way to make some of its citizens uncomfortable in this respect? What's wrong with trying to make our society and government *in*clusive, rather than *ex*clusive? The varieties of religious experience are so diverse that the only way to be inclusive with respect to them is to say absolutely nothing about them.

    Bob Straub

  47. There's nothing hyperbolic about my "alphabet" example. You arre claiming that a pledge devoid of references to god is godless, as if that were prejorative. But the alphabet also has no references to god. It's just as godless. The whole point is that kids are in public school to learn certain things. It's up to parents to choose their religious education. Anyone who thinks part of that job, even a teeny-tiny bit, should be given to the state is a bigger enemy of religion than any atheist ever would be.

  48. There's nothing hyperbolic about my "alphabet" example. You arre claiming that a pledge devoid of references to god is godless, as if that were prejorative. But the alphabet also has no references to god. It's just as godless. The whole point is that kids are in public school to learn certain things. It's up to parents to choose their religious education. Anyone who thinks part of that job, even a teeny-tiny bit, should be given to the state is a bigger enemy of religion than any atheist ever would be.

  49. There's nothing hyperbolic about my "alphabet" example. You arre claiming that a pledge devoid of references to god is godless, as if that were prejorative. But the alphabet also has no references to god. It's just as godless. The whole point is that kids are in public school to learn certain things. It's up to parents to choose their religious education. Anyone who thinks part of that job, even a teeny-tiny bit, should be given to the state is a bigger enemy of religion than any atheist ever would be.

  50. In order for you to understand an atheistic religion, I will have to make you all discordian popes.

    done.

  51. Feh. I refused to say the pledge, or dstand for it when I was a kid- did not make me popular. Eventualy a compromise was reached- I would stand, but not recite.

    I am more patriotic now than I was then (it was my 14 year old commie phase), but I think I would still refuse- thankfully, in adult life you are not generally required to say the pledge- although you may be called upon to sing a paean to a vacuum cleaner company if you are unlucky enough to be really hard up for a job. I would resent being forced to say the pledge now, and I don't see why children would view it any differently. The under God bit is just icing on the cake.

    I do agree that it's better to let this one sort itself out, over time, than have the courts get involved, whatever their decision. There are more important things in the world.

  52. "We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further." --Richard Dawkins

    Hehe, there are lots of versions of the above joke, but this is my favorite phrasing.

    I'm an atheist who has devoted considerable thought to the foundations of religions, and especially of Christianity. Debating the "definition" of 'religion' really does nothing for me. For a Constitutional scholar, well, I guess that's your job, but I'm a semanticist and am consequently not troubled by the fact that a word typically has a web of related senses.

    For me, as someone concerned with *thinking about* religion, the crux of this debate is that most Christian supporters regard the words and symbols in question as a) recruiting tools, which b) don't operate through the channels of informed, multilateral debate. This is of course not to deny similarly objectionable behavior from people labeled as atheist, Muslim, liberal, libertarian, environmentalist, Lakers fans, etc. I'm happy to let each individual issue be debated. In this case, the pro- side seems to be pushing what they know to be influential propaganda for children, and the con- side wants a gap, an absence, in the same place. This is so cut-and-dried. It wouldn't be propagandizing for atheism to leave out "under God", any more than I would be a Nazi propagandist for writing poetry that is not about my being anti-Nazi.

  53. This Newdow guy is a total ass. He's using his 10-year-old daughter as a prop for his crusade (against the wishes of the child's mother). If that's not child abuse, I don't know what is.

    If using your children as "props for your crusade" counts as child abuse, then every parent in America who takes their children to church with them -- or, worse yet, enrolls them in Sunday school -- is a serial child-abuser.

    Billions of people around the world routinely subject children -- people who, by definition, lack the experience and reasoning ability to make informed judgements -- to religious indoctrination, and that's fine. But one atheist demands that the government stop *helping* his child's mother do that to his daughter, and that's "child abuse"? What color is the sky on your world?

    Supposedly he did a decent job, but I'm sure there are thousands of lawyers who could have done it better.

    "Supposedly"? You didn't even bother looking at his performance before you condemned it? That's kind of funny.

  54. "It feels like english is a second (or third) language for MJ and JDM."

    I was going to quietly let this drop, but you have to be a jackass. The entire point of my post is that your definition is incomplete, even if we use your preffered, asanine method of determining that based on an online dictionary, since the dictionary includes senses of the word that easily cover what the theists seem to be indicating. Your response is:

    "There is a reason this definition is #4. It describes the use of the term outside it's normal perview."

    which is just wrong and ignorant. The major number in a dictionary denotes a sense of the word being defined, and they are generally listed oldest sense to newest, not by any sort of subjective ranking of validity, or commonality of use.

    The sense of the word "law" that covers physical laws (such as the law of gravity) does not show up until #6 in my dictionary. If someone tries to explain the law of gravity to you are you going to try to shoot them down because of this?

  55. "The major number in a dictionary denotes a sense of the word being defined, and they are generally listed oldest sense to newest, not by any sort of subjective ranking of validity, or commonality of use."

    JDM, I agree with you completely on that one point.

    Regarding your claim that the dictionary definition of religion in question applies to atheism literally, rather than figuratively, and moreover implies that atheism is a religion, bullshit.

    After all the counter examples by Dan, myself, and others, if you still believe that than your understanding of English is indeed poor.

  56. I am totally for the government keeping its hands off of religion, and that the bible-thumpers shouldn't be permitted to force their dogma down our childrens' throats.

    But..

    This Newdow guy is a total ass. He's using his 10-year-old daughter as a prop for his crusade (against the wishes of the child's mother). If that's not child abuse, I don't know what is. He obviously cares more for his self-righteous ideals then his own flesh and blood. We can't have assholes like this make our case for us. If so, we'll lose.

  57. Oh, this just occurred to me, anyone want to bat it around?

    Think. IF atheism WAS a religion, what would it be like? What observances and practices? What hymns and rituals? What would be worshipped that is greater than the self? Really, how is atheism like "other" religions?

    Toughie, huh? I'm sure there's a reason why.

  58. "Let's say I identified a man as having strong Nazi beliefs. Upon further questioning, I confessed that the man was a Jew who who utterly hated Nazis.

    Now, according to you, I spoke honestly."-Dan

    No, you have not, as your premise is faulty. "Religious" is not analogous to "Nazi". "Religious" describes a classification of belief systems, "Nazi" describes a specific belief system. In the context you propose "Islamic", for example, would be analogous to "Nazi", and "political" to "religious".

    Is atheism a religion in the sense that Catholicism is, with worship rituals, catechisms and physical plant? No, but it is in the sense that it is the kind of belief that falls under the purview of the 1st Amendment's religion clauses. Any other interpretation leads to absurd conclusions.

  59. A religion of Atheism? I'm envisioning the cover to Gahan Wilson's Is Nothing Sacred?

    An atheist who wants to be "religious" can always adopt Buddhism, or join the Unitarians or the Ethical Culture Society. I don't feel the need for the communal experience that many churchgoers seem to crave, but one can mimic it, I suppose.

    While it is unfair to label atheism a religion, we shouldn't forget that any particular atheistic worldview can be promoted in ways indistinguishable from a cult. Theologians criticize fascism and communism of the Lenin/Stalin/Mao variety as idolatry, for their worship of the state, at least when they aren't committing "liberation theology" themselves.

    Don't even get me started on the Apotheosis of Human Reason, and her followers.

    Kevin
    (non-religious atheist)

  60. Another reason Newdow is a jackass is that he insisted on arguing his case before the Supreme Court himself, instead of letting someone infinitely more qualified do it. Supposedly he did a decent job, but I'm sure there are thousands of lawyers who could have done it better. Clearly, he cared more about getting his name in the headlines than about the case itself.

    He's awfully lucky the court didn't rule that the clearly unconstitutional "Under God" phrase is acceptable, or he would be to atheists (and anyone else who cares about church/state separation) what Ralph Nader is to Democrats.

  61. Dictionary debates are the most boring of all.

    Do some atheists get passionate about their stances to the point where they unconsciously emulate evangelizers? Certainly. Do some atheists act so opinionated that they're even more annoying than the Jehova's Witnesses? Of course.

    Do most atheists act like that? No.

    So sure, some really passionate atheists emulate the behaviors of certain people who believe in a deity or deities. If you define religion based on that sort of behavior then sure, atheism is by that definition a religion for certain atheists. Even so, it wouldn't be a religion for all atheists; the term would only apply to the really annoying ones.

    Or, if you decide that any stance concerning a deity or deities (including lack of belief in any deity) is by definition a religion, then sure, by that definition atheism is a religion. But by that definition just about every person in the world would belong to a religion, except maybe the agnostics. (The status of the agnostics would be a whole other semantic debate.)

  62. "Oh, this just occurred to me, anyone want to bat it around?"

    Good thought, Speedwell. I had the same thoughts on the drive home last night. If there were no atheists, religion as we know it today would change very little, if at all. Churches, the bible, praying to God, it's all still there.
    On the other hand, if there was no belief in God (or the supernatural), atheists (and atheism) would simply not exist.

    Big difference!

    Dan: well said.

  63. Are you really this obtuse, or did you have to take a class? I am responding to a tangental discussion on the status of atheism other poster's have gotten into. I have not discussed Newdow's case directly, nor do I intend to at this time.

    "Is there any atheist asking for said statement to be inserted into the pledge?"

    Again, where did I claim there was (talk about a straw man argument)? Think of what I'm doing as a thought experiment. See if this helps:

    If (under God)=(establishment of religion)
    and (under God)=(under no god)
    then (under no god)=(establishment of religion)
    "no god" is an atheistic tenet therefore atheism is functionally equivalent to a religion.

    Sorry if it's a bit too abstract for you to wrap your mind around.

    "Atheism is a belief -about- religion"

    Atheism is a religious belief.

    When you can tell me why those two sentences do not mean the same thing, then you can lecture me on my grasp of the English language.

  64. "Atheism is a belief -about- religion"
    Atheism is a religious belief.

    When you can tell me why those two sentences do not mean the same thing, then you can lecture me on my grasp of the English language.

    Well, here's an illustrative example of why they're not the same thing.

    Let's say I identified a man as having strong Nazi beliefs. Upon further questioning, I confessed that the man was a Jew who who utterly hated Nazis.

    Now, according to you, I spoke honestly. The man has very strong beliefs about Nazis, which means, according to you, that the sentence "he has strong Nazi beliefs" is reasonable. But -- deny it if you will -- virtually all English speakers would parse my sentence as "the man is a Nazi".

    In English, when we say "That person has X beliefs", we virtually always means that he believes *IN* whatever X is. We do not refer to Ayn Randians as having "Communist beliefs", Catholic Priests as having "atheistic beliefs" or "Satanic beliefs", Marxists as having "capitalistic beliefs", etc.

    Put simply, atheists have religious beliefs to the same extent that Christians have evil beliefs. We have belief about it, not in it. 🙂

    And that concludes today's English lesson.

  65. Dan:

    "What color is the sky on your world?"

    Depends on the time of day and my blood chemistry.

    The bottom line is that this guy is, without question, an arrogant prick that obviously has too much time on his hands.

    There's a world of difference between taking a child to passively observe a mindless religious ritual and throwing them in the national spotlight. Can you imagine how terrible it must be for this young girl to face her peers and less enlightened adults every single day? I'll put money that she flips out and ends up being a fundamentalist out of spite.. much like that Roe vs. Wade woman. As I said, your child's welfare comes first. Crusades second. Otherwise, you're an asshole.

  66. "As I said, your child's welfare comes first. Crusades second. Otherwise, you're an asshole."

    yeah, basically.

    though stubborn assholes have indeed spawned more than a few important SCOTUS rulings, like the JWs at the beginning of the 20th c.

    at first glance i would say that calling atheism a religion shows little respect or understanding for what religions are, but one of the great/not so great things about american culture is that we've entered a point of severe spiritual anarchism. the great thing is that people are much more free to follow their conscience and explore more options. the not so great part being a severe dilution of the pomp and circumstance that makes religious ritualization stick with its adherents.

    and a tremendous amount of terrible books about all sorts of dead cultures, speculative history and thoroughly fictional reimaginations of old traditions.

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