Amendment: Separation of atheism and state

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . . In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness.”

– George Washington’s farewell address

Imagine that it was not the 9th Circuit, but the United States Supreme Court that made the “under God” decision. Imagine that instead of two nervous circuit judges, it was five brazen Supreme Court Justices declaring the Pledge unconstitutional in some nightmare future years from now – five secular devotees who’d been patiently waiting for a chance to save government from the “ancient superstitions” of its people. And soon more secular decisions come down from the high court: “In God We Trust” is rejected as the national motto. Prayers are forbidden at inaugural ceremonies. And on and on.

No second chance. No appeal. The Supreme Court has spoken, and as far as government is concerned, “God is dead.” Yes, you can worship at home or in church, says the court, but don’t you dare act on your beliefs in the public square. Finally, religious Americans awaken to see the dangers of secularism, but nothing can be done. With a powerful secular media cheerleading and a huge secular lobby pouring money into Washington, there’s no real chance to correct the tyrannous decisions with an amendment.

So now America becomes officially a nation under “nothing” – government no longer recognizes any authority higher than its own democratic opinions, a true “dictatorship of the people,” as Lenin called it. Atheism is thus able to rise to a legal dominance never seen before in America, never even imagined. After all, atheism and secularism are twins – one doesn’t believe in God, and the other can’t. The end result is the same: Believers are made outsiders.

Sound farfetched? It isn’t really. An Al Gore victory easily could have given us a high court that looked like Judge Stephen Reinhardt, the Democrat appointee who shared the “under God” decision with Judge Goodwin. The truth is that even now we are only one or two secular Supreme Court Justices away from a solid ACLU court, and all that it implies – virulent hostility to America’s religious traditions.

One amendment, under God

While so many in the media have been doing their best to make light of the 9th Circuit decision on the Pledge of Allegiance, others recognize the very real dangers involved in that decision. By most accounts, the ruling is likely to be overturned, but that doesn’t change the sobering message that was sent to all Americans.

As currently interpreted, our Constitution is choking our religious traditions out of existence, and there seems to be no stopping it as the “under God” Pledge decision indicates. Even with a supposedly conservative Supreme Court, victories against the secular encroachments of government are too rare, and when they do come, they are attacked on all sides by groups like the ACLU. It is often a battle for inches.

Recently, a number of congressmen called for a constitutional amendment to preserve “under God” in the Pledge, but we need more than that. We need something more historically based, something capable of inspiring average Americans by eliminating the relativist interpretations of the First Amendment, something that would help our federal government reclaim its lost identity.

With so many secular forces in society hostile to the faiths of our fathers, it’s time to codify the “self-evident” truths of the Declaration of Independence by putting them in the Constitution.

Let us declare ourselves to history by re-establishing the simple, but essential, political principle that we are uniquely created beings, precious before God, and that our rights come from God and not from government. There can be no neutrality in this where government is concerned. We either have souls or we do not. Our nation is either under God, or it is not.

Of course, no one wants a theocracy, something repugnant certainly to Christian Americans who are, after all, in the vast majority. However, decades of overreaching by the high court indicate that secularism is not the answer either. There must be a third choice, because as long as “disbelief” is considered to be on an equal footing with “belief,” not only will faith find itself unwelcome in our halls of power, it will eventually be removed from the body politic like a threatening tumor. This could happen if we let it.

The case isn’t closed

Consider the current situation. Michael Newdow, the atheist who sued to get God out of the Pledge, says that right now there are four Justices he believes are favorable to his view: David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer and John Paul Stevens. Newdow also lists Justice Anthony Kennedy as a possible fifth vote, due to a 1989 church-state dissent in which Kennedy pointed out that the “under God” Pledge is problematic for atheists.

Although unlikely, it’s also fair to consider Justice O’Connor as a possible 6th vote due to her stated position that citizens should not be made to feel like “outsiders” by the state when it comes to religion. Let’s face it, “one nation under God” leaves atheists out, and it’s no coincidence that Newdow made this very point a significant part of his argument to the 9th Circuit.

Sadly, radical atheists like Newdow will always feel like outsiders in a nation under God, and they will continue all efforts to undermine our religious traditions. That’s the reality of it. Newdow doesn’t believe his little daughter has a soul, or that her rights come from anywhere but government. These beliefs are in direct conflict with the views of most Americans. And yet, atheist views are more common than any of us would like to think within America’s judicial and political circles, the very people who will define the future Supreme Court.

So don’t be misled by my “shocked” fellow Democrats, and all the pundit proclamations that the “under God” decision will go nowhere. For now, it may not, but there’s nothing “nuts” about the judicial thinking of the 9th Circuit decision, and most liberal politicians know it, despite their election-year religiosity.

It’s true that many constitutional experts, including quintessential liberal Lawrence Tribe, say it’s likely the Supreme Court will reverse the 9th Circuit if the case gets that far. However, whether the “under God” decision goes anywhere now is not the point. There are many atheist, secular and anti-traditional organizations in Washington that are determined to win this fight eventually – and by current constitutional standards they have a case. That’s the problem.

“Nobody can say that the 9th Circuit was illogical,” said Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne who, despite reservations, considered the decision “principled.” He is not alone among pundits and experts to think that. Yale law professor Jack Blakin told Time magazine that the opinion was “technically correct,” and writing in Newsweek, famed legal analyst Stuart Taylor called it “perfectly plausible.”

Although Taylor felt the decision was almost certain to be reversed, he made the larger point about the legal mess we are in. “As much as the ruling overreached, the California court was clearly taking its cues from a higher authority – the U.S. Supreme Court.”

An ethical foundation built on sand

So, clearly the 9th Circuit decision did not occur in a vacuum. It followed a well-established pattern of thinking that atheism is on an equal footing with America’s Judeo-Christian traditions. It also revealed another established belief, that monotheism itself – the pumping heart of Western Culture – is just another form of worship, essentially no different, as far as the government is concerned, than, say, worshiping ancient Greek gods like Zeus and Hera (pagan deities who were always squabbling over one thing or another).

Does this sound like an exaggeration? Then consider the now-famous words of Judge Goodwin in June’s 9th Circuit majority opinion:

In the context of the Pledge, the statement that the United States is a nation, “under God” is an endorsement of religion. It is a profession of a religious belief, namely a belief in monotheism. . . . A profession that we are a nation “under God” is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation “under Jesus,” a nation “under Vishnu,” a nation “under Zeus,” or a nation “under no god,” because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion.

This “neutrality” renders government completely dysfunctional. The bottom line? If you are someone who thinks thunder happens “when the gods are angry,” or if you burn incense to a rock you found on the beach, or if you believe in nothing at all, you’ve got as much potential credibility with this new government as those who believe the biblical worldview that reveals God as “love,” that speaks of the struggle between good and evil, and promises hope of true freedom and eternal peace for all mankind.

Increasingly, judges can view all these approaches to religion as essentially equal – which constitutionally means government can have little or no official understanding of life based on anything but atheist science, whether physical, biological, social or psychological. And as we’ve seen countless times, not only do these scientists change their minds regularly, their conclusions are often based on faulty or prejudiced interpretation of data. Not a very reliable source of wisdom.

This would be less of a problem if government were not involved in our lives in almost every possible way, from decisions on when a cause is worth the shedding of American blood to decisions related to family and the social order. What are the standards that inform these decisions? Americans have a right to ask this question, and demand a clear answer.

The one-God problem

Unfortunately, a government that’s neutral to the great moral and philosophical questions of the ages cannot give us intelligent or even cogent answers to life’s urgent questions. It was not always so. Consider what a 1951 U.S. Naval Officers’ training manual says about the need for good character in military leadership (once assumed as essential for public office too):

By character is meant integrity, courage, morality, humility and unswerving determination. Character is a spiritual force. It is a reflection of a man’s grip upon himself, the degree to which he is able to dominate the baser instincts that beset us all.

This is the kind of wisdom that created a truly great society. But current court vogue (not to mention some future ACLU court) would look askance at such presumptions. Atheists would object to the idea of a “spiritual force.” And the very expression “base instincts” suggests a lack of tolerance. Who gets to decide what base instincts are? Whose morality are we talking about?

A recent Zogby poll reports that three-quarters of American college professors still teach a post-modern worldview that accepts no universal right or wrong. So if you cook the books at Enron, it may or may not be wrong. Only one-fourth of all professors teach that “there are clear and uniform standards of right and wrong by which everyone should be judged.” Guess which professors are more likely to get secular government grants.

A government that lays claim to neutrality on religious – and thus on traditional moral – issues is a government that inevitably lacks dependable standards. This kind of government will be very uncomfortable with any religion that claims to have clarity on those issues – and that means monotheism. Thus “neutrality” becomes hostility. George Washington’s views would not be welcome. However, the accommodating vagueness of polytheism and pantheism doesn’t present the same problem to secular government and is therefore less threatening.

Remember, monotheism has One Creator, God, and thus one truth, and one path along which people can be guided if they are willing. That’s why monotheism was such a social revolution. There’s clarity on core principles – God knows what He thinks. And there are no squabbling divine personalities because God knows who He is. Monotheism is by its very nature a “theory of everything,” a unified field of thinking which allows for great social focus in building and maintaining civilization. So, when the judicial system tries to rise above this and treat all religions equally, it will necessarily come face to face with monotheism.

The other great problem is the court’s constitutional respect for atheism, which is, after all, the most vague of belief systems. But more than that, atheism also assumes an air of secular neutrality because it believes in nothing at all. This gives it a dangerous tactical advantage over monotheism in dealing with secular government. If nothing is done about this, government will continue to favor atheist organizations within society, and ultimately to favor religions with an indifferent worldview. Monotheism, with its sureness of vision and purpose, will become increasingly alien to secular government, which looks for compromise from its religious junior partners.

But God doesn’t compromise, and He makes a very poor junior partner. Consequently, under the current interpretation of the Establishment Clause, monotheism will become an outcast in its own society.

Secular hostility

There is so little understanding of the anti-God bias involved in government’s secular “neutrality” that it is not only quietly accepted by many judges, and even some justices, it is loudly cheered on by the dominant media culture. Of course, often this cheering is not rooted in ignorance, but based on downright contempt.

“We should all applaud the brave decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals,” said the editorial page of the Philadelphia Daily News. “Let’s be honest about this issue – finally – after decades of mouth-frothing. The word God doesn’t belong in the Pledge, on our money, in anything with the government’s seal of approval.”

Indeed, let’s be honest. The New York Times called the 9th Circuit decision a “well meaning ruling,” and reminded its readers that “under God” became part of the pledge “at the height of anti-communist fervor” in 1954. But then the editorial went on to express its deeper sentiments. When it comes to understanding the secular culture’s contempt for religion, this comment says it all:

The practical impact of the ruling is inviting a political backlash for a matter that does not rise to a constitutional violation. We wish the words had not been added back in 1954. But just the way removing a well-lodged foreign body from an organism may sometimes be more damaging than letting it stay put, removing those words would cause more harm than leaving them in.

Yes, nothing like trying to remove a “foreign body” and causing even greater problems in terms of “political backlash.” Better to wait until you have a 6-3 or even a 7-2 majority so you can cut God out cleanly and without much opposition. Better wait until the public is more ready to accept full secularism. In other words, now is not the time – but the time will come.

The secular left must be careful that religious Americans don’t catch on to the left’s true contempt for religion, especially not in a crucial election year. The left knows that if conservative America gets control of the Senate, President Bush will get his judicial nominees approved and that could mean a return to our traditional moral and political roots guided by the Founders’ original intent. Thus, the struggle in this country! And remember, it is not a partisan struggle. One of the two 9th Circuit liberals was a Republican. There are secularists in all parties.

The sleeping giant

Most religious Americans do not grasp that the culture war is really about religion. Howard Kurtz, media critic for the Washington Post, made a revealing observation right after two high-profile First Amendment decisions on the “under God” Pledge and religious school choice. “The culture wars, after a brief time-out for such mundane matters as fighting terrorism, are back,” said Kurtz. He gets it.

America’s cultural struggle may take many forms, but at its heart, it’s about God, who He is and what He expects from His people. The atheist and pagan forces in American society also know this, and that’s why even “ceremonial deism” makes them nervous. God needs to be eliminated, but they’ve got to go slowly to avoid waking up the sleeping giant. According to an ABC poll, 89 percent of the American public is in favor of keeping God in the Pledge of Allegiance. That’s a problem for radical secularists.

So what’s going on now – and has been for decades – is a kind of seduction. Police officers have a useful expression for it when it comes to the corruption of innocence. They call it “progressive involvement.” In child molestation, for example, each step involves the child a bit more, until the victim submits to sexual activity he or she would have run from earlier. That’s how progressive involvement works, and secularists have been using it for years, one step at a time. Slowly our values are changed. Slowly our laws are changed. Slowly God is squeezed out – until it is too late to turn back.

However, now the embarrassing 9th Circuit has gone too far, too fast, and the secular left is nervous that the people are catching on to the motives behind “judicial progress.” All eyes are on Judeo-Christian Americans. The sleeping giant may yet awaken.

Protecting our future

Because of the outrage over the appellate court’s rejection of the “under God” Pledge, people might be willing to stem the tide of secularism. Most Americans are tired of court rulings like those that forbid prayer at high school football games and graduations. They just don’t know what to do about it, especially since the supposed “wall of separation” has become so much a part of our social, political and media culture. However, after years of being intimidated by groups like the ACLU (which agreed with the Pledge decision, of course), the people might be ready to de-fang the beast.

Even William Rehnquist, chief justice of the Supreme Court, thinks the 1947 “separation” decision was a disaster. “The metaphor of a ‘wall of separation’ is bad history and worse law,” said Rehnquist. “It has made a positive chaos out of court rulings. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.”

But the question is how? We know for sure that radical secularists won’t cooperate. Faith terrifies them. So how do we protect American principles from being dismantled one at a time or in bunches? How can we guarantee our children and grandchildren that they will inherit a government that is officially allowed to recognize they have a soul? How can we prevent them from being ruled over by a secular government that thinks of them as mere “human resources” and that rejects any firm standard of truth or justice? And how do we do all that without undermining our First Amendment freedoms?

It can’t be through this continual high court battle of inches, where nominees to the Supreme Court are forced to play a cat-and-mouse game to hide their religious views from a supposedly religious Senate, where hearings have become a quietly vicious arena in which people are destroyed by lies and innuendo (the atheist left excels at playing that game). Nor can we tolerate anymore this atheist hypocrisy of using every attacking question to “expose” a conservative judicial nominee except the one question they really want to ask: “Are you a believer?”

Most of us want a return to the “political prosperity” George Washington talked about in his farewell address, but again the question is how? How do we stop this national breakdown of character and conscience? How do we cut the Gordian knot that binds any sensible discussion of “religion and morality” in public policy? How do we break through to common sense? There is an answer.

“America came into this world with a message for all mankind,” said President Bush on Independence Day. “That all are created equal and all are meant to be free.”

The third choice

In 1947, a Supreme Court dominated by secularists took those words “wall of separation” from an incidental letter Thomas Jefferson wrote during his presidency and used them to build the basis of the Separation of Church and State decision. Jefferson, by the way, had no part in writing the Constitution. Without precedent, the high court decided that government could be separate from the one thing our founders thought was essential to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – faith in the reality of God.

Those justices believed something truly disastrous – that government can be neutral to truth. They made one of the worst and most destructive judicial decisions in history based on their own personal, secular assumptions about life, and as a result, America is losing her identity. Our freedoms are at risk. As President Bush said recently, “There is no capitalism without conscience.”

Well, there is no conscience without God. So let the following deeply held words of Thomas Jefferson now come to the rescue in the 21st century as a constitutional amendment:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights . . .”

These few words from the Declaration of Independence have rung true to Americans throughout our history. They are the foundation of our freedom. We have lived for them and died for them – and so have others, for they have inspired freedom-fighters around the world. But, as important as they are, they are not law. So let us now give them constitutional permanence.

How wonderful it would be to know that these self-evident truths are not just ceremonial sentiments, but are actually part of our legal relationship with government – part of our social contract.

And while we are considering this course of action, let us consider also these other words of Thomas Jefferson:

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are a gift of God?”

Words to think about. And words to act on.