A Disturbing Trend

November 9th, 2009

Sarah Palin, and not a comedic parody:

Noting that there had been a lot of “change” of late, Palin recalled a recent conversation with a friend about how the phrase “In God We Trust” had been moved to the edge of the new coins.

“Who calls a shot like that?” she demanded. “Who makes a decision like that?”

She added: “It’s a disturbing trend.”

As it happens, the Republican Congress and George W. Bush were the ones who made that call. But that’s not the really disturbing thing here. Let me again pull out my soapbox.

There is a very specific and intentional movement to allow a merging of church and state in this country, and the “In God We Trust” motto is a big part of it. The motto is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the Bill of Rights, and should never have been approved. The same goes for what is now a de facto religious test that politicians must add “So help me god” at the end of their oaths of office (if they did not, they would be accused of heresy–today called “being anti-Christian”–and would never win another election), despite this being 100% unconstitutional. Nor is the injected “under god” phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance constitutional, where government employees force children to mindlessly repeat it day after day.

None of these were part of the original plan for the United States, and despite right-wing claims, none would have been approved by founders like Jefferson. They chose they motto “E Pluribus Unum,” for example; that was replaced as the national motto in 1956; it was on coins since 1795, discarded when Congress assumed the power to appoint mottoes on coinage, and “In God We Trust” was imposed in 1873. The religious reference in the Pledge was tacked on in 1954.

At a few times in our history, pro-religious sentiment became so high that any protest on the grounds of constitutionality were simply not heard, and unconstitutional acts were made more or less official. And if anyone dared to challenge these illegal incursions, the two-pronged response was the same: first, the claim was made that the objections were an attack on religion, and second, the claims were belittled as frivolous, because these were not serious things. Just a few words in the pledge! Just a voluntary tack-on to an oath! What harm do a few words on a coin do?

The answer is: a lot. It is the proverbial camel’s nose.

Think I’m being paranoid? Then let me share with you words from a ruling written by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia:

Presidents continue to conclude the Presidential oath with the words “so help me God.” … Our coinage bears the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST.” And our Pledge of Allegiance contains the acknowledgment that we are a Nation “under God.” …

With all of this reality (and much more) staring it in the face, how can the Court possibly assert that “ ‘the First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between . . . religion and nonreligion,’” … and that “[m]anifesting a purpose to favor . . . adherence to religion generally,” … is unconstitutional?

Scalia wanted to make government endorsement of religion–of a specific denomination of religion, no less–constitutional. That was the minority opinion in McCreary v. ACLU (PDF)–but is was a minority by one vote only. Had Sandra Day O’Connor not voted the way she did, that opinion would now have force of law. Had that case been heard after she was replaced by Alito, it almost certainly would be the force of law. And it could become the force of law very soon.

These incursions are NOT minor, are NOT harmless; as is clearly shown in the above dissent that came so close to being law, it is precisely these incursions which would allow corrupt Supreme Court justices like Scalia to use them as a legal wedge and inject their own religious views into the highest laws of the land.

Which is precisely why Sarah Palin is so rattled by the fact that the words were moved from the main body of the coin to the edge–she, and others like her, fear that these illegal incursions, which could make America into a theocracy, are being marginalized–literally, in this case–and see any attempt to modify them in any way as a threat.

Tell me, if “In God We Trust” on the coin is not serious, then why do people like Palin rant and rage and rend their hair when it’s even moved from one part of coin to the other?

There should be a movement to remove that motto from all coinage and currency; to forbid the words “under god” from oaths as they constitute a de facto religious test; and to restore the Pledge of Allegiance to what it was before the Red Scare made it possible to inject it daily into the minds of millions of schoolchildren. (A dozen kids singing about Obama twice is indoctrination, but tens of millions chanting “under god” every day for decades isn’t? Please.)

And before we forget, this is not some atheistic coup. It is about the restoration of the founding principal: if religion and state become too close, then all religions, all beliefs, and all people fall under peril.

  1. Tim Kane
    November 9th, 2009 at 12:59 | #1

    This gets to the blatant idiocy of the human race.

    You don’t have to be a genius to see the beauty and wisdom of separation of church and state. But I was 11 years old when I became convinced of it, first in 5th grade social studies class.

    Second at mass one sunday when they were carrying on on the gospel of Matthew. During the homily the Priest said Christ in his divine wisdome advocated separation of church and state and it only took one thousand, seven hundred and eighty nine years for it to actually become applied.

    Coming from a mixed family, I had to go to Catholic Sunday school because my diestic father believed I needed some form of moral training and Catholic was as good as any other. But when I heard the priest that day, I said, that sounds like divine wisdom to me, I guess I can go ahead and be a catholic.

    It was a big mistake on my part. It was a liberal age, and so Catholicism adapted to the times. I didn’t know liberal ages were anomalies. Also the Catholic church still felt a bit like an outsider in America. That all changed though. In 2004 the local Bishop said it was a sin to vote for John Kerry, the Catholic running for President.

    The founding generation knew what it was doing. In reality, they probably had no problem with spirituality. But religions are organized arrangements, and that means they bring with them power structures and that means there’s some humans inside them, and humans being humans there’s always someone trying to expand his power at the expense of others. You can’t prove God exists but some people are perfectly happy to torture other’s in the name of something they can’t prove.

    Scalia is the ultimate hypocrite. He says he espouses a form of constitutional interpretation he calls originalism, which means that he espouses not just the exact meaning of the text, or the exact meaning of the text at the time it was written, but he espouses the thought inside the writer’s head. There can be no doubt that the framers intended a fairly hard separation of church and state.

    How do we know?

    Because at least half the framers of the constitution were deist or agnostic or athiest or unitarians. The other half were mostly Calvinist. Calvinism, the second wave of the Protestant reformation, believed that the first wave, Lutheranism, had gotten things wrong because they gave ‘princes’ a role in religion, and that princes knew very little about theology and therefore got ‘it’ wrong. As a result, Calvinism strongly advocated a separation of church and state. Other framers would have been of a minority sect and would therefore have felt more comfortable with the separation of religion and state. Nearly all the framers were exceptional in the field of civics. Therefore there can be know doubt that they intended for separation of church and state.

    Scalia’s originalism, by the way, was the very doctrine that the Dredd Scott case used. That decision made necessary the Civil War that the nation was inching closer to.

    This gets closer and closer to a bigger and bigger problem. The Supreme Court has done more to disassemble the United States than any other corporate form within the country.

    There was the Dredd Scott case which nearly divided the nation in two and resulted in a bloody civil war. There were the decisions that prolonged the Great Depression. There is a history of decisions that have given us our current dystopia: allowing for congressman to be bought and sold by the highest bidder (calling campaign donations as free speech not subject to regulation), and allow irresponsible political dialogue to be amplified by media (the absence of a fairness doctrine) amongst other decisions, then there’s Bush v. Gore which over through 30 years of ‘states rights’ trends for the expediency of installing a conservative president who nearly ruined, not just the economy of the nation but all of global civilization and undermined nearly all of its once stable and rock solid institutions, beginning with the separation of Church and state.

    The fairness doctrine not only said that contrasting views must be hear, it also said that the expressions had to be responsible dialogue. In other words, you couldn’t blatently lie, and you could call something like ‘end of life counciling’ as ‘death panels’.

    The Supreme Court appears to be doing more to destroy the country than to hold it together. As Abraham Lincoln said, inherent in the constitution is the right and need for it to perpetuate itself, and that gave the means for the Union to take steps to hold itself together.

    The big divisions and dysfunctions in our society stem from the supreme court. Meanwhile the court keeps making decisions that undermine the country and undermine it’s own prestige and moral authority.

  2. K. Engels
    November 10th, 2009 at 03:15 | #2

    Am I missing something? The first set of Presidential dollar coins had “In God We Trust” on the edge, but the butt-hurt conservatives already managed to get it moved to the front by the second set!? And this was a few years ago!

  3. Mark
    November 16th, 2009 at 13:05 | #3

    This is such a ripe area it’s hard to figure out where to start. First, if anyone has any serious evidence that the US is marching towards Christianity (or Catholicism for that matter) is becoming be the “state religion,” please let me know, because in between the ACLU looking for “state sponsored” prayers by just about anyone associated with government and “Christmas” cards and “Christmas” music in the Holiday section of Wal Mart and every other store, we’re becoming more and more secular. In the 60’s when I was a kid, we sang Christmas carols, the ones that mentioned Jesus, Bethlehem, and God becoming man–and Winter Wonderland and Frosty the Snowman, in school. I defy anyone to find a public school in which “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is sung today. ‘Cause if you do, the ACLU will be happy to put a stop to it. So, I find it hard to buy a concern we’re becoming a more Christian country, viewed from a government perspective.
    So, worrying about Sarah Palin–not the vice president nor the governor of a state, but a private citizen–expressing concern about a marginalization of historical US references to a deity on our public coins doesn’t seem to be grounds for all atheists/non Christians to grab their families and children, head for hills, lest they have to hear December 25, horror of horrors, called Christmas and not “Holiday,” or a church going, active Christian, High School principal eating in a public restaurant, blessing a meal as her faith dictates, and not being hauled off to court by the ACLU for publicly proselytizing the lesbian Wiccan couple at the next table who might suddenly decide to go their separate ways, find guys to love, and pick up a Bible. I don’t see a lot of Christian on everyone else rage
    ‘Nuff on that…
    The establishment clause of the Constitution simply states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It doesn’t say anything about praying or not praying. Praying isn’t establishing a religion.

    Art 2, Section 1.8 says the presidential oath is “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” If adding “so help me God” is unconstitutional, then so is having the VP say an oath, because that’s not in the Constitution, as is the President living in the White House and flying on AF One, because those also aren’t in the Constitution. Personally, I think George Washington added the words, “so help me God” as a prayer, because as a religious man he wanted the Almighty’s assistance in carrying out the tremendous responsibilities of the Presidency.

    And, if you want to argue unconstitutional government activities, Social Security, the health care reform, Medicare, and all those social programs are unconstitutional, in the strictest sense. Andy Jackson and other early Presidents saw no basis for taking money from one person (tax) and giving it to another who was a having a bad day or week. Something about self reliance and those danged church going people helping out the unfortunate.

    I haven’t seen any credible evidence that this country was not founded on Biblical, Christian viewpoints and morality. (Please let me know if any of the founding fathers attended a Mosque or Jewish temple…although the latter is more likely). The “establishment clause” was intended to allow American citizens the freedom to choose which church, if any, to attend. Initially, some states (I forget which ones) mandated which churches citizens had to attend (after all the first amendment only mentions Congress, not states). Over time, those laws fell on the wayside and freedom of religion evolved

    To sum this up, it’s obvious you’re concerned about religion encroaching on government. I’m concerned about the opposite–government employees having to “give up” religion to keep their jobs because their religion might “taint” the performance of their duties.

    I’d argue social “progressives” and environmentalists are also bringing a “religious fervor” to their duties and if Christian (or Islamic or whatever) views must be left at the office door, to be fair, so must many liberal world views. I think it can be argued that environmentalism, feminism, gay and lesbianism, and other “isms” have a religious taint to them. But, that’s another issue for another day.

    In short, I think the evidence is slight that the Right and Republicans are anywhere near a religious, Christian take over of our government. That said, we all have a moral basis from somewhere, and we all bring that moral basis to work, our relationships, and lives in general. Christians can’t not bring a Christian view to their societal interactions any more than a gay, or Muslim, or agnostic, can stop bringing their respective world views to their societal interactions. So don’t think they will.

    Have a great day…

  4. Luis
    November 16th, 2009 at 14:42 | #4


    I don’t have enough time right now to give a full reply to everything, but let me at least address this:

    First, if anyone has any serious evidence that the US is marching towards Christianity (or Catholicism for that matter) is becoming be the “state religion,” please let me know, because in between the ACLU looking for “state sponsored” prayers by just about anyone associated with government and “Christmas” cards and “Christmas” music in the Holiday section of Wal Mart and every other store, we’re becoming more and more secular.

    The best and most powerful answer to this is Scalia’s dissent in McCreary v. ACLU. You have to remember that all of the complaints that Christians have about religion being “marginalized” hang from the Supreme Court ruling that there is separation of church and state; should that one judgment be reversed, a towering wall of pent-up religious activity will come crashing down. The wall of protection is that thin–and was upheld a few years ago only because O’Connor was on the court. She has been replaced by another Bush Christianist, and the next time one of these cases comes before the court, one can fully expect them to rule that separation of church and state is not what it was. Kennedy will likely keep it from becoming what Scalia, Roberts, Alito, and Roberts would like it to be, but it will be at the very least seriously eroded.

    As for the U.S. being a “secular” society, I suppose this must come from a perspective which is drowned in Christian culture. The ACLU blocks state-sponsored, taxpayer-funded displays of religion. I don’t know why you think that Christmas music in Wal-Mart is in any way connected to this, but it sounds like the same complaints about some stores using “Holiday” instead of “Christmas” in some of their ads.

    The fact is, America is deeply religious–secularism is over-exaggerated by the Christianists. Religion permeates almost every nook and cranny of society, and it takes a force like the ACLU to keep it from even more deeply penetrating just taxpayer-funded areas of government. Churches and other houses of worship are everywhere; public displays of religion are common. When I go back home for Christmas, Christmas carols full of religious references blanket the airwaves. When I visited Wisconsin on a trip a few years ago, in a September, religious shows were all over the radio dial. Religious TV shows, radio shows, networks, etc. are everywhere. Public prayer, even in taxpayer-funded venues, happens all the time, just so long as it’s not officially sponsored by the schools. Religious messages on billboards spot the countryside, while the few “You Can Be Good Without God” atheist billboards are often torn down or defaced. People proselytizing for religions knock on your door and advertise their churches. I could go on and on and on and on, but you get the idea.

    The idea that we are somehow a secularized society is a myth. Coming from Japan, which is in fact a very secular society, it is a shock to re-enter America with the constant bombardment of religion–even in the heart of San Francisco Bay Area liberalism, where I spend my holidays. Religion exists and thrives everywhere, and claims of persecution are, to say the least, wildly exaggerated. Only a few stores use “Holiday” instead of “Christmas,” “Holiday” being an inclusive terms that means all religions and beliefs, and is NOT anti-Christian. Schools allow religious clubs, religious meetings on school property, individual acts of prayer at ball games, etc. etc. etc. Religion is on our coinage, in the pledge recited at the beginning of class every day in schools across the country. Prayers are said before meetings of Congress, when the Supreme Court comes to order, and is mandatory in oaths of office, no matter what the claim is to the contrary. The president must be a Christian, and more often than not, includes matters of faith in his administration, even at high official levels. There is a constant pressure, often successful, to violate church-and-state separation, in all manner of legislative and executive activities. Religious leaders have seats at the highest tables of power in this country, and an enormous influence on our policies and principles.

    Maybe you don’t see it just because you’re immersed, or else you simply uncritically accept the claim that religion is being persecuted or excluded somehow, without ever looking too closely or challenging your beliefs. Religion is not excluded, is not persecuted, is not shut out–it permeates everywhere. What you complain about, that a school cannot officially sanction prayer sessions (though they can and do allow individuals to do so openly on school property), is simply the last line of defense against full ownership of state matters by the church.

    Look at how many want not just prayers in classes, but religious postings like the Ten Commandments, creationism taught to the exclusion of evolution, the Bible used as a textbook, and even mandatory religion classes in the curriculum; separation of church and state is the only thing holding that back, and it is constantly under siege. Religion in schools, religion in law, religion in governance–all of these already exist to a current degree but are held back from being a full-out marriage of church and state.

    If Scalia can get Kennedy to go along with him, or if Sotomayor turns out to be more friendly to religion that anyone has so far suspected, then that one, last wall of protection against the marriage of church and state will begin to crumble, and we will have state-supported proselytization in public schools, full-blown religious displays and fealty in the courts, and even more powerful religious control will wash over the branches of government.

    This is not paranoia–much has already happened, and the pressure to do the rest is not a secret, but is openly, publicly pushed for by religious advocates nationwide.

  5. Luis
    November 16th, 2009 at 18:59 | #5

    I defy anyone to find a public school in which “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is sung today. ‘Cause if you do, the ACLU will be happy to put a stop to it.

    From PS 22, a public elementary school in Queens, New York:

    And that was from just a very quick Google search, took 1 minute. No ACLU in sight, nor at the multitude of other schools with lots of religious-themed Christmas music on the schedule. There were lots of other similar hits, and I didn’t even try variation on wording, or different songs.

    Mark, methinks you have bought in way too heavily on the “War on Christmas” meme. News flash: it’s a lie. Lawsuits to ban such stuff is rare, but when it happens, the Christianists shout about it from every rooftop; it’s not surprising that many people believe it. Schoolchildren across America still sing Christmas songs with Jesus and everything.

    Fact is, it’s the other way around. Instead of religion being quashed, it’s secularism. A president can’t be elected without being Christian, while atheists are reviled and distrusted more than Muslims and homosexuals. Christianity, not secularism, is winning the war, and is threatening freedom of belief in this country.

    As for the founding fathers, most of the ones you know about, the important ones, were deists and freethinkers, who hated the thought of organized religion calling shots. Jefferson was not kidding when he specifically referred to a “wall of separation”; the wording of the establishment clause is clear enough, it’s just a willingness to blind oneself to reality that allows one not to understand its true meaning. Some say that it just means Congress cannot “establish” a church in the sense of creating one. Others just blindly ignore the meaning of the word “establish”–go ahead, look it up in the dictionary.

    The most common dodge/denial is to say that the state may not interfere with religion, but religion may interfere with the state. This is full-out self-delusion: if a church has influence on a state, then by definition the state becomes influenced by the church and therefore begins down the road of excluding those of other beliefs.

    You cannot have church interference in state matters without the state then interfering in matters of belief. It is a logical impossibility. Thus the founders wisely separated the two–not to protect atheists, but to protect religious belief itself. Those religious sects that came to America to escape persecution did not come from secular countries–they came from theocracies.

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