Man Without Qualities

Monday, July 01, 2002

The Pledge

The uproar following the opinion of the Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals banning the "Pledge of Allegiance" in public schools has not been completely cogent.

The Man Without Qualities has never thought that the phrase "under God" was inserted in the Pledge as a prayer, and the Ninth Circuit seems to have seriously misunderstood that.

That is, just as the Pledge's word "indivisible" refers to the complex of principles established by the Civil War, the phrase "under God" properly refers to the historical fact noted in a prior post that while it is not necessary to base a theory of the "natural law" or "fundamental rights" that secure "liberty and justice for all" on the existence of God – it is possible to do so - and the United States Constitution is a product of exactly that approach. The first Amendment does not require that secular acknowledgements of the influence of religion on the United States be ignored or denied in public life or school - they are obvious and everywhere. The "logic" of the Ninth Circuit decision would lead to elimination of all references in history books that the Pilgrims were Christian, religious refugees (and, as others have already noted, to banning the Declaration of Independence, which refers to the "Creator") . As noted here previously, those who suggest that the Constitution is in any meaningful sense "Godless" are seriously, perhaps wilfully, misreading history:

[T]he structure of the Jefferson-Madison approach to individual liberties depended on the existence of "natural rights of man" (including religious rights) that God created and included in a divine plan which legislatures were prohibited by God from modifying. That is, in the Jefferson-Madison approach, the Bill of Rights and natural rights generally reflect the plan of a universal God. It's not that hard to locate plentiful evidence of this. For example, Madison drafted the Bill of Rights, and he had previously written his "Memorial and Remonstrance" in 1785, which opposed a bill in the General Assembly of Virginia to impose a tax to support Christian teachers. That bill was defeated and in 1786 the legislature instead enacted Jefferson's "Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Liberty." Jefferson’s bill is in many ways the precursor to the First Amendment. It reads in part:

"Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations ... are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion ... that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right...

"Be it therefore enacted ... That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."

"And though we well know this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no powers equal to our own and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law, yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right."

We are to believe that this Bill reflects the theory - and its authors are the men – that supposedly eliminated God from the Constitution through their Bill of Rights? The reader may decide for herself.

Madison and Jefferson WERE opposed to the idea that the United States was founded on Christianity. Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance" is very specific about that. It is also worth noting that Jefferson was not a Christian, although he regarded Christ as a sublime philosopher. But, then, so did Mohammed.

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