Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Drawing A Line Between Culture And Religion

Michael Newdow is back in action, this time taking on the phrase "In God We Trust" as it appears on all U.S. currency.

From The Sacramento Union:

Michael Newdow seeks to remove "In God We Trust" from U.S. coins and dollar bills, claiming in a federal lawsuit filed Thursday that the motto is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.


"The placement of 'In God We Trust' on the coins and currency was clearly done for religious purposes and to have religious effects," Newdow wrote in the 162-page lawsuit he filed against Congress.

Newdow is famous (or infamous) for his pending lawsuit on behalf of four parents in the Sacramento area challenging the Constitutionality of having the phrase "Under God" in the PledgeAllegianceence. That case is currently pending in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

I have to say that I love what Michael Newdow is doing, both because he's making a compelling point about the role of Christianity in the United States and because his actions drive religious conservatives completely bonkers. Both the PledgeAllegianceence case and now the case concerning our money cut right to the heart of Establishment Clause discussions and are significant for a number of reasons.

First, Newdow's point that the terms "Under God" and "In God We Trust" are religious expressions is absolutely correct, in spite of what the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 1996 case brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The appeals court ruled that the motto "In God We Trust" is more of a cultural symbol than a religious one; a view which many conservatives are happy to embrace as a nifty play-action screen around the First Amendment. However, this is a completely dishonest side-step of the issue by religious conservatives. Certainly conservative Christians are not advocating "Under God" and "In God We Trust" being used by the government for "cultural" reasons and any claim to the contrary is a politically expedient lie. They know very well what God these phrases refer to and why.

Second, Christianity has, for many years, enjoyeprivilegedeged position in American culture which is certainly in contravention of the Constitution and the ideals upon which the nation was founded. The difference today is that American society has become more pluralistic and certain religious and atheist minorities are beginning to flex their First Amendment muscle. The United States is a secular nation by design, with a separation of church and state built into our Constitution for a reason. That protection of the state from religion has allowed our democracy to flourish, while the same protection of religious institutions from the state has allowed religion to flourish as well. Conservative ideologues of today, including the current President, are seeking to undermine the very protections that have allowed their faith to gain the prominence it pretends it doesn't have today.

Finally, I find it shameful that conservative Christians express such fiery passion about defending the symbols of their faith but are eerily quiet on matters of true substance. The core of Christianity is supposed to be love and concern for our fellow man, not bellicose rantings about meaningless idolatry. Further, if the faith of today's conservative Christians is so weak that it cannot survive under the same set of rules as all other faiths in the country, then perhaps Michael Newdow isn't their real problem. There is no strength in a faith that requires recognition from an earthly government to grant it legitimacy. "Under God" and "In God We Trust" serve no purpose other than to allow conservative Christians to feel that their faith is superior in American culture.

As an atheist and secular humanist, I live everyday in a country where my moral beliefs are considered inferior at best and evil at worst. So it heartens me to see a man like Michael Newdow willing to stand up for the ideals that the United States was founded upon. It was not majority rule, no matter how often conservatives may make that claim. Personally, I couldn't care less if "In God We Trust" is on our fiat or if "Under God" is in our Pledge of Allegiance. I have nothing but contempt for any faith so weak that it requires validation through meaningless symbols. If conservatives can sleep better at night believing they live in God's Country, so be it.

Just don't expect the rest of us to play along with such delusions of grandeur.

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