1/14/2005

Plans Within Plans

Professional atheist Mike Newdow, perhaps sensing that his fifteen minutes were drawing to a close, has found a way to reset the fleeting-fame timer: going to court to stop President Bush from having ministers say prayers at the inauguration.

Michael Newdow, a lawyer and doctor who has fought to keep his daughter from being exposed to the Pledge of Allegiance in her public school, said the inauguration is perhaps the most public of all government-sponsored national ceremonies. It should not provide the president with an opportunity to make nonreligious citizens and non-Protestants feel like outsiders, he said.

Newdow filed suit last month and participated in yesterday's hearing via a teleconference hookup with the federal courthouse in Washington. The judge said he hopes to issue a ruling today. Bush will be sworn in at noon Thursday at the U.S. Capitol.
Mr. Newdow's problem is a simple one - he ignores the parts of the constitution that he doesn't like. A look at his webpage illustrates this:
The First Amendment states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." As I understand it, this resulted from the Framers' awareness of the persecution and animosity that inevitably accompanies state religions.
Mr. Newdow, either through ignorance or a desire to manipulate the argument, inserts a period after the word "religion." Anyone who has actually read the document knows that there's a very important phrase that follows...
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (emphasis mine)
Mr. Newdow and others of like mind appear to believe that no public space should be utilized in any form for religious expression. According to this view, public land can't have nativity scenes, public events can't mention God, and public buildings can't hang "Merry Christmas" banners.

To my mind, having a minister offer a prayer is not "a law respecting an establishment of religion"; banning a minister from offering a prayer, on the other hand, certainly seems like "prohibiting the free exercise thereof".

That argument aside, it seems clear to me that Mr. Newdow has ambitions further afield than simply eliminating "Under God" from the pledge. Now that he has made it clear that he intend to press the issue wherever opportunity presents itself, one can logically presume that he'll pursue the removal from "In God We Trust" from our national currency. After all, if we can't say "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and we can't have ministers offer prayers at civic functions, it is hard to see how one can allow for the nation's currency to proclaim any such thing.

And then?

If the courts agree with Mr. Newdow that it is unconstitutional for any public property to be utilized for religious expression, the groundwork will have been laid for the elimination of all radio and television broadcasts of a religious nature. Radio and television airwaves are public property that is administered by the government; a public space. If we can't talk about God on public property, how is it constitutional for the government to allow people to talk about God on the public airwaves?

It would be imprudent to look at this as the unintended consequence of an inadvertently slippery slope. Mr. Newdow has shown that he intends to press the issue on successively wider fronts. It's not hard to see where he's going.

While it would be easy to dismiss Mr. Newdow and his intellectual kin as petulant whiners, we should welcome this opportunity to talk about the real issue. The "separation of church and state" is not a part of our constitution; it was created by the Supreme Court. The result of its implementation has been too much attention being paid to the "respecting an establishment of religion" clause at the expense of "nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Not to mention "abridging the freedom of speech."