The Pledge Decision and Confirmation Politics:

InstaPundit's reaction to the new Pledge decision sounds right to me politically -- the decision helps get conservative Justices confirmed. It helps Roberts, and it will also probably help the next nominee. Whatever you think of the merits (remember, I'm talking here about the politics, not the merits), the public seems solidly against courts' striking down the saying of the "under God" Pledge in public schools. Here's what a poll following the Ninth Circuit's initial decision yielded:

ABC News/Washington Post Poll. June 26-30, 2002. N=1,024 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3. Fieldwork by TNS Intersearch.

"The Pledge of Allegiance says the United States is one nation 'under God.' A federal court in California has ruled that the Pledge cannot be recited in public schools because this phrase violates the constitutional separation of church and state. Do you support or oppose this court ruling?" . . .

Support 14[%]
Oppose 84[%]
No opinion 2[%]

"Do you think the phrase 'under God' [rotate:] should remain in the Pledge of Allegiance OR should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance?" . . .

Should remain 89[%]
Should be removed 10[%]
No opinion 1[%]

This seems to be the one issue on which the public is most solidly aligned with the solid the Court's conservatives, not just the moderate conservatives -- and highlighting this issue in the public's mind thus helps strengthen the case for conservative nominees.

(Justice O'Connor did opine in the Supreme Court's Newdow decision that the Pledge was indeed constitutional. But her votes and Justice Kennedy's votes in past cases helped cast doubt on the Pledge's constitutionality; and the votes of Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Thomas have provided the most solid protection for this sort of governmental religious speech.)

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on the Pledge Case,
  2. The Pledge Decision and Confirmation Politics:
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
Surely the polls suggest that there's nothing "ceremonial" about the words "under God"? If the public is that upset about the removal, it's hard to argue that the words are meaningless.

I understand your point about the politics, but certainly the power of the majority is one of the reasons we have the separation of church and state?
9.14.2005 7:12pm
BruceB (mail):
I have to admit I'm surprised by those poll numbers. I've never understood why there needs to be a reference to God in a pledge to our flag and country. That is exactly the kind of mixture of church and state that does NOT need to be in a government pledge, especially one that children are more-or-less forced to say everyday in a government institution.

Why is that phrase needed or appropriate, and what does it have to do with one's allegiance to this country?

If you don't understand my objection, imagine if the pledge said "One nation under Allah", or "One nation under Buddha", and your kids had to say it everyday. That is exactly what we are asking everyone who is not Christian or Jewish to do. I don't see the point of including it in the pledge.

On the other hand, based on the poll results, I'm obviously in the minority. I do think you are right that this will make it somewhat easier to get conservative judges confirmed.
9.14.2005 7:12pm
Dr. Newdow must be on Karl Rove's payroll. Iraq? Katrina? Deficits? Forget all those, Fox News can now cover the "Pledge controversy" non-stop for the next couple weeks.
9.14.2005 7:29pm
Lou Wainwright (mail):
While I think that 'under god' should clearly be considered unconsitutional (and I'd love to see a post from Eugene defending its consistutionality) I hope that it doesn't make it back before the supreme court anytime soon. If it is found to be constitutional it weakens the walls between Church and State, and if not it will create a severe backlash. That backlash will make life as an atheist far more frustrating than 'under god' has.
9.14.2005 7:44pm
Some Jarhead:
Justice Thomas (the man who should be Chief) has it right, the text of the 1st Amendment resists incorporation (accepting, for the moment, the wacky and unconstitutional doctrine of incorporation).

But this won't affect the confirmation of Conservative (i.e., non-extremist) appointments to the federal judiciary. The strength and character of the GOP's backbone will be the sole determining factor in those battles.
9.14.2005 8:02pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
This nation has a solid majority of Christians. It always has. The Court appropriately stopped the government from forcing children to pray. In so doing it required public education to be secular. There is, however, no practical difference between a secular education and an apathetic atheist, apathetic Jewish, apathetic Christian or apathetic any-other-religion education. An agressively secular education, particularly with regard to science, begins to resemble and agressively atheist education.

Let's contrast this with what Christianity, Judiaism and many other religions teach. They require agressive instruction of one's children in the faith and a 24/7 immersion in that faith. Secular schools are not really compatible with this goal. All the authority figures are engaged in deliberately minimizing faith, which is directly contradictory to the most important - and the most difficult - teaching of most faiths, which is that God is number one all the time.

An agressive secular education is wholely incompatible with most faiths, other than atheism and agnosticism.

We all know this deep in our bones.

So how can a system where education is required, and only secular education is subsidized - and very nearly close to fully subsized - be fair to people with faiths other than atheism and agnosticism? In order for me to teach my three children the most difficult part of Christianity, that is, to be Christ-like with every breath, I must forgo a 3 times 12 times $7000 benfit. That's a quarter of a million dollars, folks.

The spirit of the First Amendment is that government should be fair to all religions. Subsizing atheism and agnosticism to the tune of $84,000 per person is not fair. The Court has changed a system which was unfair to a minority into another system which is unfair to a minority.

I think this core issue, which first became visible as the prayer in public schools issue is at the root of almost all our First Amendment woes. It goes back further, however, to our attempts to create a public school system. But every school system which fails to teach each child according to the dictates of their parents's faith is an establishment of religion, whether you like it or not. Religion demands expression in every facet of life, and expecting our children's religion to not be diluted by constant exposure to the tepid waters of a secular education beggars belief.

I am not saying that out public schools must be abolished, but only that the alternatives must be equally subsidized. Establish true fairness in education, and those, like Neudow, who desire an agressively secular education - or even an atheist one - will be able to get that kind of education for their kids, too, with no nasty Pledge. I want freedom of religion for aggressive atheists (and even agressive agnostics, if such exist).

For me, true choice means true freedom for all. Fairness and parental educational choice are inseperable.

9.14.2005 8:10pm
Question: does Scalia's previous recusal in the Elk Grove case mandate his recusal in this case? Or will he be able to sit on the court (presuming - and it seems a safe presumption, given Newdow's fanatical arrogance - that it reaches the Supreme Court) for this case?
9.14.2005 8:13pm
Cheburashka (mail):
Let's contrast this with what Christianity, Judiaism and many other religions teach. They require agressive instruction of one's children in the faith and a 24/7 immersion in that faith. Secular schools are not really compatible with this goal.

That may be true of some highly orthodox and rare forms of rabbinical (non-hasidic) Judaism, but other than that, is an absurd statement that demonizes religion while failing to distinguish the broad diversity among sects and practitioners.
9.14.2005 8:22pm
If you don't understand my objection, imagine if the pledge said "One nation under Allah"
Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't "Allah" arabic for "God"?

That is exactly what we are asking everyone who is not Christian or Jewish to do.
Is the Pledge of Allegiance no longer voluntary? Is there a compulsion to recite it?
9.14.2005 8:24pm
david blue (mail) (www):
I was not a fan of William Safire, but he was exactly right about this stupid case. Newdow is just making trouble; we'd all have been better off if the case had never been brought; it's a waste of everyone's time and energy when there are much more important things to talk about; and (now quoting Safire) "the only thing this time-wasting pest Newdow has going for him is that he's right."
9.14.2005 8:35pm
An interesting note on the legal rationale for this decision is that the district court judge indicated (probably correctly) that he was constrained by the 9th Circuit's previous ruling on Newdow's earlier case. So this wasn't really a decision on the merits, but rather a decision based on prior precedent.

We can all hope that the 9th Circuit changes their minds on this issue when it gets to them, so that we can put this unimportant dispute behind us.
9.14.2005 8:42pm
Yes Allah is Arabic for God. I would really be curious to hear the opinions of actual Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists about the pledge, as opposed to the opinions of lawyers speculating about them.

The reason I personally like having "under God" in the pledge is that I find the pledge itself a bit idolatrous and misplaced -- should we really be pledging allegience to a flag, instead of to a nation or a constitution or a set of values? And as a Christian, shouldn't my first loyalty be to God? I have always taken the "under God" as an escape clause implying that no, we are not saying the flag and patriotism are our highest values, just that they are among our values.

I would rather not have the pledge than have it without some limiting statement such as "under God." And I would rather have a pledge to the Constitution than to a symbol.
9.14.2005 8:42pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

My good Israeli friend, who grew up in a kibutz, practices a pretty normal version of orthodox Judaism. He's the man who first mentioned the 24/7 nature of our relationship with God. But frankly, even the Unitarian ministers I know want their flocks to be more devoted to spirituality, and want that spirituality to influence their lives deeply. They just aren't into dogma.

I think if you ask a devote member of any religion they will tell tell you that a complete and total dedication to their faith is their best option. And most of these will say it is their children's best oprion too.

We are talking about complete devotion to a being who is entirely good. How you can characterize my statement as demonizing religion is beyond me.

I'm afraid it is your statement which strikes me as absurd. Perhaps you are trying to make the point that most people are not highly devote practioners of their faith. This is true. Devote faith is hard.

I am sure that you do not mean for your statement to be absurd. Perhaps you could give me some examples of religions which don't want their faith to be deeply rooted in every action of its followers?

9.14.2005 8:51pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I always preferred the "Calvin &Hobbes" version of the Pledge.."I pledge allegience, to Miss Frack, in her mighty state of hysteria"
9.14.2005 8:51pm
bill-10k (mail) (www):
When do you think we will ever see a court say to cases like this -- we don't do social issues go see your legislators.

It's odd that the pledge has been said longer than those Ten Commandments monuments have been standing in Texas.

The courts should abandon ruling on these soical issues, that
s what legislatures are for.
9.14.2005 9:04pm
If a new panel of the Ninth Circuit decides to go the other way with this case, I would be quite surprised if the Supreme Court takes it up again.
9.14.2005 9:25pm
tumbling dice:
DK - "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, AND TO THE REPULIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS."

I'm no historian, but I imagine that pledging allegiance to a flag, coat of arms, or any other symbol is merely a historical remnant, and it is clearly understood that what you are pledging allegiance to is the "republic for which it stands."

As to most of the posting here, it is always interesting to me how ingrained the "wall of separation" is into our discourse, despite the fact that it is, both literally and figuratively, not close to what the people who actually deliberated, considered, and enacted the First Amendment thought it meant.

Thomas Jefferson's ramblings 12+ years later have become the shorthand for "constituional law" aided by a series of Supreme Court decisions which invoked this misguided metaphor.

The text of the Amendment and the legislative record, such that it is, argues very clearly against the "wall of separation" school of thought, at least in its current form of hostility to every form of Judeo-Christian religious expression.
9.14.2005 9:27pm
Michael Eisenberg (mail):
Wince and Nod, I think it is absurd to imply that atheism a "faith." Even if you didn't mean to, having the government be neutral with respect to religion is not unfair to those who practice religion. The case at hand is NOT about preventing students from practicing religion on their own at school, it's about not having the government lead a oration declaring oneself to be "under god." You've turned this into something it is not, namely a burden on people of faith which is it is surely not. The scenario you imply would be more the government forcing the students to recite that we are "NOT a nation under god," for example. Leaving out the "under god would" just be neutral to religious and non-religious people.
9.14.2005 9:37pm
Well put, tumbling dice.

But I do think some people (mostly politicians) overemphasize the flag, hence the flag-burning amendment travesty and the concern over the pledge. It would be better IMHO to teach our kids to fear government actions desecrating the Constitution than to fear the occasional idiots who descecrate the flag to get attention. If Congress spent half as much energy protecting the 1st amendment as it does on protecting the flag, we would be better off.
9.14.2005 9:37pm
Mike in Colorado (mail):
Last time I checked, Christians, Moslems and Jews all believe in the same God. That's the same God that this nation was, in fact, "founded under", like it or not. If you (or your kids) don't believe in God, or don't belive He should be referenced in the Pledge, don't say that piece, or don't say it at all. This whole "controversy" smacks of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin" and THAT'S why such a large majority of people feel the way they do about it. It simply seems stupid to all us members of the great unwashed.
9.14.2005 9:52pm
Bob (mail):
I find it odd that people are so supportive of a phrase that was not originally in the pledge, but was only added in 1954.
9.14.2005 9:53pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
Michael Eisenberg,

Atheism is certainly a faith. No one can prove that God does not exist. A belief that there is no God can only be held by faith, just like a belief that there is a God. As faiths go, atheism is admirably simple and in some ways very attractive. I've believed in atheism often, myself.

I understand your point about the pledge. I am making a broader point. If the Pledge was not recited in schools neither Neudow nor his clients would have any standing. My broader contention is that public schools teach things in direct contradiction to my religion. They are, therefore, an governmental establishment of religion, since they spend public monies. The school does not teach my children as my faith requires, so we home school and I am deprived of a $252,000 benefit, purely on the basis of my religion. That is neither fair, nor a true expression of the spirit of freedom of religion. My solution is to give people choice, so that atheists may teach their children as atheists and I may teach my children as Christians.

Please explain how the current system is fair to the minority of devote practitioners of our various faiths who want, as a mater of religious practice, to have our children educated in an way you could describe as immersed in the faith. Or don't you believe that the rights of religious minorities should be protected?

9.14.2005 9:54pm
Michael Eisenberg (mail):
Wince and Nod,

I have read your comments on other posts here, and your arguments and insights are always good as are these. Moving to the broader point of the fairness of no endorsement of religion in public schools, you use a very clever device, and I give you credit for it, in 1) defining atheism to be a faith and 2) arguing and using language to show that the school systems in place actively support that belief simply because they do not actively endorse belief in god (although they also do not deny belief in god). For example, you say "The school does not teach my children as my faith requires," which is a true statement. I disagree that this "deliberately minimize[es]" faith as you say because, just to give an example, parents can teach their children faith after school or send to the religious school if they can not. Just as atheistic parents must teach their children after school about the unimportance and non existence or lack of evidence for a god or pay to have others do it.

Basically your position is that that because going to a secular public school is slightly less burdensome to an atheist than to any religious person, government is establishing religion, being unfair. The solution, it seems in your case to be, is to have religious training at public schools. Otherwise, they would not be "teach[ing] my children as my faith requires." That obviously would not work (such a system could only accommodate one maybe two faiths and would be extremely confusing to children and therefore burdensome on other religions). The solution is the system currently in place, and that happens to result in a system less burdensome on atheists. I don't see why we should be so upset about it. There's nothing that can be done that will make "teach[ing] my children as my faith requires" meaningfully less burdensome on you, in a religiously pluralistic society that's supposed to be neutral with respect to religion.

Sincerely Yours,
Michael Eisenberg
9.14.2005 10:39pm
It seems to me, that O'Connor's vote would have been the most in doubt in this case and she was on record that she supported the pledge as it currently stands.

Kennedy has been fairly solid on things like the Ten Commandments and Breyer has recently gone both ways. I think a 6-3 upholding of the pledge would not be out of the question assuming O'Connor stays to rule or someone of Bush's choosing replaced her.
9.14.2005 10:41pm
Henry Schaffer (mail):
Bob finally said it --- I had committed the pledge to memory long before "under God" was added, and so I find it hard to include those words. Actually I rather resented having the pledge altered. (Hmm - isn't that a "conservative" feeling?)
9.14.2005 10:45pm
Custom Drinker (mail):
A few things.

1) Saying the nation is founded on Christian principles is not a constitutional argument. For those who say "separation of church and state" is not in the constitution, I'd point out that "this nation is a Christian, Godly nation" ain't in there either.

2) Why did we insert "God" into the pledge in the first place, if not to establish a religion? Seems like the point of adopting the language was to emphasize that Communism and Atheism were wrong and that America was right (in part because we are a Christian nation). I guess people arguing that we are a Christian nation are at least being honest about it. IF you say it isn't establishing a religion, I'd like to hear your argument, cuz I'm not seeing it.

3) What's so great about the pledge anyway? Why should anyone but a newly minted citizen be reciting this crap at all. Do we harbor doubts about the allegiance of American schoolchildren?
9.14.2005 10:56pm
Neo (mail):
I found it odd that the presiding judge would cite a precedent from Newdow, when the SCOTUS already ruled that Newdow had no standing to file the original case.
9.14.2005 11:03pm
ChrisS (mail):
Roberts does not need any help. He's got every Republican and probably quite a few Democrats, too. I imagine the end vote will be similar to the one taken on Stephen Breyer.

Regarding the pledge: I can't help but sympathize with Judge Karlton. His comments at the end lead me to believe that he disagrees with our judiciary's recent interpretations of the Establishment Clause, but recognizes that he is bound by the 9th's precedent. If anything, this man is the opposite of a judicial activist.
9.14.2005 11:18pm
should we really be pledging allegience to a flag, instead of to a nation or a constitution or a set of values?
We pledge allegiance to the flag and to the Republic for which it stands. I think most people find it difficult to operate in terms of very abstract principles; what is needed is a symbol which can stand in for all those ideas which sum up America. Like the flag. If, like about 99% of the world's desktop computer users you are typing your comments using Windows, MacOS or a Linux GUI - where graphical abstractions stand in for concepts like file systems and data formats, allowing one to describe activities in quasi-anthropomorphic terms - you are intimately familiar with this principle.
When do you think we will ever see a court say to cases like this -- we don't do social issues go see your legislators.
Certainly not before solemnly abjuring substantive due process becomes an absolute and unwaivable requirement for confirmation of Judges, and the last Judge not to do so leaves the bench. That's not all that will do it, but it's a start. Unfortunately, since the GOP now appears to have drunk deeply of the kool-aid, and discovered that, hey, poison is pretty sweet stuff, that day looks very far away.
9.14.2005 11:20pm
ChrisS (mail):
I found it odd that the presiding judge would cite a precedent from Newdow, when the SCOTUS already ruled that Newdow had no standing to file the original case.

They ruled that he lacked prudential standing. They did not dispute his Article III standing. The 9th's precedent on the specific question of the pledge stands in a lower court.
9.14.2005 11:21pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
I've always found the level of emotion about the Pledge of Allegiance (for and against, "under God" and lacking those two words) astonishing. There's a lot of merit to the ideas it promotes--but asking kids to say it every day is, to my way of thinking, an absurd piece of ritualism.

Why this matters isn't the Pledge itself, or the absence or presence of "under God." What matters is the fanaticism of people like Michael Newdow who think that what is primarily a piece of ceremonial, almost meaningless expression of vague theism, is something that requires a lawsuit, and using his daughter as a political football.

Can you imagine the crap Newdow's daughter gets from the other little kids at school? The other parents are probably civilized, but little kids are the ultimate conformists. My stepmother-in-law has vivid memories of being called "Christkiller" when her family moved to a new neighborhood in Chicago--I shudder to think what Newdow's daughter hears.

The First Amendment was never intended to create a neutrality between religion and non-religion--and the evidence for this can be found in the innumerable statements and actions of the Continental Congress, the First Congress, the various state legislative bodies, the first state constitutions, and the actions of Congress and Presidents Jefferson and Madison. (You can see a bunch of examples to smoke the brains of ACLU members here.) The Supreme Court has played telephone with the establishment clause, completely destroying original intent with a series of wrong and out of context citations stacked up like cordwood, until the whole edifice is about to fall down.
9.14.2005 11:29pm
plunge (mail):
This issue always strikes me as dishonestly presented. The pledge cannot be banned by these decisions. Only government employees leading people in the pledge. No individual is prevented from saying it, gathering to say it anytime at all they please. While I think trying to get the pledge out of schools is basically a waste of time hysteria, that doesn't mean that the arguments against it aren't full of a dishonest hysteria of their own.
9.14.2005 11:44pm
What matters is the fanaticism of people like Michael Newdow who think that what is primarily a piece of ceremonial, almost meaningless expression of vague theism, is something that requires a lawsuit, and using his daughter as a political football.
It worked for Madalyn Murray O'Hair - see Abington v. Schempp. The real point in this case is simple. Newdow is a militant atheist who lives in his own little world. He has an indomitable sense of persecution and of his own personal superiority; see the opinion of the Court at p.19 n.15 ("Newdow also asserts that he would like to run for public office but that he believes doing so would be futile because of the public's antipathy towards atheism. He believes his inability to obtain elected office 'is due in part to the official endorsement of monotheism contained in the Pledge'"). He wants the pledge of allegiance gone. This is such a minority position - the ABC news poll cited at top, and ABC is a relatively liberal-friendly outlet, suggested that 89% of respondents wanted to keep "under God" in the pledge - that he will never, ever get his way through the democratic process. So he has to turn to the courts, and claim that a practise which, on its face, is constitutional, and which has thought to be constitutional for fifty years, is actually unconstitutional.

He's nothing but an activist pest who fully realizes that, if the people get their say, his view will never prevail, so he must seek alternative venues. Sadly, the courts seem to be playing along.
9.14.2005 11:54pm
plunge (mail):
" Sadly, the courts seem to be playing along."

Let's be sensible and fair to the latest court. As I understand it, only the 9th has agreed with his reasoning so far. The latest court simply decided that it had to deffer to the 9th, which is NOT a ruling on the rightness or wrongness of the arguments.
9.15.2005 12:01am
Justin Kee (mail):
I believe there is a significant distinction between forcing children to pledge to a sovereign state and forcing children to pledge to a religious icon. The placement of the "under God" clause into the Pledge of Allegience and requesting that government employees lead the recital of the pledge in public schools is indeed troubling.
9.15.2005 12:04am
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
Michael Eisenberg,

Thank you for your kind words. You comment that "The solution, it seems in your case to be, is to have religious training at public schools." But that is not the only solution. A voucher system where parents can choose a school which teaches their faith would not only suffice, it would actually utilize the private school system we already have, so it is, in fact, quite practical. And it would allow the current public school system to become even more secular, since, for example, those parents to whom the absense of Christmas carols in the music curriculum was offensive could freely remove their children without loosing a $7000 per child benefit.

This issue is actually quite old, and pre-dates the original prayer in school cases. I am originally a Catholic, but my parents, trusting the quality of our public schools, did not place me in a Catholic school. Since I am no longer a Catholic, perhaps their faith in that school system was misplaced. They had good friends whose children were being educated in Catholic schools, and who complained bitterly of being unfairly forced to pay for that education twice. I think those friends were right. The Court has made a good faith effort to make our public school sytem fairer, but it is my contention they have failed.

You speak as if parents can simply teach children on their own about their faith after school and on the weekends. Hmmmm. What makes you think parents are any more capable of teaching their children about matters theological than they are, for example, matters scientific? The Bible is pretty darn thick, and the concepts within are often quite difficult for doctors of theology to grapple with. If I were to suggest that you teach biology after school or on weekends at your expense you would be appalled. But for some reason simple well-understood and well-agreed upon concepts like reading, writing and arithmetic require a bachelors degree with certification, yet every Sunday school with which I am familiar, teaching concepts which are neither simple, nor well-understood, nor well-agreed upon pretty much gets taught by whomever will volunteer to teach it.

But I guess my actions belie my words. Not only do we believe we are better suited to teach our faith to our children, we believe we are better suited to teach reading, writing, arithmetic and even science.

Still, not every family is blessed with so talented and patient a teacher as my wife.

But all of this is part of my belief that Americans should be free to make choices. We don't all get a "free" government run newpaper every day, or a "free" government run newsmagazine. We don't all get "free" government produced food and drink and "free" government run hospitals. We even have a system designed to let us choose our own lawyers. Why, if these things are all too important to have the government choose for us, are we surreptiously herded into a government run school system for our children?

Hasn't anybody thought about the Pink Floyd lyric?
We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
BTW, I am not the only person who calls atheism a faith. Stephen Den Beste, an atheist, does so as well. As far as I know, this issue isn't new either.

9.15.2005 12:08am
Noah Snyder (mail):
Although I completely agree with Eugene that decisions declaring the pledge unconstitutional are bad for the Democrats and bad for the atheists (and thus, doubly bad for me), I continue to be baffled by how the pledge can be constitutional.

From what I read during the old case, the argument seems to be (at least for Kennedy/O'Connor/Breyer, if not for Scalia) that the phrase "under God" is purely ceremonial and not meant to endorse religion. But this seems to me to directly contradict both modern public opinion and the original intent of the law.

Again, I don't think it's a big deal either way, and politically I wish that fewer judges would rule against the pledge, intellectually I just can't understand the argument that the current pledge is constitutional.
9.15.2005 12:13am
There's a lot of merit to the ideas it promotes--but asking kids to say it every day is, to my way of thinking, an absurd piece of ritualism.

Why this matters isn't the Pledge itself, or the absence or presence of "under God." What matters is the fanaticism of people like Michael Newdow who think that what is primarily a piece of ceremonial, almost meaningless expression of vague theism, is something that requires a lawsuit, and using his daughter as a political football.

Wow, Clayton, this is the first time I've agreed with you on a topic like this. Assuming you add in the people that are equally silly on the other side, I will whole-heartedly agree with you.

I'm very encouraged, for one.
9.15.2005 12:17am
Jeremy (mail):

Do you have a citation that would indicate that the Ninth Circuit's previous Newdow ruling has any binding effect here?

I don't know enough about federal civil procedure to say what the right answer is, but I suspect the previous decision has no precedential value, despite what you posted previously.
9.15.2005 12:49am
Humble Law Student:

Yah, it is a cop out argument that the moderate center has used in defense of the phrase, "under God." By arguing it is purely ceremonial, they are purposefully ducking (at least Scalia is I think) the issue. It is rather absurd to say the phrase, "Under God" has no religious meaning when, I think, it is fair to say that most Americans consider that it does. The justices can wish all they want, but their pronouncements don't change its social meaning to the wide swathe of American society at large. Granted, the justices' ideas do impact the phrase's legal standing, but it doesn't change what a majority of Americans think about it.
9.15.2005 12:56am
Cheburashka (mail):
This may be something of an aside, but isn't the school district rule unconstitutional regardless of the inclusion of "under G-d"?

Its mandatory speech of a political nature; don't the forced-speech rules apply?
9.15.2005 1:00am
Humble Law Student:
By arguing it is purely ceremonial, they are purposefully ducking (at least Scalia is I think)
When did Scalia say that? He took no part in the argument or decision of Elk Grove. I think you're thinking of O'Connor's opinion.
9.15.2005 1:09am
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Since when is public opinion a measure of constitutionality?

What I wonder about is whether or not you would have cited the figures if they were not as clearly skewed in the Neanderthal direction.

I also find it ironic when self-proclaimed libertarians alternate between relying on history and ignoring history, depending on whether it suits their argument. I am not sure if it's a problem with intellectual consistency or intellectual honesty--take your pick. But I would venture to say that Madison's and Jefferson's opinion on the subject was rather unequivocal. Furthermore, the history of the Pledge itself suggests that elimination of the inane religious language would be the right thing to do. Reaffirming this nonsense may not be the slippery slope that Eugene talks about once in while here, but it certainly a pointer in the direction that most of us do not wish to go. I'm sure you know what I mean.
9.15.2005 1:15am
Humble Law Student:

No, you are right he has not ever stated that explicitly in a case. But, I never claimed he did. Based on his writings in other cases, but more specifically public comments by him, I think one can fairly infer that he really doesn't believe in this facade of "ceremonial purpose" or what not.
9.15.2005 1:21am
ChrisS (mail):
Do you have a citation that would indicate that the Ninth Circuit's previous Newdow ruling has any binding effect here?

I'll admit that I'm not entirely clear what you're asking for here. The 9th's ruling stands unless it is vacated or reversed by the Supreme Court. The court chose to reverse a particular portion of the 9th's decision, claiming that Newdow did not have prudential standing. My interpretation of that ruling would be that the precedent regarding the question of the pledge's constitutionality would stand in lower federal courts within the 9th circuit. Karlton's decision is full of references to the 9th's previous case.
9.15.2005 1:21am
Buck Turgidson (mail):
That is exactly what we are asking everyone who is not Christian or Jewish to do.

Actually, religious Jews have a problem with it too. And it's not just the words "under God". That's bad enough by itself, but it's the whole pledge idea--especially to an inanimate object--that really runs contrary to their traditions. As for the language, the hedging legal tradition in Judaism rejects it as clearly intended to extall Christianity. For people who reject wine made or even handled by non-Jews (prior to bottling) because it might have been raised in a gesture suggestive of praise to a deity, it would indeed be very odd to accept language that was intentionally inserted to distinguish between "God-fearing Christians" and "godless communists" (and just about everyone else the Christofascists would consider "godless").
9.15.2005 1:21am
Richard B.:
This case actually opens, if not a Pandora's Box, then at the very least a debate over a number of issues, both narrow (specific to this case) and broad (impacting not only this particular case, but a number of issues that have been or will be before the courts), which everyone seems to be "touching on" while they "dance around" them rather than hitting the nail on the head. A couple of thoughts...

As was pointed out above, "anti-establishment clause" and "separation of Church and State" are NOT phrases within the Constitution. The actual statement is: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." A focus by the media, and to a large degree, the courts themselves, has been on the first part of the statement. But, it would seem apparent that as an issue of "constitutionality," there are TWO questions which need to be answered.

First, does the use of the phrase "under God" constitute an "establishment of religion?" This is what we are continually harangued with and seems to be the basis upon which many 'recent' legal argument is based. However, you cannot fully answer this first question, let alone use the rationale upon which such an answer would be based as the exclusive framework for an authoritative, precedent setting, decision without addressing a second and, given the actual wording and historically contextual intent of the 1st Amendment, required interrogative, e.g.: "Does the elimination of the phrase 'under God' constitute a "prohibition on the free practice" of one's, or the majority's, religion?"

In addressing these two questions, one must not be distracted by red herrings such as "which God." It is well documented, historical fact that this Nation was established by a population overwhelming CHRISTIAN in its demographics. If we accept that "Protestant," "Roman Catholic," and "Mormon" can be placed under the overarching category of "Christian," then current government publications cite that approximately 78% of the U.S. population may be placed in this category.

Setting aside the historical divergence of how each religion and its allied "denominations" defines the "personality" of God, it can be agreed, and is written as such in the primary texts of the three religions, that the "God" of Christianity, Judiasm, and Islam stem from the same root source; factually being the SAME God at one point in history and still sharing predominant traits in common. Thus, we can add another 2% (Jewish 1%, Muslim 1%) of the population to the total which would be, presumably, encompassed by the Deity in the phrase "under God" present in the Pledge. Therefore, it seems that a sizeable majority already agree as to "which God."

Another red herring is what constitutes a "religion" vis a vis the specific issue of atheism. Although the court has rejected the argument that evolution constitues a de facto religion based, primarily, on a definition of religion which claims "an organized system of beliefs, rites, and celebrations centered on a supernatural being," there is still a broader definition of religion which simply states "a system of beliefs." Thus, while the former, specific definition of religion is applicable in the case of evolution vs. creationism insofar as creationism providing a specific "Deity or Intelligence" as the alternative, a more generalized debate of religion as a role player in cultural ideology could, probably should, and most likely will encompass the broader parameters provided by the latter defintion. (Which, of course, brings into play the issue of whether a "secular agenda" is, in itself, a system of beliefs offered, not as the 'neutral' position it is promoted to maintain, but as an usurping alternative to the philosophical underpinnings that provided the parameters used by the Founding Fathers in the creation of our society.)

This leaves us with the broader ramifications and question. If we are to effectively address the above questions regarding what constitutes "establishment" and "prohibition," the courts will be forced to confront the following:

"While the Constitution and our very cultural ideology recognizes the rights of and posits protections for the minority and the beliefs/values thereof, at what point does assertion, protection, and/or accomodation of the minority and its beliefs/values, particularly where they are contradictory to those beliefs/values shared by a substantial majority, become an unconstitutional, illegal, unwarranted, unconscionable, and/or unnecessary infringement on the rights of said majority?"

I would suggest, from my point of view and understanding, that we have crossed the line when the presumed "will of the minority" becomes the overriding "law of the land," or ideology, to which the majority must obsequeously adhere. While reasonable accomodation of the minority position must always be an option presented and available, it should never be the position of a governmental agency within a democratic society that the view of the minority "rules" the actions, thoughts, and philosophies of the majority. Such circumstance would seem to contradict the very essence of a "democracy."
9.15.2005 1:22am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
But I would venture to say that Madison's and Jefferson's opinion on the subject was rather unequivocal.
Yup. From the Library of Congress exhibit on the subject:
It is no exaggeration to say that on Sundays in Washington during the administrations of Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809) and of James Madison (1809-1817) the state became the church. Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives. Madison followed Jefferson's example, although unlike Jefferson, who rode on horseback to church in the Capitol, Madison came in a coach and four. Worship services in the House--a practice that continued until after the Civil War--were acceptable to Jefferson because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary. Preachers of every Protestant denomination appeared. (Catholic priests began officiating in 1826.) As early as January 1806 a female evangelist, Dorothy Ripley, delivered a camp meeting-style exhortation in the House to Jefferson, Vice President Aaron Burr, and a "crowded audience." Throughout his administration Jefferson permitted church services in executive branch buildings. The Gospel was also preached in the Supreme Court chambers.

Jefferson's actions may seem surprising because his attitude toward the relation between religion and government is usually thought to have been embodied in his recommendation that there exist "a wall of separation between church and state." In that statement, Jefferson was apparently declaring his opposition, as Madison had done in introducing the Bill of Rights, to a "national" religion. In attending church services on public property, Jefferson and Madison consciously and deliberately were offering symbolic support to religion as a prop for republican government.
9.15.2005 2:17am
Quarterican (mail):
Richard B. -

No, the elimination of the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance doesn't prohibit the free exercise of religion for a Christian. Was the free exercise of Christianity prohibited by the Pledge's recitation from 1892-1954, w/out the words "under God"? Not in the way you suggest. Those who didn't want to say the Pledge (in school) - namely Jehovah's Witnesses - argued that *their* free exercise of religion was prohibited by compulsory flag-saluting, and the Supreme Court (eventually, rightly) agreed.* There is truth in the conclusion of your post - it's conceivable that deference to the wishes of the minority could come to infringe upon the wishes of the majority - but please: can you seriously claim that removal of the "under God" clause does damage to American Christians? They were getting along just fine in 1953. Does it run counter to what most American Christians want? Perhaps, but what people *want* has little to do with what is or ought to be legal (I'll let you fill in the sympathy-inducing historical illustration). We - quite deliberately - don't live in a true "democracy", and frankly I glad of it.

* I presume, but don't know for certain, that the religious prohibition for Jehovah's Witnesses still holds under the current formulation of the Pledge? I agree with Clayton E. Cramer (!) above; this whole matter is utterly silly and ought to be unimportant. Of course, I think it's silly because I think the Pledge is silly and has much more potential for trouble than its worth, I think having the word "God" on our money is silly, etc., etc.
9.15.2005 2:55am
chris (mail):
The establishment clause meant to prevent the establishment of the Church of the United States. That's it. Setting as the norm, with kids having the freedom to opt out, the saying of a pledge with under God in it in now ways establishes anything. If almost everyone in a country believes in God, it is always going to be somewhat uncomfortable for the child of atheist parents. To argue that the Constitution itself requires that this discomfort be minimized is absurd.
9.15.2005 3:12am
therut (mail):
I think Wince and Nod has stated what is going to happen in the future. There is going to be a uprising and demand by a large number of parents for vouchers so they can educate their children in a religious setting.(or at least one they do not see as hostile to their basic moral beliefs). Some of the secular teaching is going way to far for them. Hence the homeschool movement. The secular teaching already in place will be enough if it gets pushed out of the cities into the heartland. There is much dissatifation in the masses that the politicians and the academy is blind to.
9.15.2005 3:13am
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

Most Christians to whom this is a passionate issue take great exception to the earlier removal of prayer from the public schools. Removing "under God" is merely adding insult to injury.

I personally believe that forcing students to say the Pledge is wrong, but so is keeping parents from requiring that the Pledge be said. The solution is to give all parents control over what their children are taught, not just those wealthy enough to afford private schools.

9.15.2005 3:18am
Quarterican (mail):
Wince -

I have to disagree with you because I disagree with your fundamental points - that atheism is, for all intents and purposes, a religion, and that public school traffic in the inculcation of this faith.

Atheism is indeed, as you say, a question of faith, but I don't think it makes sense to posit an ideology of atheism, since the ideology begins and ends with: "I do not believe - have faith - in God." That's it. I can't imagine an atheist going around continually noting and affirming his faith in the absence of God the way some religious people may find and feel God's presence in every moment, or see God's work in the world around us. There's no corpus of belief analogous to that of a religion; where Christianity has the Bible and - depending on your branch - traditions of scholarship and ceremony, atheism presents nothing in opposition.

Ergo, I disagree that the curriculum of public school "teaches atheism," - how could it, unless the teachers repeatedly tossed in reminders like "And, as we do our times tables, remember kids, there's no God"? If your religious beliefs in fact dictate that in all learning God must be affirmed - or if the content of a biology class necessarily contradicts your religious beliefs - then, yes, the public schools are probably not the appropriate place for you to send your children to be educated, inasmuch as they don't teach the tenets of your religion. But I object to the notion that they teach the tenets of any religion; they teach, as best as they can, knowledge which depends neither on belief in God nor belief in His absence. Perhaps (I am being sincere, not snarky) the position that public schools teach the religion of atheism results from the perspective of a religion which requires, as you said, 24/7 education in its beliefs? From the perspective of a sometime Catholic, sometime agnostic like myself, the gap between the secular and the atheistic is quite real.
9.15.2005 4:05am
Richard B.:
Quarterican: The issue of whether or not "Christian rights" were impinged upon by the fact that the phrase "under God" was not part of the original Pledge is non-sequitor. From 1892-1954, the Pledge was, in a sense, an evolving refrain; "major" changes in the wording appearing in 1923, 1924, and 1954. Thus, the phrasing we are now familiar with, including "under God," is, by far, the longest lived arrangement.

The Pledge did not even receive official recognition and sanction until 1942; the U.S. Supreme Court ruling the following year that school children could not be compelled by officials to recite it, with a formal title bestowed in 1945 as "The Pledge of Allegiance." Nine years later, in 1954, President Eisenhower approved the addition of the phrase "under God" with the following explanation:

"In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war."

The longest lived version of the Pledge was created with the specific intent of "reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future." In short, it was the final in a series of evolutionary changes to the Pledge; where each change was specifically intended to adapt the original as an all encompassing recitation specifically representative and inclusive of a litany of ideas, values, people, and beliefs instrinsic and unique to American culture. Therefore, while the initial expression of the Pledge was not DELIBERATELY intended to be EXCLUSIVE of Christian religion, the final evolution was specifically intended to be INCLUSIVE of a phrase which delineated the heritage upon which "the Republic for which It [the Flag] stands" was based.

Finally, the sentiment that this is just "silly" and that elimination of the phrase "under God" would do no "damage" to American Christians demonstrates a failure to grasp the broader issue. The controversy over the Pledge is just one of myriad issues related to the role of religion in modern American society. The Pledge, evolution vs. creation in the schools, abortion, capital punishment, homosexual marriage, the Ten Commandments, Nativity scenes, et al., are ALL symptomatic of a larger debate -

1. "Should the role which religion, specifically the beliefs of Judeo-Christianity, has played in U.S. society continue to be the basis upon which our cultural ideology, and by derivation, our laws, morals, and social standards, sets its foundation?"

2. "Is the Constitution a "suicide pact" for a cyclical devolution and recreation of the American culture?"

3. "Is the Constitution a 'living document' to be 'interpreted based on the unique phenomena of our time?'" Or...

4. "Is the Constitution a guiding document of organizational structure; among other things, prohibiting the development of an all powerful and pervasive 'State religion' while not specifically prohibiting individuals or their elected leaders from free practice and exercise of their beliefs?"

If your answer to Number 1 is "No," what do you suggest as a constitutionally acceptable alternative in light of the arguments above that "secularism" is, itself, a belief system which can be reasonably and definitionally construed as a 'religion?'

If your answer to Number 2 is "Yes" (where the pejorative "suicide pact" is replaced with a more politically correct alternative), then again, you are confronted with the question of where or from what we would draw our philosophical underpinnings.

If your answer to Number 3 is "Yes," then, once again, upon what philosophical grounds would you base your interpretations?

If you were to answer the first three questions differently (i.e., Yes, No, and No respectively), then you are left with answering "Yes" to Number 4. At which point we are back to the original issues posited earlier; e.g., establishment and prohibition, the will of the minority vs. the will of the majority in a DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and how one might specifically address such issues beyond their being "silly" or a "waste of time."

As for your observation that it is "more trouble than it is worth" is a personal assessment obviously not indicative of the judgment of the Legislature or the Courts. And, without citing a specific, "sympathy-inducing historical illustration," isn't a democracy (and a democratic republic), with the inherent right to vote, a form of government specifically designed so as to allow the people to choose what they "want" by way of laws, leaders, and rights; with specific "inalienable rights," incidently having been cited as having been endowed by our 'Creator,' definitively enumerated in our founding documents?
9.15.2005 4:15am
Great points Wince, I now understand why the government should support religious schools and even athiest schools to accomodate all. But Roberts was asked today about his relations with people outside their social circle, and I can envision that attending an all faiths school would help to get elected, even hired to set people at ease.

I also agree on the part about 'under God' being a limiter. It makes it more like a prayer, without it it would seem like some scary nationalistic brainwashing technique to make you loyal to the flag. I used to like the pledge, but can see we should probably get rid of it.

If athiests in class get upset about 'under God' a teacher can say we put this phrase in when fighting the communists who outlawed religion and it simply reflects the fact that in America we allow religion, and the government isn't trying to force you to think any one way. Imagine you are a child and you hear the government rules 'under God' is taken out. You see athiests happy and religious people upset about it. As a kid you will think the government decided Gods not real. I would oppose taking the phrase out without canning it alltogether.
9.15.2005 4:59am
Quarterican (mail):
Richard B. -

I took you to be arguing that, essentially, removing "under God" violated the free exercise clause. I disagree, and gave one reason why - namely, I think adding the phrase "under God" violated the establishment clause. You're correct, the Pledge is a document which has undergone changes. It may undergo them again. I disapprove of the last change on constitutional grounds (as well as others) and therefore approve of reversing it. As to your questions:

(1) I have no control over the role Christianity plays in American cultural life, nor do I wish to, aside from a generic desire to live and let live, and a desire that others would feel the same way. I think Christianity ought to play no role in American legal life. I dispute - and have in this comments thread - the argument that secularism is a religion, and I dispute the (widespread, these days, it would seem) notion that moral authority or moral conduct must derive from religion. Locke, Mills, and Rawls all have flaws but all seem to me like fine places to start a discussion of how to justify law in a secular - as opposed to theocratic - society, if that's what you're really concerned with.

(2)(3) You've obviously tied these together as the positive and negative statements of the same viewpoint. I don't think of the Constitution as a suicide pact. I also don't, at this juncture (hour of the night; inclination to go looking through old notes or doing reading) desire to make an argument about what the Constitution is or isn't. Except to pithily observe that, pragmatically, the Constitution is whatever the current majority of the Supreme Court decides it is. I would *like* the Constitution to be, as you said in (3), a living document, one which is re-interpreted as necessary to serve the tools of the time. I think the Constitution and its amendments should be viewed, in essence, as a set of ideals or principles, and the simple (unfortunate?) fact is that ideals and principles change over the course of the history. I think interpretation of the Constituion ought to adapt in concert. Or perhaps I could suggest a formula: the more closely we adhere to (someone's interpretation of) the original text or "original intent," the freer we should feel to make amendments. Since we don't make amendments that often, maybe we should get to interpret the document more freely. I'm, again, not terribly concerned by the problem of finding a necessary philosophical underpinning for our laws. See (1).

(4) Despite registering, essentially, a No No Yes (I presume you thought I'd go with No Yes Yes), I'd answer Yes to this one. Indeed, the will of the minority vs. that of the majority is an issue which requires some complex balancing, and I said as much in a prior post. But I don't see how re-editing the Pledge of Allegiance infringes on the free exercise of religion. That was why I brought up the editing in the first place; people used to say the Pledge, without mentioning God, and it didn't bother them. I think it was wrong to put it in, I think it's right to take it out. Free exercise has, to my knowledge, always been interpreted as pertains to the essentials of religion; if American law merely inconveniences you, but doesn't cause you to contradict your religion, your Free Exercise rights haven't been violated. In the case of Jehovah's Witnesses not wishing to recite the pledge in school, the issue was pretty clearly one essential to the nature of being a Jehovah's Witness; they are religiously prohibited from pledging allegiance to a political entity. Please show me where it is arguably essential to the free exercise of myriad Christian denominations that they proclaim their allegiance to one nation only if they do so by adding that the nation is "under God". I don't think this claim comes close to meeting the necessary standard.

(I think these issues are silly because to my way of thinking the phrase "under God" - and reference to God on currency, etc. - are establishment clause violations. But they're silly ones, because I don't think they really matter; intellectually I think they're wrong, but I don't really give a damn. Life goes on. I think Newdow is silly for caring so freaking much. And I think the Pledge of Allegiance is silly. Period. I don't think we should have it, certainly not as a daily ritual in schools. Because it's, to me, oh so Rousseauvian, and I think Rousseau's civil religion is silly. But that's just me.)

Obviously my opinion on the Pledge's worth is my opinion, and not that of the courts. Obviously, our government was set up as a representative form of democracy, designed to allow the people to choose what they "want" by way of laws, leaders, and rights. And we choose, for the most part, by choosing our leaders. For better or worse, our Founding Fathers were astoundingly suspicious of the common man's ability to make sensible judgments. And we're talking about the common man = white male property owners. We don't have many referenda in this country, certainly not national referenda, and we articulate our political desires by choosing someone to make choices for us. To me, aside from promising greater efficiency in the legislative process, this (a) has the effect of, and (b) has the intent of trusting that our chosen legislators are better equipped to make these decisions than the average citizen. Often, this trust/hope is misplaced, especially in the view of whichever side is feeling disenfranchised at a historical moment. But sometimes, just sometimes, the judgment of history ends up siding with legislators - and judges - who didn't hew to the probable desires of the average American. I hate trotting out the sympathetic examples, but interracial marriage is always a handy canard. Sometimes, scant decades later, the average person decides that his predecessor was wrong, and in my opinion, should be grateful that he didn't need to wait until *his* day to right such obvious offences. I don't think "under God" is going to turn into such an example, but I do think that We/They the People of the United States are wrong on this one, and are running counter to the admirable principles of the Constitution.
9.15.2005 5:52am
jgshapiro (mail):
Can someone please explain how the Supreme Court can hold that Newdow does not have standing to obtan relief, but that the substance of the lower court decision favoring him nonetheless survives? Wouldn't the reversal of the decision favoring him -- even on procedural grounds -- effectively erase that decision from the books?

It makes no sense to me that Newdow lost by reversal, but the substance of his win survives regardless, to be applied in future cases by Judge Karlton. If that is true, then Newdow actually won everything but the injunction (he won the precedent), and the school district's win was virtually meaningless, except to the extent that it delayed an injunction until a new plaintiff surfaced.
9.15.2005 6:41am
Richard B.:
Quarterican: I appreciate your response. I respect your opinion that insertion of the phrase "under God" is unconstitutional. Unlike many viseral arguments for or against, you have at least put some thought into your perspective - so far as it goes. Unfortunately, like you, the courts also tend to focus on the very narrow parameters of a specific case; frequently eschewing their responsibilities to the broader issue which that particular case represents.

In the end, we differ on the issue of "establishment and prohibition." Since this is the premise upon which we base the arguments of our relative positions, it is unlikely, at least in this forum, that we can do anything but agree to disagree.

However, for those who would simply do away with the Pledge altogether, I would remind you of the reason for its incorporation into the daily routine of schoolchildren. It is a daily act intended to remind the individual of their duties, rights, and privileges as citizens; a personal reaffirmation of our dedication to an ideal.

A better informed and educated citizenry being the overriding and singular mission of the public school system, it would seem an appropriate venue for such a regular reminder. Why is this important? A few quotes should suffice:

"Citizenship is what makes a republic; monarchies can get along without it" – Mark Twain

"Our citizenship in the United States is our national character." – Thomas Paine

"There can be no daily democracy without daily citizenship." – Ralph Nader

"Citizenship comes first today in our crowded world ... No man can enjoy the privileges of education and thereafter with a clear conscience break his contract with society. To respect that contract is to be mature, to strengthen it is to be a good citizen, to do more than your share under it is noble." – Isaiah Bowman

"Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in bonds of fraternal feeling." – Abraham Lincoln

"I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education." – Thomas Jefferson

As for the premise of interpreting the Constitution for our time... I would defer to the "slippery slope" argument. Remember, 1930s Germany was a democratic republic. Ignoring the odd assasination and the brown shirts, everything Adolf Hitler did to attain power within the system itself was considered "constitutional" based on his, contemporary interpretation...

Put another way, I have some concern regarding the inferred thought of any particular generation being able to say: "Forget the law. Forget historical precedent and context. Forget the intent of the Founding Fathers. WE SHALL MAKE IT LEGAL." If decisions based on precedent, original intent, established law, and the text of the Constitution are to be temporally malleable at best and irrelevant at worst, what would be the need of the Supreme Court or any hierarchical judiciary? Isn't "legislating" new laws or new intent/meaning/significance to old laws best done by "legislators?"

Could there be a reason why certain rights were delineated as "unalienable" in the Declaration? Perhaps there is a reason why, as Quarterican alludes to, the Constitution is infrequently "amended" and the very process itself is so difficult.
9.15.2005 6:49am
Robert Schwartz (mail):
I love it. For believers in the "constituion in exile" such as myself, this is a no lose situation. Either Newdow wins, proking an enormous public backlash or he loses and forces the Court to confront what a hash they have made of the First Amendment. If I were Dogbert, I would be wagging my tail.
9.15.2005 7:08am
jgshapiro (mail):

You make a number of assumptions in your original argument that are questionable, at the least. If you accept all of them, your conclusion still does not flow from your (faulty) premises.

There is, however, no practical difference between a secular education and an apathetic atheist, apathetic Jewish, apathetic Christian or apathetic any-other-religion education.

I don't know where you get this from, but it seems wrong on its face. You offer no evidence for this statement. An apathetic religious education would leave religious education for a different forum, such as Sunday school, or for home teaching. An aggressively secular education would teach that there is no God. These are clearly not the same thing. The religious parents of a child schooled in the first school would not need to counter lessons taught in school, only to supplement them. The religious parents of a child taught in the latter school would be working at cross-purposes with the school.

Let's contrast this with what Christianity, Judiaism and many other religions teach. They require agressive instruction of one's children in the faith and a 24/7 immersion in that faith.

This is true only of certain strands of the religions you mention. Most U.S. Jews are reform or conservative Jews, for example, and neither faith requires 24/7 instruction in that faith. Most U.S. Christians are non-fundamentalist protestant or Roman Catholic, and I do not believe that any of these faiths require 24/7 instruction either.

An agressive secular education is wholely incompatible with most faiths, other than atheism and agnosticism

Yes, but you assume arguendo that public school is aggresively secular, rather than apatheticly secular or just agnostic.

In order for me to teach my three children the most difficult part of Christianity, that is, to be Christ-like with every breath, I must forgo a 3 times 12 times $7000 benfit. That's a quarter of a million dollars, folks.

That is your choice, though. You cannot refuse to subsidize a public spending program that you believe imposes burdens on your religious faith. Why is this any different? If your faith is unalterably opposed to war, you still have to pay taxes and watch a portion of those taxes go toward something you detest. Similarly, if your faith precludes you from accepting a public benefit, whether it be public school for your children (because there is not enough affirmation of God) or Medicare for your parents (because, say, a portion goes to doctors *who* provide abortions, even if not to reimburse them *for* providing abortions), or what have you, that is really your problem. Giving you a voucher essentially allows you to opt out of financing public schools because you don't want to use them. The parallel is giving the pacifist a voucher for the taxes he would pay to fund the war he opposes and letting him use the voucher to fund a program he supports. We don't do that either.

[E]very school system which fails to teach each child according to the dictates of their parents' faith is an establishment of religion, whether you like it or not.

This is wrong on so many levels.

First, your argument implies that there is a curriculum for a non-religious school that would please all parents of children that attend it, regardless of their religion. There isn't, and if your argument had any merit it would result in the abolition of public schools.

Second, even if you allowed for vouchers, by your argument, the public school would still be establishing religion, since the education provided by the government would still be 'aggressively secular.' The fact that your kids could go elsewhere would not change this fact. Remember that the test for establishment of religion under the recent spate of precedents is one of endorsement, not coercion.

Third, as no less a liberal than Justice Scalia noted in the graduation prayer case, having a prayer recited in your presence with which you disagree does not 'establish' a religion for first amendment purposes. How then, would having a prayer *not* recited in your presence (or your child's presence) with which you *agree* establish a religion? You can extend the same logic from a single prayer to an entire curriculum, especially when the offense is the lack of prayer and not the presence of it. A lack of prayer does not imply hostility to it.

Fourth, your argument is not limited to education. If you credit your argument, every act of government that is not bathed in religion is establishing secularism as a religion.

Religion demands expression in every facet of life, and expecting our children's religion to not be diluted by constant exposure to the tepid waters of a secular education beggars belief.

This is a manifesto for a Judeo-Christian version of Iran. It is not limited to education.

More importantly, there is no requirement that you educate your children in public schools. If there were, your argument might have some force. The only requirement is that they be educated. Yes, you will give up a public benefit by foregoing public school, but you can't have your preferred curriculum financed by the general public any more than any other taxpayer can.

I am not saying that out public schools must be abolished, but only that the alternatives must be equally subsidized.

This would make financing public schools impossible. There would not be enough money to pay for decent schools for the general public, as well as every religion that wanted their own curriculum, or every strand of these religions that decided that the alternative curriculum was still not acceptable. The alternative is really what we have now: the ability to opt out of public school education, but on your own dime. That applies to any parent who dislikes the public school curriculum, for whatever reason.


Even if you assume all that you do, the establishment clause will not bear the weight of being used as a sword to require public subsidy for a religious alternative of any public activity, on the ground that failure to do so subsidizes or endorses secularism as a religion. It certainly was not intended (or originally understood) to require this.

The only case that I am aware of that supports your position is the one requiring schools to allow after-school activities by religious groups if they allow after-school activities by non-religious groups. But, those groups were not run by the government, and even ignoring this fact, your proposal would be a dramatic expansion of this case. The Supreme Court has since rejected the idea that a prgram that subsidizes non-religious post-graduate education must also subsidize religious post-graduate education. Your proposal seems closer to that case than the earlier one.

Ultimately, your (legal) salvation lies in the Due Process Clause and in Meyer, Pierce, Prince, et. al., and not in the establishment clause.
9.15.2005 7:44am
Quarterican (mail):
Robert Schwartz -

Orin Kerr is so unhappy with you right now.

(Damned insomnia.)

Richard B. -

You know how I suggested that the ease with which we amend the Constitution should be inversely proportional to how strictly we interpret it? I tried several months ago to see if a very similar philosophical formulation would work for legal precedent. I was unconvinced, but it did inspire that part of my comment tonight. The idea was that the more narrow the scope of a decision, the more weight it ought to have as a judicial precedent, the notion being that it was much less likely for the Supreme Court to get some fact of law incorrect than that they might (in the judgment of history) foul up a whole philosophy. I didn't stick with that idea because I could come up with almost as good an argument for the inverse. But anyway - I am, in fact, sympathetic to a complaint that courts have a tendency to view cases with a narrow scope. Ideally, I'd like a real life iteration of Dworkin's Justice Hercules to pen weighty tomes on judicial philosophy in support of every decision. Of course, I'd also like Justice Hercules to agree with me; and you'd probably like him to agree with you. Our combined happiness is, therefore, probably maximized by judicial minimalism. As you put it, we're probably best off agreeing to disagree; my view of the broader perspective would seem to be quite different from yours.

I agree with the content of every one of the fine quotes you have provided. I especially like Jefferson's and Twain's. I disagree that the Pledge of Allegiance does any important work in terms of inculcating a sense of civic pride/responsibility/loyalty; I'll give two reasons why.

(1) I don't think the Pledge says anything remarkable or informative. As currently formulated, the only things it particularly serves to remind us of are that our government is a republic, we are one nation (i.e., we don't take secession kindly), and we are under God. In my opinion, the first two are elementary and the last ought to be under dispute. I don't think the Pledge teaches anything to the children who numbly recite it each morning.

(2) On a more personal note, as I said in my previous post, I'm opposed to civil religion, and the Pledge, with its address to the flag (and, in general, America's inconsistent flag fetishism) has the feel of civil religion to me. I'm opposed to civil religion (I don't think the US has a particularly extreme case of it, not much more than most other countries and probably less than some, but I'm speaking more from hypothetical than diagnosis) because I don't think civic pride/responsibility/patriotism benefit from it. Rather, I think they suffer. That's my personal philosophical viewpoint - I think things of that nature help breed an uninformed, reactionary sort of patriotism, which I think does disservice to the word. To steal a metaphor someone else once used for much more partisan purposes, I think civil religion breeds a patriotism akin to the love a child has for his parents. I think it's much more valuable to breed a patriotism akin to the love an adult has for his parents. And just in case my tone has totally failed to come through in the text, no, I'm not calling you or anyone else on this thread childish. Sometimes I go over my writing and think I sound meaner than I intended, so I'm just making sure.
9.15.2005 8:08am
Buck Turgidson (mail):
Setting as the norm, with kids having the freedom to opt out, the saying of a pledge with under God in it in now ways establishes anything. If almost everyone in a country believes in God, it is always going to be somewhat uncomfortable for the child of atheist parents.

Chris, you've just described establishment of religion.
9.15.2005 9:21am
Gary McGath (www):
If 84% of the registered voters in the South had said that "niggers" should be sent to the back of the bus, should people have kept quiet because making trouble would provoke the KKK?
9.15.2005 9:59am
WHerndon (mail):
I'll start with this proposition: It's hard for me to respect anyone who strongly believes that the Pledge is unconstitutional and ought to be ruled such. At the very least, I have no respect for that view.

And here's the irony. I personally don't like the pledge. As a child, I mumbled the pledge most times, and sometimes said it not at all. I don't even remember if I had to recite it every day until I graduated.

I also happen to be agnostic, so the more recently added "under God" portion holds no sway for me.

So why am I annoyed at those who view the pledge as unconstitutional? Because I can't believe we are wasting time with such an issue. I am not going to raise legal arguments, pro or con. I'd merely note that the pledge does not make kids more or less religious. It's a mere tradition with little if any substantive effect on anyone. Why, I ask, do a few people have to make such a big deal out of this? How is it that such a trivial issue can go all the way to the Supreme Court.

As I said, this goes beyond legal arguments for me. It's about common sense. I suppose some people, mostly parents, are offended. I doubt most kids are (They simply don't like repeating things ad nauseum). Nor do I believe that every one has the right not to have their feelings hurt. You can survive the pledge.

Maybe someday we'll do away with the pledge. That would be fine by me. Yet no vital, fundamental right is being violated here. If the citizenry wants to abandon the pledge, they have the power to do so. Leave it up to the people to decide.
9.15.2005 10:31am
When Congress put the words "under god" in the pledge of allegiance 50 years ago, was that not Congress passing a law establishing religion?

When they changed the national motto to "In God we trust," was that not establishing religion?

The 90% of people who are horrified with what Michael Newdow is doing certainly think these phrases are religion.
9.15.2005 10:51am
Jam (mail):
The "pledge" is unconstitutional and unconscionable.

1) We are not subjects but [supposedly] free citizens. We owe no loyalty/allegiance to feudal lord.

2) Compulsory education laws forces most people to attend government schools and, therefore, forces the children to recite something that they do not understand. It is purely propaganda and indoctrination. An indoctrination formulated by a socialist who believed in the all powerful central government.

3) How many times must it be recited until it sticks?

4) I did some research a few years ago on loyalty oaths (not oaths of office). I was not able to find references of pledges of allegiance or loyalty oaths until Lincoln. How come the Founding Fathers did not institute a "pledge?" For all I have read, the Founding Fathers would have gagged at the thought of forcing any citizen to recite a pledge of allegiance.

5) How can anybody recite a pledge that says "indivisible?" Where in the uS Constitution does it says that the central government has the authority to stop a State from leaving the voluntary Union?

6) This is directed at my fellow Christians: A defense of the "pledge" is made in that "God" is not defined and it could be Buddha, Allah (as in the Muslim's conception of God), Jesus, Hari Krishna, etc. An object, and in this case a word, that incorporates such a range of meanings, to whose/their authority is appealed in making a pledge/oath is an idol. The God of the pledge is an idol and a violation of the 1st and 2nd Commandments.
9.15.2005 11:17am
Humble Law Student:
No, you are right he has not ever stated that explicitly in a case. But, I never claimed he did. Based on his writings in other cases, but more specifically public comments by him, I think one can fairly infer that he really doesn't believe in this facade of "ceremonial purpose" or what not.
I'm not saying that Scalia doesn't think that "ceremonial purpose" is a facde. He probably does think that. What I'm saying is, when did Scalia EVER claim that the pledge had merely a "ceremonial purpose"? That's the part that I'm disputing.
9.15.2005 11:32am
As was pointed out above, "anti-establishment clause" and "separation of Church and State" are NOT phrases within the Constitution. The actual statement is: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
And what did Justice Black warn us, in his Griswold dissent? That "One of the most effective ways of diluting or expanding a constitutionally guaranteed right is to substitute for the crucial word or words of a constitutional guarantee another word or words, more or less flexible and more or less restricted in meaning".
9.15.2005 11:34am
Is there a compulsion to recite it?

In Texas, and, I think, Louisianna, it is compulsory to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

In adopting the Pledge of Allegiance to government uses, Congress is therefore required to make it religiously neutral. The simplest way to do this is to remove from it all references to distinctly religious concepts. The only distinctly religius concept in the Pledge is God. Removing the "under God" from the Pledge would therefore answer that question. It is similar to the way schools are not allowed to forced children to pray in the morning, but can allow for a moment of silence, during which children may pray if they wish to.

Given that the Pledge was originally written without the "under God" in it, I don't really understand why people think it needs to be in there. The way it was originally written was designed to affirm a commitment to the country, something that is generally encouraged in a nation's citizens (actually, I think it was designed to promote a form of rabid nationalism, but it can be used as I indicated).
But when you add 'under God,' it seems to me that the Pledge becomes exclusionary, indicating that to be a true American, you must believe in God: a concept I disagree with.
9.15.2005 12:59pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Buck Turgidson writes, in response to Chris:

Setting as the norm, with kids having the freedom to opt out, the saying of a pledge with under God in it in now ways establishes anything. If almost everyone in a country believes in God, it is always going to be somewhat uncomfortable for the child of atheist parents.

Chris, you've just described establishment of religion.
No he hasn't. You need to go read what "establishment of religion" meant circa 1789. A number of states had "established" churches, meaning that a particular denomination had preferred legal status, or received funding from the government--and other churches did not.
9.15.2005 1:10pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

That atheism is a faith is not necessary to my argument. It is a supporting point. Nor have I contended that secular schools teach atheism. I said "An agressively secular education, particularly with regard to science, begins to resemble and an agressively atheist education." Sorry for the typo. As you can see the phrase "begins to resemble" reflects the gap between secularism and atheism of which you speak.

I will point out that some (but not all) advocates of secularism look very much like stealth advocates of atheism, in the very same way that some (but not all) advocates of Intelligent Design look very much like stealth advocates of Creationism.

Richard B,

Excellent summary of the broad underlying issues.


First of all, thanks for the Due Process pointer. I do not believe I can get what I want through the Courts, however. I am counting on the American people to recognize that, just as integration was fairer than segregation, school choice is fairer than no choice.

Second of all, I highly value this discussion with you and hope it will continue! Please let me know if I say anything to offend you.

Second of all, I strongly resent the implication that I am trying to impose a theocracy. My faith is a minority faith among Christians and I highly value my freedom to become an agnostic or an atheist in the future if doubts overwhelm my faith as they have in the past. I believe the free will to choose whether or not to believe in God is God-given, God-desired and wrong for me to tamper with. I am trying to give people real choices. That is a core American value known as liberty or freedom.

Please don't twist my arguments in the service of liberty to claim a state-run system with increasing concentration of power at higher and higher levels of government, increasing judicial oversight and a growing and ever more entrenched bureaucracy enforcing a bewildering array of inflexible zero tolerance policies is some sort of beacon of freedom. It is a highly popular system that I do not wish to abolish, nor will this highly popular system be abandoned in droves if it is opened up as I desire, as experience with voucher systems in Milwaukee has shown.

I'm afraid I am making a more subtle point than the ax handle you think I am swinging. 24/7 immersion in the faith is not 24/7 instruction in the faith. Forcing parents to send their children to a school for six hours a day, five days a week which is sterilized of religion - which appears to be the goal of those who are offended by Christmas carols, nativity scenes, discussion of religious matters in class, our historical Christian heritage which has been stripped from our history books, the words "under God", and so on, is an affront to any religious person who believes their faith should be a part of their entire life.

Forcing God out is as destructive of a theist's religious freedom as forcing God in is of a atheist's religious freedom.

You said, "If your faith is unalterably opposed to war, you still have to pay taxes and watch a portion of those taxes go toward something you detest." I agree. At the same time if I refuse to school my children I run afoul of truancy laws and can be charged with negligence. But I cannot be forced to fight in a war. In addition, there is no practical way for this country to both fight a war and not fight it. But there is a practical way to be fair to people like me and people like you. I'm not sure why you don't want to be fairer to everyone when it is so easy to accomplish. I'm afraid your analogy to war falls flat.

You said, "This would make financing public schools impossible." Not in Milwaukee or New Zealand! That paragraph is a totally unsupported assertion.

I withdraw this statement, which is in error: [E]very school system which fails to teach each child according to the dictates of their parents' faith is an establishment of religion, whether you like it or not.

A more accurate statement is: A required government run school system which fails to teach each child according to the dictates of their parents' faith prohibits their free exercise of religion.

I'm afraid I've run out of time to properly address other points.

9.15.2005 1:35pm
Thanks, Gary, for making the extreme point that always comes out of the left. When everything equates with racism, people turn you off.

I think a better analogy could have been used, for too many will write you off for what you said.

And, incidentally, whether some like it or not, if 84% agree with something, they have more than enough constitutional power to make it reality in our society.

Newdow's "victory" here ensures his ultimate defeat. People will see it as an attack on their beliefs, which some might not intend, but Newdow certainly does. Funny thing about people in this country - push them, they tend to push back.
9.15.2005 2:04pm
tumbling dice:
Gary - great point....except that there is little argument to be had that such an action is not clearly a violation of the applicable constitutional provision. In this instance, we have a constitutional provision the text of which is not even cited in support of striking down the pledge, but rather a shorthand version of it that means something rather different than the text of the amendment.

Is there a compulsion to recite it?

In Texas, and, I think, Louisianna, it is compulsory to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day.

It is not compulsory to recite the pledge in Texas. But thanks for lying to support your position.
9.15.2005 3:22pm
2000 - United States Supreme Court ruling hands Republican Party the U.S. Presidency.

2004 - Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling hands Republican Party U.S. Presidency and expanded Congressional majority.

2005 - U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California hands Republican Party filibuster-proof majority in U.S. Senate in 2006 midterms, and makes conservative Justice far more confirmable to the Supreme Court.
9.15.2005 3:24pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
tumbling dice,

Mistakes are not lies. I hate it when Bush is unjustly called a liar and I hate it when you unjustly call Gary a liar. Please refrain from doing this in the future.

9.15.2005 3:33pm
jgshapiro (mail):

A required government run school system which fails to teach each child according to the dictates of their parents' faith prohibits their free exercise of religion.

Forcing parents to send their children to a school for six hours a day, five days a week which is sterilized of religion . . . is an affront to any religious person who believes their faith should be a part of their entire life.

This is inaccurate for two reasons:

(1) The crux of the first statement is the word 'required,' and of the second statement is the word 'forcing,' both of which have been refuted by the DPC cases I mentioned, Meyer, Pierce and Prince . You are not required to send your kids to public school; its just that your tax money is used to pay for public schools and you get no refund of that money if you send them to other schools. That is not the same as being required or forced to send them there. I am required to fund Medicare through my tax money, but I get no refund of this tax money if I refuse to use Medicare because I don't like the terms under which it operates, including, but not limited to terms which I might find offensive to my religious beliefs.

(2) You have a better case under the free exercise clause then the establishment clause, but I still think you lose here. Not just because public school education is not required, but also because the school is not prohibiting you or your kids from praying on their own time and on their own terms. It is just not leading that prayer, or providing special opportunities for it apart from general free time (e.g., recess, before and after school, lunch, etc.), but it is not using the power of the state to punish you for exercising your religion, through imprisonment, fines, refusal to grant you a license or permit, etc.

At the same time if I refuse to school my children I run afoul of truancy laws and can be charged with negligence.

Yes, if you refuse to school them at all. But you can school them yourself, or you can send them somewhere besides public school to be schooled. You just won't be reimbursed for this.

But I cannot be forced to fight in a war.

Yes, you can. See Arver v. U.S. Even conscientious objector status is granted by statute and can be withdrawn or modified as Congress desires. In any event, I was talking about funding a war, not fighting it, just as I was talking about funding public schools, rather then attending them.


Where you lose me on choice is that you are conflating the question of funding a choice you do not want to make with being forced to make that choice. In the latter instance, I would agree with you, but then, so has the Supreme Court. In the former instance, it would make democratic government impossible, since no one would ever want to fund a choice to which they are opposed.
9.15.2005 3:51pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

Government force is a funny thing. It is a lot harder for poorer people to avoid than richer people. So you are telling me that a single Catholic mother with three kids who waits tables for a living and can afford a comfortable apartment, a used car, Walmart for their clothes and steak for dinner every couple of months is going to be able to spend $15,000 to $21,000 a year on Catholic schools? Or that she can home school in her copious free time? (Good Catholic schools are cheaper than good public schools. Government subsidies always inflate prices. It must be some sort of economic law!)

May I suggest, therefore, since this choice is so free that we return to majority rule and bring back prayer in the public schools. Any reasonable reading of the Constitution would say that this actually is constitutional. Even the Court thought so for almost two-hundred years! Atheists can just send their kids to private schools or home school.

Isn't that what you are proposing for my deeply held and cherished beliefs? Why do the deeply held and cherished beliefs of the minority of atheists hold more sway? Why are you willing to make me wear a shoe you won't put on?

My plan emphasizes fairness, choice, freedom and liberty. Your plan emphasizes conformity, constriction and subtle coercion. I know your goal is to preserve the aspects of public education that you find valuable. I fail to see how removing less than ten percent of public school students (if the New Zealand experience is any guide) will threaten them. It is my contention that the competition will actually do them good.

9.15.2005 4:31pm
Quarterican (mail):
Wince -

Please. A return to prayer in public schools does not equal "religious education", and doesn't come close to addressing any of the arguments you've been making about the undue burden on parents who want their children to receive a religious education. Let's say what you really mean is a return to the days of "Bible Study" as a regular part of the curriculum. And which prayers should we say? Who'll write them? What version of the Bible shall we use? How shall it be interpreted? How shall we resolve doctrinal disputes? If the public schools are to take up religious education, these need to be seriously addressed. I can't imagine a reasonable parent making their decision to send their child to a religious institution based on whether or not the public schools allow a prayer at the beginning of the day. If they do, then they must not be taking their children's religious education very seriously.
9.15.2005 4:47pm
jgshapiro (mail):

You keep conflating force and finance.

It's true, of course, that the poor have fewer choices than the rich, but this is a consequence of capitalism. Typically, people argue that a more socialist system (or a capitalist system with a bigger safety net) alleviates the unfairness of being poor, but you are in essence arguing for the opposite: that a *more* capitalist, or libertarian, system is more fair because the poor will not be 'forced' to subsidize that which they oppose or do not want to take advantage of.

You are also conflating atheism with secularism, to the extent that you believe that not discussing an issue is the same thing as endorsing its opposite. I would not send my kids to an atheist school, but I have no objection to sending them to a public school where religion is not discussed and then teaching the rest on the side. I don't think that imposes my beliefs on anyone, nor does it impose others' beliefs on me. It just leaves them for another forum. Separation of church and state does not equal atheism or hostility to religion.

Sorry, I do not see how you get 'conformity,' 'constriction,' or 'coercion' from the option of, or the requirement to finance (as part of your taxpayer obligations) a public school education.

No one is questionaing your deeply held and cherished beliefs. The issue is whether you have (or should have) a right to use them as a sword to opt out of tax obligations we all owe because you dislike the way in which the money is spent. That is what you seem to want when you argue for vouchers.
9.15.2005 5:32pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

It's another species of this argument: "You're offended, not me. You fix the problem at your expense." Before the Courts struck down both school prayer and religious instruction in the public schools, that was the argument Christians made to atheists. I don't think that was fair then, and neither do you. Well, it isn't fair when applied the other direction, either.

Here's a thought experiment. How much time do atheists with children in the public schools spend teaching their kids atheism? Not much. Gee, that must mean that secular public schools are pretty good at teaching atheism. But wait, didn't I say that earlier? Didn't I point out how difficult it is to learn to put your faith first all the time? And yet I am not demanding that you or your children are taught in public schools in accordance with my faith. I'm demanding that we all be allowed to choose according to our own conscience. The easiest and simplest way to get to that point is the proven method of allowing each parent to select the school which best presents his or her faith. We've done this for centuries. The only thing new is to stop the subtle coercion - which is not really subtle if you are poor - of only funding the secular public schools.

9.15.2005 5:33pm
Quarterican (mail):
Wince -

Earlier in this thread I argued (as did others) that atheism is *not* a religion, and analogizing it to religion makes (to us) no sense. Atheistic parents don't spend time teaching their children atheism because there's nothing to teach. Some atheists may have involved and developed beliefs surrounding and in support of their atheism, but there is no consensus, no analog to a holy text, no "these are the moral tenets by which atheists live their lives" - the comparison doesn't hold up. (If Richard B. reads this, I want to be clear that I'm not stating that atheists have no moral tenets, since that was an issue I raised with him.) Public schools don't teach atheism; they don't teach (and shouldn't) that "there is no God". You could say that they teach secularism, but that semantic move has the effect of equating secularism with a religion. Public schools teach in a secular context. You argue on the other thread that for you there aren't secular contexts. I respect that, and I'm not telling you that you have to send your children to public schools, but - and you are free to consider this a regrettable decline in the state of religious faith - when push comes to shove, most Christians in this country don't agree with you, most of them would probably assent that, pragmatically, there are secular contexts. A public school doesn't teach putting atheism first, it teaches in the absence of religious discussion (atheism is not a religion, but discussion of atheism is necessarily discussion of a religious topic). I don't want to get into a debate mirroring the one about pragmatic policy you're having with other people on this thread; I don't have anything to add to it other than that I'm not in agreement with you. I'm not sure there's continued value to this back and forth, unfortunately, because we're not getting through to each other on this fundamental point:

I do not concede, am not convinced, am not moved by, the claim that public schools teach atheism - or secularism, if you prefer. I think that to believe this requires a world view I consider fundamentally wrong, I considered it wrong when I was a faithful Catholic, and I don't know how to continue to have this discussion. I don't consider your religious beliefs to be fundamentally wrong, and I believe that *for you* there are no secular contexts, but other people *are* capable of intellectually, emotionally, morally, making such a distinction, and I think an admission that such a distinction is possible is probably a necessary foundation for fruitful debate, discussion, exchange of ideas, etc.
9.15.2005 5:57pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

The coercive aspects of finance are obvious in this case. The single Catholic mother in my example will be "fined" $15,000 to $21,000 for every year she sends her kids to a Catholic school.

How is your system fair to her? In any way?

I do not believe that not discussing an issue is the same thing as endorsing its opposite. I have deliberately taken great care not to make that argument, because I don't believe it. That is why I took the great trouble of pointing out that most faiths require complete commitment, and that it is difficult to teach that commitment. It very difficult to teach that commitment in a setting where expressing faith is not discouraged or not allowed. Why? Such a setting encourages compartmentalization - Sunday only Christians, if you will. If it is OK to exclude God from school, why not exclude God from work? This argument is not hard to follow, although subtle, but it orthogonal to the argument you claim I am making.

I don't object to paying taxes. I do object to not receiving government provided benefits because of my religion.

Are you claiming public schools don't use coercion to constrict choice and promote conformity of thought?

BTW, for the record, I don't believe home schooled children should be paid to stay home. Too much potential for abuse. I'm not looking for a $21,000 a year handout. But if, God forbid, something should happen to my wife, I don't want my kids in these public schools. And you don't want your kids in the public schools I would provide.

Freedom and liberty for everyone!

9.15.2005 6:07pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

Thank you so much to forcing me to clarify my thinking. You are absolutely correct. There are secular contexts. Such contexts present a constant temptation for Christians - including Catholics - to exclude God from various areas of their lives. But, in fact, one can practice every endeavor (even mathematics and spelling) with faith in mind. That is what Christians are called to do.

As I have repeatedly said, I am not making the claim that secular public schools teach atheism. I am making the claim that they make beliefs other than atheism harder. It is not appropriate for the government to make faith harder, particularly when we have a simple, well understood and tested rememdy.

9.15.2005 6:16pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
I see that in my haste and carelessness I have contradicted myself when I said, "Gee, that must mean that secular public schools are pretty good at teaching atheism." That was incorrect. I'm trying to make a subtle point, but it's easy to go farther than logic will carry. I apologize for the confusion. It would be more accurate to say: "Gee, that must mean that secular public schools present very few obstacles to teaching atheism."

9.15.2005 6:21pm
Quarterican (mail):
Wince -

Who says you can't do math without faith in mind? Who says you need your teacher to *tell* you to do math with faith in mind? Is your ability to do math with faith in mind hindered by the suspicion that the person next to you does math without faith in mind? Do you do your job with faith in mind? I presume so. Unless your job is in a church, I doubt your employer instructs you to do your job with faith in mind. If you have coworkers, doubtless some of them do their work with faith in mind and others don't. Do you feel burdened by the diversity of internalized devotion - or non-devotion - in your place of work? Or, if you don't work in such an environment, would you if you did? From my position, the logical result of your view isn't merely the segregation of schooling that you seem to endorse, but a segregation of economic and social practice in (near?) every endeavor and every arena, along religious lines. We live in a pluralistic society, and the inherent challenge of functioning in such a society is balancing our internal deeply held beliefs with the necessity of getting along with those who don't share them. This is often very difficult, and I do not envy or belittle the troubles of someone who feels his faith continually tested in the absence of continual affirmation, but a pluralistic society cannot support bending to every trouble of a (or, realistically, every) subset of its totality.
9.15.2005 6:29pm
jgshapiro (mail):

There is a difference between a fine and a tax. A tax you have to pay based on neutral factors, such as income. A fine is assessed based on your behavior or lack thereof.

The mother you mention with 3 kids is not being fined (or taxed) because she is Catholic, but because she made however much money waiting tables. She has a right to certain benefits, but she has a right to turn them down as well. She does not have a right to get a refund on her taxes from the benefits she chooses to forego. (In fact, based on your example, she would be getting far in excess of what she put in to the system if she sent her 3 kids to public school. So, what you propose for her is not even a refund of what she paid in taxes, but a handout of other people's tax money on her own terms.)

You say that you do not object to taxes, only to not receiving government-provided benefits based on your religion. But you are *choosing* not to receive those benefits because you don't like the terms under which they are offered. That is different from being denied the benefits based on religion. If that were not so, anyone could claim a right to have taxes refunded to them for programs they did not want to fund based on religious belief or indeed, *any* passionately held belief, whether you call it religious or not.

Your proposal is not limited by its logic to just education, but would apply to any government benefit program. Nor is it limited by logic to people with religious objections to the norm, but would apply to anyone who objected to public expenditures or the terms of public benefits. All of them could claim that there is more 'freedom,' 'liberty,' or 'choice' in opting out of choices they wouldn't make, but we all live under a system where we have to pay for that which the majority decrees is advisable. You can choose to call that conformity if you like; I choose to call it democracy. There is certainly an element of the former in the latter, at least for those who lose out on a vote.

My system is fair to your single mother because she has options. She can choose to send her kids to public school, but on the terms that the local school board mandates. She can choose to send her kids to private school if she can afford it, or get a scholarship for them. She can school them herself after work or on weekends, or form a pool of home-school parents who each teach the kids one day a week according to their own preferences.

The option she doesn't have is to send her kids to Catholic school on my dime, but she cannot have her cake and ask me to pay for it too. Nor can I have my kids taught in public school on my terms but her dime. The system is therefore fair to everyone, even if it does not give everyone everything they want.
9.15.2005 6:50pm
dk35 (mail):
I think Gary makes an excellent point.

Of course, many will try to use intellectual arguments to justify bigotry against those who do not believe in god (either because they are religious bigots themselves, or because they are too weak to disagree with the majority of Americans). But that doesn't mean they are right.
9.15.2005 7:11pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

I am an adult and I take both responsibility and joy for bringing faith into every area of my life in a pluralistic society. The Israelis, Russians and Indians in my workplace are constant source of joy to me. I am so happy to be working with Hindus, Muslims, atheists and Jews as well. This issue is not about my workplace, it is about my children, whom I am trying to parent. Teachers in public schools are surrogate parents. Why would I want to entrust my precious children to a system which will keep them for 7 hours a day 179 days per year for at least ten years, and yet will not only fail to teach them the lessons I hold most dear, but in fact actively exclude these matters from their purview?

Think for a minute about those numbers. That is one-quarter of each child's waking hours (assuming 10 hours of sleep) every year. This is not a small imposition. If you think of if as a tax on my wife's and my time with them, it is quite burdensome. One hour of government run secular schooling 179 days per year would be different.

In this argument, you are the one who wants to use government resources in a limited, non-diverse, non- pluralistic way. I am the one who wants the government to distribute those resources fairly, allowing all people - including those I vehemently disagree with - to express their diversity and pluralism. If this diverse, pluralistic, tolerant society cannot tolerate Christian children being taught Christianity it ain't as diverse, pluralistic and tolerant as you think.

This argument, BTW, is exactly the reason why there won't be a mass exodus from the secular public schools. In this country and others, parental concern that their children won't fit it is a primary reason that parents send their children to public schools. And there are plenty of parents being very careful to expose their children to different languages, cultures, ethnicities and races. If you home school, like we do, that takes special effort. I have not observed my children having any trouble interacting with our atheist and Jewish friends.

I think you are in an untenable position, trying to defend a system which is not fair, in preference to a simple change which would make it so. Why do you resist? But, let me open up the discussion further. What do you propose which would be fairer?

9.15.2005 7:32pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

What you are describing is tyranny of the majority, it is not fair, and it is why we do not live in a democracy, but in a Constitutional republic. And in this case, we are not talking about any old preference, like how long to let my grass grow. We are talking about a preference protected by the First Amendment.

Please review your Founding Fathers and explain how your system meets their standards of fairness.

9.15.2005 7:39pm
jgshapiro (mail):

I live in California, which with our voter initiatives, voter-sponsored constitutional amendments, and judges subject to retention elections, is closer to a democracy than a constitutional republic. But be that as it may . . .

The argument that it is a tyranny of the majority to require you to educate your children and also to require you to pay taxes, but only to use (a portion of) those taxes to provide a religion-neutral public school system and not to use the taxes to also provide an alternative Christian school system, seems to me to refute itself. If that is tyranny of the majority, then so is any democratic (or republican) decision of any consequence.

As I am constantly reminding my liberal friends who think that issues such as abortion, same sex marriage and the like must be settled by courts and not legislators, democracy is not limited to trivial issues such as the length of your grass. And whether or not it applies to all issues affecting liberty, such as whether you can go to prison for performing or obtaining an abortion, it certainly does apply to what public benefits to grant and the terms under which those benefits are granted.

There is no U.S. Constitutional requirement for state governments to provide a public school education. To the extent a state requires you to educate your children, they should (must?) provide a means to do that if you cannot afford it, but not necessarily on your terms.

There is no preference under the first amendment for a religious education. There is a requirement that the state must not establish (coerce or endorse) religion, and there is a requirement that the state may not punish your free exercise of religion. But they do not have to aide your exercise of religion. Punishment is not the same thing as a refusal to aide.

To paraphrase the Supreme Court in reference to the right to travel, the government may not stop me from travelling to New York, but it does not have to pay for my bus ticket. Likewise, the government may not stop you from sending your kids to a Christian school, but it does not have to foot the bill (or give you a refund on the taxes you paid for public school).
9.15.2005 8:07pm
Quarterican (mail):
Wince -

I want to use gov't resources in a limited, non-pluralistic way inasmuch as I don't want gov't resources to cater to any or all given pluralisms. My diverse, pluralistic society can tolerate the instruction of Christianity; it has no requirement to provide it, just as it has no requirement to provide any other sort of religious/moral training. State-mandated educational content comprises what the state has deemed necessary for every citizen of the plurality to be able to be a contributive and functioning member. Specific religious training does not fall into that universal category.

As I said, I'm not interested in debating educational policy with you, I'm content with the (in my view quite fine) way jgshapiro has gone about it. I wanted to dispute the notion that public schools "teach atheism" or "teach secularism". I thought we had reached an intractible disagreement, although you did acknowledge that you could see my point of view. But this is still going to be a fundamental divide between us.

Do I concede that the system is it currently stands isn't perfectly fair? Sure. Could I conceive that there are fairER systems? Yes. I'm not interested at this time in trying to come up with one. I'm not a fan of yours. And, not to be glib, but no system will ever be perfectly fair. There will always be some inequity, and we and our government are always going to be regrettably ill-equipped to do anything other than try to compensate as best we can, with regrettably imperfect results.
9.15.2005 8:25pm
Richard B.:
Quarterican: I agree that many so called "atheists" have a moral grounding. Whatever our personal or societal beliefs, there are certain aspects to the reality of surviving as a species that requires specific behavior patterns - e.g., thou shalt not kill each other and thou shalt not do those things which would cause us to want to kill each other. Codification of these behaviors in a society is "law;" i.e., the limits to individual behavior perceived as required for the organizational structure of that society to function and persist. Codification of these behaviors into a personal moral code is both our self-image and our attempt to fit within a society. Codification of these behaviors into a religion is an attempt to provide an organizational structure for the generalized beliefs of people within a group which goes beyond the merely punitive aspects of societal law; addressing the "why?" of the behavior. In other words, religion attempts to address the emotional or "spiritual" needs humans have in understanding why they exist, why they should behave within certain parameters, and how they exist as an individual while still being a member of a specific social order.

This is one of the problems inherent in "state religions." The "why" proffered by such a religion, invariably, centers on the needs of the state itself; rather than a focus on either the individual or the group. Thus, the "state" becomes the Deity.

In a sense, this seems to be the objection of a number of individuals who have posted against the Pledge itself. They view it as a mantra, or 'prayer,' offered to a representation (an idol) of the State; bowing in subservience is not the same as "obeying the laws of." This is why certain religious groups opt out of its recitation. And, if that is your personal belief, then so be it.

However, such thinking, while consistent with many 'loyalty oaths,' represents a basic misunderstanding of the wording of the Pledge itself. Without reiterating Red Skelton's version of the Pledge, one which I personally like, a quick glance at the key terms shows that the Pledge could be said... "I promise to support the ideal [e.g., democratic principles which serve to organize our society, specifically the United States of America] represented by the symbol of the Flag, one group of people sharing common and compeling linguistic, historical, and cultural traits, undividable because we have liberty and justice for all."

This is the idea behind the "under God" portion. It is a statement regarding the shared, historical traits, drawn from the basic, unalienable rights, which justify our assuming "among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature's God entitle them" based on those rights.

This was, as a matter of educational theory, one of the major motivations behind the recitation of the Pledge each morning in school. Aside from a reminder of our duties, privileges, and responsibilities as citizens, it was intended as an opportunity to actually instruct the students on the elements of our history, our constitution, and our society. Unfortunately, over the last 30 years or so, interestingly coincident with the growth of 'secularism' in society, the Pledge has been reduced, deliberately or incompetently, to a mere mandatory, rote exercise.

Does this make the Pledge "unconsitutional" merely as a result of the failure of the teachers to properly make use of and explain it? Does the phrase "under God" violate establishment principles because its actual meaning is ignored by those who are tasked with the responsibility to instruct from the base it provides? Would elimination of the phrase violate free practice principles because the majority seem to feel that the historical principles represented by the words "under God" are endowed by 'Nature's God?'

As for the arguments related to secularism being a religion; or, at least, anti-specific religions. Claims as to the neutrality of "secularism" are, at best, misguided. Isn't the very agenda behind a secular curriculum in the schools the ELIMINATION of religious teachings?

Bear in mind that the Supreme Court HAS ruled that the teaching of religion, or the presentation of the tenets (e.g., Creation, Yama/Niyama, the Koran, et al.) of a particular religion, is constitutional - provided there exists a SECULAR purpose for doing so. In other words, a teacher CAN present aspects of a particular religion if it is deemed reasonable and necessary to do so in the interest of properly addressing issues such as... pick your topic - Kashmir, terrorism, Ireland, the Crusades, etc.

The problem is that presentation of these tenets is NEVER done in a neutral context. Judgments, stated or inferred, are intrinsic to the selection process behind both the choice of the particular aspects presented and the context in which those tenets are presented.

Perhaps the most contentious example of this can be found in the Evolution/Creation controversy. Evolution, as a pure science, is inherently and necessarily anti-God. Pure 'Science' excludes EVERYTHING considered supernatural (i.e., anything unobservable as a NATURAL phenomenon) as a potential causal factor. Since "God" cannot be observed or "proven," then any reference to God is not only unacceptable, it is forbidden.

This does not mean all scientists are athiests; not believing in God. What it means is that they cannot incorporate God as a factor in any scientific discussion, experiment, theory, or presentation. Otherwise, it is not considered "science." This is the source of controversy for incorporating scientific creastionism, Intelligent Design, or similar into the biology, geology, etc. classroom. Science must remain "neutral," that neutrality defined as "without God."

In many religions, homosexuality is considered, to use a phrase, "an abomination before the Lord." Science has recently suggested a biological "imperative" as a potential cause of such behavior. Thus, it is now REQUIRED that schools take the "neutral" stance of presenting the lifestyle as acceptable.

The list is too lengthy here to present; we could touch on abortion, capital punishment, and myriad other issues. But, the basic idea is already here. The "secular" agenda is not a "neutral" position. Scientific 'evidence' is often substituted for 'religious' belief; with scientific evidence intrinsically ANTI supernatural (God). Again, Quarterican is correct, atheism and secularism are not synonomous terms. But, neither is secularism the neutral arbiter the courts have held it to be.

(By the way Quarterican, does a 'religion' require texts, 'churches,' or organized groupings to be labeled such? Although atheism does not suffer from the complexity of organized religious denominations, it doesn't have to. As you say, it is an article of faith based solely on the premise that God does not exist. There is no intrinsic need to provide schools, doctrines, churches, or texts to simply hold the position that God does not exist. But, as it IS an issue of faith, as opposed to observable and repeatable evidence, is not the continual citing of the phrase "God does not exist" an demonstrable 'mantra of instruction' regarding a specific belief which then impacts the individual's personal codification of morality?)

As for compulsory education... Clausewitz defined 'war' as: "The use of force to compel an enemy to do your will." Do the legal requirements of "secularism" in academia and compulsory attendance of school by minors constitute a use of force to compel parents to submit their children to an undesired, non-neutral, education if they are without the financial or educational means of providing an alternative? If they have no means of providing an alternative and yet they are legally compeled to compliance (in the extreme, the child will be taken away and forcibly placed in the same undesired and non-neutral education system), does this not meet the standard of "coercion?" If it is coercion, how does it not violate the principle of free practice?
9.15.2005 8:51pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

A great number of democratic decisions of any consequence are tyrannies of the majority. We live with that as an unavoidable side-effect of government. (And one which judges only infrequently mitigate.) That's why smaller government is better. In this case, I'm asking you: why not address this one?

I strongly prefer to address this through the legislature, not the courts. Which is why I have spoken about fairness in an attempt to pursuade you, not a judge. At the same time I believe my concerns are reflected in the spirit of the First Amendment, if not its letter.

A decided fiancial burden on a minority is descrimination. The case of African Americans under segregation is instructive. Brown didn't need to sue. Her parents could have simply moved to New Jersey, where schools were already integrated - I know because my dad graduated from one. Alternatively, she could have been home schooled, or educated at a private school, perhaps with a scholarship. And yet we agree that the tyrannical majority was wrong - even though white voters feared integration would diminish the quality of their schools.

What distresses me the most is that I can detect no principles or goals behind your defense of the status quo. Where are the high sounding phrases which would justify it? As far as I can tell, you are just playing devil's advocate.


You said:
I wanted to dispute the notion that public schools "teach atheism" or "teach secularism". I thought we had reached an intractible disagreement, although you did acknowledge that you could see my point of view. But this is still going to be a fundamental divide between us.
Well, I think we are in much closer agreement than you do, especially since you have corrected at least one error on my part. I don't believe public schools "teach atheism" or "teach secularism". I believe they try hard not to teach religion or atheism or secularism and they generally succeed. But they do teach particular things which directly contradict various religious beliefs. And their instruction leaves a vacuum which is harmful to the religious development of children.

You also said, "I'm not a fan of yours." This sentence appears to be a complete non-sequiter, since I never thought you were. What do you mean?

9.15.2005 9:12pm
Quarterican (mail):
Wince -

Inasmuch as "they do teach particular things which directly contradict various religious beliefs," yes, then it makes sense for parents to put their children in another educational environment. This goes to my "it can't always be equally fair for everyone." I think we've got a system that's fairer than most alternatives on the table. I think the vacuum is the duty of the parent - or church - to fill. We obviously disagree on how much time is necessary for an adequate filling to take place.

And - oh my, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply that I'm not a fan of yours, but rather of your plan for education reform. In the moment of writing I assumed the meaning would carry clearly from the previous two sentences. My full intended meaning was: "I'm not interested in trying to come up with [a fairer alternative]. I'm not a fan of you[r alternative]." I apologize for the imprecision (a minor transgression) and the implied insult (which I feel bad about). I didn't mean it like that.
9.15.2005 9:38pm
BruceB (mail):
This has been an interesting and illuminating discussion to follow. Thanks to everyone of all viewpoints for taking the time to express yourself so well here.

Here is how I'd sum up my opinion on this:

Many diverse citizens of the US have differing religious views and beliefs (including those who do not believe in a religion). It is not possible for the government to "compromise" in a way which satisfies all citizens' beliefs.

Largely because of this, in public/government life, we do not include religious elements. In order to interact with the government, the inclusion of religious aspects should not be necessary anyway. If the religious aspects are somehow required, then our government does indeed support and encourage some religious views, and discourage others.

The practice of any religion is supported and not hindered by the government, as long as that practice is not done in public/government life. We may attend any services we wish, teach our children any doctrine or practices that we wish. But the government will not do this for us.

What I don't see is how this is considered by some people to be the government supporting or teaching atheism. I think all the seperation of church and state is trying to achieve is saying "Here are things that all citizens need to do, and we don't make religion a part of that. You are free to follow any religious practice you choose, without interference - just not in public/government spheres that all citizens must share".

I just don't see what is wrong with that approach, or how that is unfair to anyone.

I also believe that where there is a question of whether to include some religious aspect, no matter how small, the burden should be on why such an aspect SHOULD be included, not why it SHOULDN'T be included. What is the reason, from a government point of view, to include the phrase "Under God"? What does it achieve or accomplish?

We are certainly free to believe, teach, and express that we think God does underlie the values of this country, but why does that need to be done in a public/government space? Is it really oppressive to some religion to simply NOT address religion in spheres which are shared with those of differing beliefs? That does NOT equate to an anti-religious teaching.

If you want to find the area of a circle, you measure it's diameter, halve it, square it, and multiply by pi. Now you know how to find the area of a circle - would it have somehow helped if I added Vishnu to that mix? It just plain doesn't apply. And the fact that I didn't refer to Yahweh doesn't mean I'm anti-religious, atheist, or anything else. It means that in the valid public goal of teaching children how to figure out how big a circle is, discussion of God and religion is absolutely unnecessary. Personally, despite my faith, I think this is a good thing.
9.15.2005 10:32pm
Quarterican (mail):
Richard B. -

(When I decide I ought to use a text editor to best compose a response, I know things are getting unwieldy.)

I agree with what you have to say about behavior patterns, their codification into law, into personal moral code, and into religion. Right at the outset, I'm going to define terms for my post, because I think problems have (and will) arise from using the word "religion" to mean different things, two in particular. To that end, I'm going to try to not use the word religion very much. Allow me to use the word "spirituality" as a poor and imprecise substitute for what most people colloquially mean by "religion", which is meant to encompass the religions most people would colloquially recognize as such. When I say "spirituality," I mean Christianity, Norse mythology, Buddhism, animism, and so forth. I'm going to use the word "ethics" as a poor and imprecise substitute for what it is that, in your words, we codify "to provide an organizational structure for the generalized beliefs of people..." My "ethics" embraces your use of "emotional or spiritual needs...". So, w/your indulgence, most (all?) of us (ought to?) have an ethics. Spirituality is a subcategory; every spirituality is an ethics, but not every ethics is a spirituality. So as to your first paragraph, I agree if religion = ethics, but disagree about the emotional needs of all people for a spirituality.

Yes, my problem with civil religion is that I fear it becoming a kind of spirituality. I agree with your reading of what an informed interpreter of the Pledge would take the Pledge to mean. But you (or someone else, I apologize if it wasn't you) said that the Pledge had an educational purpose, for kids. I argued, and maintain, that it doesn't, since it compresses your reading into "the flag" and "the indivisible republic". A kindergartener doesn't have the context or knowledge of an informed interpreter to provide the reading you gave. In essence, I take it that the Pledge's educational purpose is supposed to be like that of a mnemonic, a learning device to help children understand material. I don't think it's a good or helpful mnemonic, and hold that by the time a child is old enough to meaningfully "fill in the details," she's also old enough to not need the Pledge to help her remember what this country is all about. I don't think it has instructional value, only the value of a loyalty oath. Perhaps that is because its role has been reduced over the past 30 years; I find it amusing that if you are correct, the Pledge served an educational purpose for the thirty-plus years prior to adding "under God" (I believe it was not widespread to say it in schools until shortly before WWI, but if I'm wrong, then longer than 30 years), maintained it for twenty years w/"under God," and then began to decline. Perhaps if we'd never added "under God" it never would've declined? But even so, I think you're filling in far too much information, much more than could reasonably be drawn from the Pledge by someone who wasn't already familiar with American history and culture. I maintain that the idea behind adding "under God" was to make the point that we weren't atheistic Communists, and I doubt that the majority who oppose removing the phrase would endorse your claim that the phrase represents an allusion to the 18th century theories of natural law which inspired the Framers; I presume that they, in fact, endorse the interpretation "under God [as in the father of Jesus Christ]." Perhaps I am incorrect, though. I am considerably more amenable to the presence of "under God" as a historical artifact, but I honestly believe its defense under such terms is a tool used by the more articulate defenders when, in fact, that's not what most people have in mind.

Moreover, I can be instructed that many of the Founding Fathers subscribed to a spirituality we classify as Deism, or an ethics called natural law, and used that foundation to build the principles of this country. Those ethics were inspirational to the principles, but they aren't necessary to the principles. A conservative Christian can denounce Deism and/or natural law and still subscribe to the principles supposedly encoded in the Pledge. So can I. I maintain that if there are principles encoded into the Pledge, they would still be there w/out the phrase "under God". I further maintain that for someone whose ethics does not meaningfully have any content for the word "God," why should they have to pledge not only to the nation's principles, but to a particular ethics which isn't their own, when their own ethics serves just as well as a moral underpinning for the supposed content of the Pledge.

Honestly, if the thing had been composed with the phrase "under God," I'd be more receptive to this line of argument. But since it was added in 1954, and in my opinion for the endorsement of a specific spirituality in intentional contrast to a specific ethics, I'm not sympathetic to leaving it in. I maintain the addition was an error, and as such would endorse a correction.

The agenda behind a secular curriculum is the absence of teaching a specific spirituality - or, really, ethics. If there was spirituality teaching before, it ought to be eliminated. Not as endorsement of a non-spiritual ethic, not as endorsement of any ethic, but in an attempt to provide education without spirituality or ethic - i.e., to educate is in the common ground which the vast majority of us can share without argument. There is a sphere of knowledge and training in which almost every ethic can be accomodated, and the mission of the public school ought to be to serve that sphere. Some ethics - in practice, spiritualities - cannot comfortably share the total content of that sphere, and efforts have been made as much as possible to accomodate the difference. Sometimes the effort is inadequate; sometimes the effort would be futile.

I agree with your claim about the teaching of an ethics w/out endorsement, both in that it should be allowed and that it's incredibly difficult to do so in practice.

I know what you mean - or I think I do - when you say evolution or pure science is anti-God, but find the phrasing...regrettable. Science - necessarily, to be what it is - takes place in a sphere which has (should have) no spirituality, not even an ethics. People may use science as inspiration for their ethics (I'm sure some do), but science itself takes place in their absence. Again, I argue that this is part of the sphere that can be shared by most ethics, including most spiritualities. Some spiritualities will contest that their beliefs cannot coexist with certain scientific teachings. To that extent, they are ill-served by the secular sphere - although I think science serves the secular sphere well. The secular "agenda" strives to be as neutral as possible; there isn't (or shouldn't be) a binary opposition between spirituality and the secular. Rather, I think the secular ought to be viewed as the shared middle space - even the negative space - inside the group of ethics which make up our plurality. I object to the notion that science is anti-God (by which people usually mean the Christian God) unless it is also conceded that science has as much intent of being anti-Emersonian as of being anti-Christian. Science proceeds (or ought to) without regard to the teachings of any given ethics, but only what is shared in the public secular sphere. As I said, in practice not everyone can share that sphere equally.

(Re: your parenthetical, I hope my parsing of "religion" into "spirituality" and "ethics" have clarified my position somewhat. Atheism is a common factor in many "ethics", but it is not its own ethic, inasmuch as "theism" isn't a specific ethic - or spirituality. For some people, atheistic belief may be important to their atheistic ethic, for others not so much. At the moment I would tell someone that I'm an atheist (I've changed my mind a lot and probably will continue to do so), but ATHEISM has rarely been a particularly important part of any atheistic ethic to which I subscribe. For someone who finds it important to believe that God doesn't exist, I'm sure that it impacts the development of their ethic, but I don't believe it does so in ways which are important to society at large. Spiritualities usually have texts, churches and groupings, the vast majority of ethics probably don't. Texts/churches are probably helpful to a spirituality, but I'm not sure that they're necessary.)

As I've been telling Wince, I don't necessarily endorse the idea that our educational system is perfectly fair. I also think perfect fairness is impossible, though I believe fairness could doubtless be improved. Mandatory schooling requires not education in a secular environment but education which covers the material of the secular sphere; it is only practical that a provided public school educate within such a context, rather than providing an infinite multiplicity of educational contexts for an infinite multiplicity of ethics.
9.15.2005 10:47pm
Richard B.:
The Supreme Court, in UNITED STATES v. SEEGER, 380 U.S. 163 (1965), and later reaffirmed in WELSH v. UNITED STATES, 398 U.S. 333 (1970), provides insight into their definition of 'religion,' as distinct from "essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal code."

"We believe that under this construction, the test of belief [380 U.S. 163, 166] "in a relation to a Supreme Being" is whether a given belief that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God of one who clearly qualifies for the exemption. Where such beliefs have parallel positions in the lives of their respective holders we cannot say that one is "in a relation to a Supreme Being" and the other is not."

This definition is consistent with those presented in the academic community. As such, by meeting both legal and educational precedent, this definition of what consitutes a 'religion' is the one we are forced to deal with in the context of this and other issues before the Court.

Given this and the Court's obvious interest with "intent" as present in decisions specific to religious issues (note the recent decisions related to public displays), one is forced to explore why the educational system seemed to function, quantifiably and qualitatively at a higher level of achievement, for nearly 200 years with regular, and perceptually motivated as 'necessary,' inclusion of religious (predominantly Christian) references in both pedagogy and curriculum. Now, within a generation's span, it is held that virtually ANY reference to religion or, at the most, reference outside a VERY narrow parameter of 'accepted' instruction, is not only counterproductive, but unconstitutional? What has been the motivation and, by inference, the intent behind the secularization of our educational system?

In short, based on the Supreme Court's definition of 'religion,' does secularism rise to the level of a belief which parallels in the lives of proponents the Supreme Being? If we were to accept that most religions view "God," no matter his/her/it's form, as the exemplar and originator of a particular ethos, then it is nearly impossible to differentiate between "spirituality" and "ethics" as Quarterican attempts to do; for, based on his above definitions, one cannot be separated from the other.

I'm afraid that this is precisely the problem with the narrow construction of the Supreme Court's attempt to address the Pledge decision last year solely on the basis of Newdow's standing; followed with definitive "hint dropping" by the Court through statements by O'Connor and Stevens that the 9th Circuit may want to find a new line of thought on the issue. In essence, the Supreme Court was stating that it did not want to deal with the specific issue of the Pledge as regards the inclusion/exclusion of the phrase "under God," in that to address such an issue opened a much broader range of litigation. And, unlike Bush v. Gore 2000, they would not be able to assert their decision as "non-precedent setting."

To defend a 'secular agenda' in the public schools as a 'neutral ground' is to ignore reality. While it is entirely feasible to teach someone how to compute the circumference of a circle without allusion to religion, how does one teach the geologic column without contradicting and denigrating fundamentalist teachings? How does a teacher effectively teach government, civics, or social science classes, particularly at the high school level and above, without reference to potentially controversial topics such as abortion, Ten Commandments, the Pledge, school vouchers, ethnicity and race (both of which involve discussions of religion), culture (an intrinsic component of which is religion), history (both World and U.S., particularly in an era of agenda ridden revisionism)? How does one teach a course with English Literature as a major component sans at least a cursory look at religion?

An extreme example of "secularized" curricula is science instruction as currently conceived by organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. ANY discussion of "Creationism" or "Intelligent Design" is vehemently denounced, frequently boycotted in protest, ad hominem attacked, and speciously dismissed. So visceral has the intellectual entrenchment of the scientific community become, that near Inquisition-level treatment is given the teacher, possessing even the most benign of secular intent, who dares introduce the topic(s) without the approved denouncements.

Most of this stems from a more modern, overly scrupulous, puritanical interpretation of the writings of Hume and Kant; both of whom posited that science and religion must be studied as separate institutions - with the scientific method emphasizing issues of logical inquiry, observation, empiricism, and repeatability of NATURAL phenomena. Since "supernatural" phenomena, if it exists, is beyond the scope of such methodology, it is, contemporarily speaking, perfunctorily precluded.

Yet, even Kant "held that there are limitations in the methods of science that leave room for religious beliefs (Barbour 1997; 45)." Or, as Kant stated it in the Preface to the 2nd Edition of "Critique of Pure Reason" - "I had therefore to remove knowledge, in order to make room for belief." In other words, "For Kant, science and religion occupied entirely different spheres and are given distinct functions which are so adjusted that they never need conflict. The realm of possible knowledge belongs to science, and science has complete freedom to explore that realm by its own method. The task of religion is to enlighten our moral devotion and give it cosmic serenity (Barbour 1997; 47). Thus, while separate disciplines, BOTH were REQUIRED to achieve understanding and wisdom.

If you cannot teach such subjects without reference to religion, then neutrality is already suspect. For, as stated above, each, individual teacher is subject to time constraints, expertise (or the lack thereof), available information, personal experience and prediliction, ad infinitum which, by the very nature of limited selectivity, skews, biases, or prejudices any attempt at neutrality. The intent then must be to encourage, maintaining as much balance as practicable, discussion of these issues from myriad viewpoints to ensure a broad reaching and more complete understanding of the issues involved.

This was how the Pledge was used in the schools. No, 1st graders were not harangued with the intricacies of anthropological definitions of "nation." But, they were taught what the words liberty and justice mean. No, 5th graders were not given the pleasure of an analysis of Supreme Court definitions of "religion." But, they were taught the historical context of our founding documents and the religious persecution which motivated our original colonists. Thus, by graduation from high school, they were in possession of the tools necessary for understanding and exploration of a more deconstructionist meaning of something like the Pledge as presented above.

In the end, even if the only purpose served by the Pledge is that it provides opportunity to discuss the very issues presented in these postings, at the appropriate intellectual level, within the classroom and school district meetings, then isn't that appropriate to the mission of the educational system? Or, as JFK stated in 1962: "We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is afraid of its people."

Your contention that one whose 'ethics' does not accomodate any meaningful content for 'God,' should not have to recite the Pledge is not a particularly useful argument in this context in that, since 1943, they have not been REQUIRED to do so. This type of argument is simply a straw man proffered to pillar support for a conclusion you have already drawn.

As to the Founding Fathers, or 'original intent,' vis a vis the role of religion in their newly conceived society, a few quotes...

"Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers. And it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers." First Chief Justice of Supreme Court John Jay to Jedidiah Morse February 28, 1797

"The American population is entirely Christian, and with us Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it." John Marshall, in a letter to Jasper Adams, May 9, 1833, JSAC, p. 139. Marshall was Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1801-1835.

"My own private judgment has long been (and every day's experience more and more confirms me in it) that government cannot long exist without an alliance with Religion to some extent, and that Christianity is indispensable to the true interests and solid foundation of all governments. . . . I know not, indeed, how any deep sense of moral obligation or accountableness can be expected to prevail in the community without a firm foundation of the great Christian truths." Joseph Story, in a letter to Jasper Adams, May 14, 1833, in JSAC, p. 139.

Do such sentiments, with their emphasis on 'free practice,' constitute an "establishment of religion?" Again, what was the original intent?

"The real object of the (First) Amendment was not to countenance, much less advance, Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Chrisianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects (denominations)." Original Intent, by David Barton, ch. 2, p. 31, Wallbuilder Press, Aledo, TX, 1996; Commentaries, Story, Vol. III, p. 728, 1871 - Story served as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1811-1845, and founded the Harvard Law School.

I do agree with Quarterican in the sense that the educational system, at least insofar as K-12 curriculum is concerned, is not a forum for an infinite multiplicity of ethics. The question is: Can a proper, utilitarian, and practical education of a nation's citizenry be had WITHOUT instruction in the traits of the predominant culture from which it formed? (Those traits or elements include: economics, religion, values/ethics, etc.)

If the answer to this question is properly put forth as "No," then the question is: "Which set of values/ethics should or must be taught in conjunction with citizenship?"

I think we know what the Founding Fathers intended. Could abandonment of teaching such 'ethics' in an effort to address a more 'secularized curricula' then be inferred as, at least, a portion of the reasons behind the qualitative and quantitative decline of our educational system; not to mention the confusing array of decisions issued by the Supreme Court related to the 1st Amendment? The temporal correlation seems compelling.
9.16.2005 3:00am
Quarterican (mail):
Richard B. -

(This is an interesting discussion, but eventually we're going to find out that the Volokh Conspiracy has limits on how many characters you can fit into a post...and I'm not sure how much fruition comes from writing essays at each other. My disagreement with Wince narrowed in scope over time; ours seems to keep expanding...I wonder if we've reached the point of obnoxiousness to the other people reading these posts.)

I think, either intentionally or not, you misunderstood my attempt at terminology. I was not using "spirituality" and "ethics" in manners which are identical to their everyday definitions. I used "spirituality" as a proxy for the everyday sense of religion and "ethics" as a proxy for the sense of religion articulated in Seeger and Welsh. I was attempting primarily to avoid confusion and secondarily to clarify the first paragraph of your prior post. Since you're embracing the definition or religion in Seeger/Welsh, that was less necessary than I thought.

Now, I have not argued, here or elsewhere, that ANY reference to religion should be banned from public schools. I only contend that any reference ENDORSING religion should be banned. In a scholastic unit on the Founding Fathers, let the kiddies learn about Puritans and Deists and the like. In a scholastic unit on the Middle Ages, let's find out about Catholicism. When studying the history of the Middle East, we should educate about Islam. Etc. I do not have the personal experience/historical context to meaningfully discuss the speed and nature of the secularization of education, but my support for secularization is a support for lack of endorsement, not lack of information. (In general. I'll come to at least one specific below.)

"Secularism" does not - cannot "rise to the level of a belief which parallels in the lives of proponents the Supreme Being". Why? Because the secular as I defined it and as I think it ought to apply to our school system does not have ANY particular belief system. It is characterized by a space where an organized belief system is ABSENT. "Secular" in the sense I used it and continue to use it and believe it applies or ought to apply to our schools does not embrace, e.g., the atheistic conscientious objections of Mr. Welsh, let alone the agnostic equivocations of Mr. Seeger. If a teacher endorses as true, say, the tenets of Emerson, his is NOT secular conduct, because that's a religion, in the view of the Supreme Court - or, in the language of my previous post, an "ethics". What could be the specific tenets of "Secularism" which rise to level of religious faith? There are a host of atheistic "religions" - or, in the words of my last post, "ethics" - and none of them qualify for my purposes as secular. Secular education can only be instructive as to the nature of a religion, never endorsing. Confusing the absence of theistic endorsement with an endorsement of atheism is a fallacy; the discussion is sidestepped, not engaged in.

I have said repeatedly that the secular space is not perfectly accommodating and will offend different religions in different contexts, and I have said that as best as possible, we try to make exception and accommodation for those circumstances. I know how to teach the geologic column without denigrating fundamentalist teachings - I wouldn't mention them. I don't know how to teach it without contradicting them. How would you do it? I have yet to argue - nor shall I - that teachers should teach government, civics, or social sciences without reference to abortion, the Decalogue, the Pledge, school vouchers, ethnicity, race, or culture. An education which ignored any of those issues would be impoverished. My concern is that discussion does not lead to endorsement. To the extent that teachers solve these issues by not addressing them, I think that is a shame that should be rectified. That doesn't contradict my ideal of a secular education. Many English classes read sections of the Bible as works of literature, as is entirely appropriate.

As to the science curriculum: I have no issue with the mention of Creationism or Intelligent Design in a biology class. Here is the extent of the relevant discussion either issue could have in a biology class:

"There are people who believe that [fill in literalist interpretation of Genesis]; their evidence is their faith in the Bible. Occasionally they point to apparent gaps in scientific theories as proof that science is inadequate, and wrong, and their interpretation is correct. See next paragraph for response."

"There are people who argue a position commonly known as Intelligent Design, namely that evolutionary theory as I've been explaining it to you is correct, but is not the result of random processes, and rather the work of an Intelligent Designer. Proponents of this theory point to apparent gaps in scientific theories as proof that pure science is inadequate and therefore, such mysteries can only be explained by, and are evidence of, the work of a Designer. A scientist's rebuttal might be that, yes, there are always gaps in theories, and it is always the work of science to try and fill them as best it can. The gaps are different - smaller - than they were fifty years ago, and those were smaller than fifty years prior. As gaps are filled, does evidence for a Designer shrink, in the view of ID supporters? [I don't know what an ID proponent would say in response.] Acceptance of ID as a theory would seem to lead to the cessation of scientific work: look, we know what we know, and what we don't know is inexplicable. If ID had gained mass popularity fifty years ago, perhaps we would have been slower to - or failed to - fill in what gaps we have. Moreover, it is, as I've reminded you students often, the work of science to concern itself with what is falsifiable. Neither the position of the Creationist nor the Intelligent Designer is possibily falsifiable. How could evidence ever arise to falsify a Creator? If science didn't place these restrictions upon itself, it would not be what it is, and it would lack the rigor that, at its best, it achieves. Well, that took about ten minutes. Let's get back to work."

I have no problem with a biology teacher paraphrasing the above, or even engaging in discussion with his students about it. But that's really the extent of the discussion. Intelligent Design is a position perfectly valid for people to hold, but it doesn't even meet the definition of a scientific theory. It's not science. You seem to know all of this already, and yet you seem to want to attack modern science education for being...too scrupulous? The tasks of religion, as in the quote you supply, are different from the tasks of science. Both may be required to achieve understanding and wisdom. One is, for the most part, teachable in the secular sphere. The other is considerably more complicated. Would you be content, perhaps, if school curricula had mandatory classes in comparative religions, where over the course of, say, grades 6-8 students had two-month units on major world religions and philosophies? I have no objection other than that I doubt in such a context and with such time constraint anything serious or wisdom-inducing would transpire. Or would you prefer that we not have mandatory science education?

I don't see why the Pledge needs to be a pretext for the discussions that take place in a middle school Social Studies class. We'd have - we ought to - those discussions with or without the pledge. It's what middle school social studies classes DO - this is voting, this is how the legal system works, this is "liberty" entails. Such discussion can refer to the Pledge, of course, if it's around and available. I only ever intended to (a) dispute that it was particularly useful as a teaching tool and (b) state that it smacks to much, to me, of civil religion. You haven't responded to my contention that, in fact, the "under God" phrase was introduced for reasons other than you argue. My primary reason for its removal (and remember long ago, I said I thought this was a silly issue not worth spending time on? wow...) is that it shouldn't have been added in the first place, because I disagreed with the reasons for its addition, because I don't think they are what you say they are. The reasons you provide(d) may be of value, but they're not why the phrase was introduced into the Pledge. Additionally, I do not think they serve the instructional function you attribute to the Pledge particualrly well. If anything I think the phrase introduces confusion. I'm perfectly well aware that no one is REQUIRED to say the Pledge in full or in part, but I'm sure that you're perfectly well aware that - whether you agree or not - the Supreme Court has ruled that something does not need to be REQUIRED in order for it to be coercive. Justice Kennedy's decision in LEE v. WEISMAN, 505 U.S. 577 (1992): "there are heightened concerns with protecting freedom of conscience from subtle coercive pressure in the elementary and secondary public schools...what to most believers may seem nothing more than a reasonable request that the nonbeliever respect their religious practices, in a school context may appear to the nonbeliever or dissenter to be an attempt to emply the machinery of the State fo enfore a religious orthodoxy." It is this coercion that I object to, (a) the coercion to say the Pledge at all, and more to the point and more seriously, (b) the coercion to and implicit endorsement of the idea that to pledge allegiance to the flag of the U.S. of A., and to the republic for which it stands, one also must pledge allegiance to "God." Or recognize that the republic exists "under God."

I do not currently have access to such textual resources as would allow me to conveniently search for convienent quotations fro the private correspondence of various Founding Fathers. I'm quite confident that in the corpus of everything ever written by, say, James Madison, I could find a great number of excellent quotations that I could marshall in support of the idea that some of our Founding Fathers endorsed the idea of keeping religion as much as possible out of the sphere of government and even the public sphere as general TO THE EXTENT THAT gov't was seen to be endorsing it in the public sphere. If I say much more I'm going to get into a debate on the merits of "original intent," which is something I'm steadfastly not interested in doing in this venue. But I'm not particularly interested in the private thoughts of John Marshall or John Jay except as a matter of historical interest: I believe all sorts of things privately that I wouldn't dream of seriously publically advocating. For example, I might believe privately that WISCONSIN v. YODER was wrongly decided as a moral/pragmatic issue, and that the best thing for society and for the children of the Amish would be to give them a full modern education and then let them choose whether or not to live an Amish lifestyle. But I'm wouldn't be hubristic enough to dream that I or the gov't had any right to make such a demand, and therefore would conclude that the case was decided correctly. So I really don't care whether John Jay thought it was the duty of a Christian to elect a Christian, or Joseph Story thought a firm foundation in the great Christian truths was necessary to have a deep sense of moral obligation. I maintain that they were wrong in those circumstances, I maintain that there's a difference between the United States being a nation of (mostly) Christians and it being a Christian nation and that it is most definitely the former, as it should be, I wonder if John Jay would have felt differently had he lived today in a much more pluralistic society...and so forth. I do seem to recall that in the Virginia Memorial Remonstrance or whatever it was called, Madison argued that any whiff of the establishment of Christianity was the same as - and opened the door for - the establishment of a Christian sect.

Do you support the establishment of Christianity as the national religion?

As to the question of whether "a proper, utilitarian, and practical education of a nation's citizenry [can] be had WITHOUT instruction in the traits of the predominant culture from which it formed? (Those traits or elements include: economics, religion, values/ethics, etc.)" I required a more precise definition of which traits you have in mind. As a matter of historical interest and study, I see no reason why these should be excluded. As a matter of endorsement, of teachng that "this is what it is to be an American," I do not think a belief in Christianity or any other religion is remotely necessary. There is an ethical (normal definition, not my special definition) to the secular sphere - the shared and overlapping ethical content of essentially every religion that makes up our plurality. There are ethical doctrines and religions that we could not successfully embrace; a strong belief in the moral rectitude of generational blood feuds, for example, could not be accommodated in our secular practice. But the ethical content which is relevant to the functioning of and civil participation in our secular society is shared and not in dispute. And frankly, many atheistic "religions", in my opinion, are much more doctrinally amenable to the tenets of our civil society than many sects of Christianity are. So: yes, we can meaningfully educate with necessarily endorsing the particular religious beliefs of the founding fathers or anyone else's religious beliefs.

Could you articulate exactly what "ethics" you think ought to be taught, and are responsible for the decline in quality of scholastic achievement? Is insufficient focus on the mysteries of the Trinity responsible for poor reading skills? Do we need to learn about Advent to do better in math? The relevant ethical beliefs that we all need to share, for the most part, to get along in this society are not particular to a given religion and, frankly, don't need recourse to religion to be taught in school - or, if the parent so desires, the home.
9.16.2005 5:25am
jgshapiro (mail):

I believe my concerns are reflected in the spirit of the First Amendment, if not its letter.

I don't think your concerns are reflected by either the spirit or the letter of the first amendment. That doesn't mean they are not worthy of a response, only that the first amendment is addressing different concerns: that the state would coerce or endorse a particular religion, or that the state would punish you or fine you for religious beliefs (or actions if it allowed the same actions in a non-religious context). Neither is true here. A lack of religion is not a religion and is not hostility to religion. You are being coerced to school your kids, but not to public school them. You cannot be punished or fined for sending your kids to a Christian school in lieu of public school. A lack of exemption from a general tax is not the same thing as a fine. That leaves your policy arguments.

What distresses me the most is that I can detect no principles or goals behind your defense of the status quo.

I think the burden is on those wanting to *change* the status quo to establish that it would be preferable, not on those who want to preserve it. First, I hold to the general principle that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' so I would be reluctant to change a system -- allowing parents to opt out of public school, but not financing alternatives -- that has worked well for over a hundred years. We have one of the best educational systems in the world, and to the extent that we are not #1, that cannot reasonably be attributed to a lack of affirmation of God in the public schools.

More importantly, as Justice O'Connor observed in her McCreary concurrence opinion last term:
At a time when we see around the world the violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government, Americans may count themselves fortunate: Our regard for constitutional boundaries has protected us from similar travails, while allowing private religious exercise to flourish. The well-known statement that "[w]e are a religious people," . . . has proved true. Americans attend their places of worship more often than do citizens of other developed nations . . . and describe religion as playing an especially important role in their lives. . . Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?
So in the crossroads of areas as touchy as religion and as important as education, this is ultimately the hurdle that you must overcome, at least with me, even as a policy matter.

I don't think a secular public school education undermines a separate religious education and I'm not convinced by the fairness argument you cite. There is a difference between prohibiting something and assisting it. I don't think private schooling or home schooling should be prohibited, but I don't think it should be assisted either. It is not discrimination against minorities or the poor not to assist it, any more than it is discrimination against minorities or the poor to permit them to engage in, but not to fund religious activities generally. And because it is not discrimination, it is not unfair to say to you that if you choose a different alternative for your kids, you must pay for it yourself.

Ultimately, public schools are the only forum to teach students from different walks of life how to live together, work together, accept each others' differences, etc. If you are 12 and do not attend public school, I don't know where you would get this exposure. Reform Jews would meet only other Reform Jews, Methodists would meet only other Methodists, etc. You could be taught tolerance, appreciation of differences, etc. in a vacuum, but there is no substitute for interacting with people different than you for driving these values home. You would not get this experience in church, because only other members of your church would go there. You might belong to a community soccer league, but most out-of-school activities for kids are still organized around school (or church). So, I think there is a danger for society in taking action that encourages people to avoid public school. Yes, people should have the right to send their kids elsewhere, but why make it easier? Yes, everyone would be happy with the curriculum, but at what cost?

The balance we have struck seems to be a good one to me and has worked pretty well for a long time.
9.16.2005 7:09am
Richard B.:
Well, I'll try to shorten this one up a bit for the sake of the potentially disgruntled.

Quarterican: I think, from the standpoint of educational philosophy insofar as pedagogy in the classroom, we are closer than a cursory examination of our posts might indicate. However, we do disagree on certain key points.

First, let me address the issue of science instruction as you frame it in your last post. The explanation you provide is rife with the very bias I cite above. It is decidedly NOT a "neutral" explanation; not only violating your proposed absoluteness of neutrality based on your definition of secular (presumably separate from the philosophy of secularism), but indicative of the very same type of "coercion" you cite in the Kennedy decision. About all it accomplishes is to present the 'bullet points' promoted by the AAAS and others as presumed, effective denouncement. The problem is that such argument is not only misleading, inaccurate, and self-serving, it ignores the actual issues presented by serious proponents (as opposed to the inevitable 'barkers' or 'pitchmen' found in any socially related discourse) of both Scientific Creationist and Intelligence Design arguments. To be sure, I have my own issues with both, but they are not the only intellectually inconsistent essayists.

As you indicate, such discussion is, in one sense, tangential to this thread. However, it is indicative, in some ways, of the overall issue. SC and ID are not science? Why? The typical argument is twofold: proponents are not published in 'serious' scientific journals and, as you posit above, they "violate" the tenets of 'pure' science by having a conceptual answer prior to the development of theory and testable hypothesis.

The problem with the first part of the argument is that it is circular. They aren't published in the scientific journals because they're not science; but they're not science because they're not published in the scientific journals. MMMMM? Sounds like a conundrum. The second portion of the typical argument ignores Kaplan's "Paradox of Conceptualization;" i.e., theories do not develop in a vaccum and while scientific method delinates a progression from theory to hypothesis to concept, one must first begin with a concept in the development of a theory. In short, a paradox is born. Therefore, the usual evidence in support of arguments which hold SC and ID as not being "science" is born in conundrum and paradox. Not a very sound basis for refutation or falsification.

As you say, we could argue this ad nauseum. But, one other point on this topic needs to be made. SC and ID arguments are not solely based on "gaps in scientific theories." Many proponents are well educated and scrupulous individuals, sometimes former scientists or scientific instructors, who well understand both the scientific method and the theories on both sides of the issue.

Again, while I have my own technical, theoretical, and intellectual issues with a number of their arguments, theories, and conetentions, I find many of their serious efforts to be interesting and useful in exploring my own views. To put it simply: If they are questioning and forcing science to find appropriate answers to those questions, are they not both practicing science (i.e., beginning with a question which requires a sound methodology to answer), even if at a rudimentary level, as well as providing the intellectual discourse necessary to properly explore, re-examine, redress, consolidate, temper, and prove old and new theories of science? Isn't that EXACTLY what we desire and require of science students?

As regards the Pledge... I find the arguments in your last post somewhat inconsistent. You claim not to care what the Founders felt (despite the fact that their personal views inevitably influenced their judgments) and insinuate a potential disfavorable view of 'original intent.' But, you then attempt to, in part, negate my arguments regarding use of the Pledge with the presumed, though likely accurate, original impetus behind the inclusion of the phrase "under God." It would seem you place more of a premium on the thoughts of contemporary intelligentsia than on historical context.

You then ask the irrelevant - Do I propose the establishment of Christianity as the national religion? Smacking somewhat of ad hominem attack, such a question is irrelevant on two counts. First, the Constitution specifically prohibits the establishment of a national religion. Second, as posted above using the Federal Government's own statistics, Christianity is, in fact, already the predominant religion in the United States.

Perhaps the more relevant question is: Do I propose the RECOGNITION of the established religion of the majority? Short answer - Yes. There is nothing in Madison, Jefferson, Supreme Court precedent, et al. that precludes or prohibits such recognition. And, as you note above, such recognition is perfectly consistent with your ideological stance as well.

I cannot speak to your, personal experiences regarding the appropriate use of the Pledge in the K-12 classroom. Neither can I dispute the thought that my observed, and in some ways, idealized, use of the Pledge was a fully thought out theory of academia insofar as pedagogical approach by 1954. However, which takes precedent as a practical matter in the classroom - pedagogy premised on theoretical construct or theoretical construct premised on practical and practiced pedagogy?

Did the Pledge used to be handled in the manner I suggest for the purposes of classroom instruction? Absolutely. Is it currently being utilized in this manner. Most likely not; or, at least, not effectively. Does that mean it is no longer tolerable as a part of the scholastic routine of students? Why wouldn't it be? Can't we still use it as was done in the past? Are there, potentially, more effective methods? Possibly? But, again, why limit potentially useful and proven pedagogical approaches if curriculum standards are met?

Finally, you then launch into a specious argument asking: "Could you articulate exactly what "ethics" you think ought to be taught, and are responsible for the decline in quality of scholastic achievement? Is insufficient focus on the mysteries of the Trinity responsible for poor reading skills? Do we need to learn about Advent to do better in math? The relevant ethical beliefs that we all need to share, for the most part, to get along in this society are not particular to a given religion and, frankly, don't need recourse to religion to be taught in school - or, if the parent so desires, the home."

Again, non-sequiter exemplars. "Hard skills" such as reading, writing, and arithmetic do not REQUIRE the use of religious texts or doctrines - although both have been used effectively and to high quality outcome in teaching them. The curriculum contents, course offerings, scholastic output, comparative test scores, and general student ability as a practical matter rather than aptitude test results, nicely quantifiable for political purposes, are too prodigious to enumerate here. But, a modicum of web/library research as well as an intellectually honest approach in analysis should be all that is required.

Personally, I would deplore a school system which REQUIRED teachers to incorporate the tenets of specific religious denominations; particularly given the lack of breadth and depth teachers tend to have in their understanding of the differences between denominations. Further, I agree that many of the basic "ethics" are inherently shared by a plethora of "religions;" see my post above regarding our survival as a species.

However, is it not a "teachable moment" regarding history, religion in historical context, economics, and sociology to present the "Protestant Ethic," a major component in the development of the American Ideal in terms of social ethics and our economic system, when one is promoting the "ethics" of hard work, punctuality, honesty, and dedication to duty (otherwise referred to as 'responsibility')?

Utilizing this very discussion, is not an educational opportunity present in attempting to justify the separation of "religion" from "ethics" when asked by students as to the "why" they MUST be separated if many, if not most, religions promote these specific ethics? An educational opportunity taken advantage of by reference to established philosophical discussion, historical, not to mention, legal precedents, and exhortation for individual study rather than promotion of a personal philosophical stance or preference?

To that end, and by all means, do not let our lengthy posts dissuade others from jumping in with their own observations, questions, and arguments. For, in the end, even if reasonable people disagree, isn't it the discussion of such issues the "opportunity" itself?
9.16.2005 7:17am
Quarterican (mail):
Richard B. -

If you don't mind, I'm going to address your points out of the order you presented them this time.

I indeed insinuated a potential disfavorable view of "original intent." But whatever my views on "original intent" may be, I have no objection to using the public discourse/record surrounding legislation as a tool to help understand its motivation. I'm really arguing two points here - the first is that I disagree that the current popular interpretation, or indeed effect, of the "under God" phrase is as you claim; the second is that it was incorrect and unconstitutional to add the phrase in the first place, and I would like to see the error corrected. My first objection to "under God" stands apart from and without need of the second, but is much more subjective. It took surprisingly more effort than I thought it would to locate relevant quotes on the internet to bolster the second objection; for a few unpleasant moments I thought that to respond to you I would need to locate my nearest federal depository if I wanted quotes from congressional sessions 50 years ago. But here we are, courtesy of the National Association of United Methodist Scouters (staunch supporters of "under God"):

The actual legislation (support for the idea had been bubbling up in various places at the time) was introduced by Sen. Homer Ferguson, and he is recorded to have said: "Mr. President, the verbal manifestation of an American's loyalty and patriotism is the pledge of allegiance to our flag. Recognizing that the pledge did not specifically acknowledge that we are a people who do believe in and want our Government to operate under divine guidance, I introduced in the Senate a resolution to add the words which forever, I hope, will be on the lips of Americans...These words, "under God", are at this moment officially a part of the pledge of allegiance."

And President Eisenhower said some fine things which support your notion that "under God" is meant to memorialize the historic roots of our nation's principles, and also that: "In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war." Which goes a little far for my taste.

I quote these and find them relevant because they were public justifications for the law made by the men who made the law; I said I was uninterested and unmoved by the private correspondence of Founders you quoted because it is quite possible - though I am not claiming either way in these specific cases - that a person's private morality differs from what he deems publically possible, legal, or reasonable. I tried to give a hypothetical illustration; here's another. I think it's possible that a Supreme Court justice (I don't have anyone particular in mind) could have an "excellent record on states rights", always carefully weigh the balance between federal and state legislations, all in the name of respect and adherence to the law, and yet believe the following private statement: "I don't care about states rights. I think federalism is stupid, and I wish the Founding Fathers hadn't been so damned intent on preventing federal tyranny that they saddled us with this ridiculous system. Man, do I ever wish I could empower the feds to regulate EVERYTHING. Oh well."

This is also why I thought it was reasonable to ask whether you supported Establishment. I know you know that it's unconstitutional, I just became curious, due to your line of argument, whether or not you'd be in favor of it's *not* being unconstitutional. I'm curious what your definition of "recognition" is, by the way. I think it's pretty clearly recognized that we live in a predominantly Christian country, and one with social customs derived from Christian tradition and enforced by the federal government. Some of them I don't mind, some of them I do (as far as enforced by the gov't goes).

It might be time to abandon debate on the pedagogical uses of the Pledge, since neither of us seems in danger of convincing the other. I presume (not to imply anything about your age) that you experienced such pedagogical usage; for me, it was something I said at the beginning of the school day. I still think my social studies classes did alright by me, and assume they could and do for others.

I'm sorry you thought my argument was a specious non sequitur; I sincerely wondered what ethical specifics you thought were necessary to education that weren't already inherent in the secular sphere. As to, say, the "Protestant Work Ethic," in a context where one was teaching the history of capitilism this would of course be a relevant topic and Weber should be read/discussed, etc. In terms of teaching a ten-year old the merits of working hard, I get nervous. Why? Because I'm not convinced you can present the topic to a ten-year old without sounding like you're endorsing Protestantism, or at any rate positing a statement like "it was a unique development to Protestantism to value hard work, honesty, and dedication to duty." (I'm willing to concede punctuality.) And that's not exactly true, and it's a very short hop from there to "other religions don't/didn't teach these values." At a high school level, this (hopefully) isn't an issue, because at a high school level you could (hope to) have a discussion of Weber that isn't so simplified as to be distortive. If you could convincingly illustrate all of this to a kid in social studies, I'd be impressed and persuaded, but until then I'm skeptical that *he* wouldn't take it as endorsement.

Could you clarify - I feel you've been sort of vague on this - what teaching methods referencing religion have been removed from school curricula, and which areas of schooling you think this has negatively affected - or, at least, coincided with. Without some further specifics, "the decline of American education" is kind of an unwieldy research topic. (And out of curiosity, how do you propose to quantify "general student ability"? I'm not a fan of aptitude tests either, but it's a sticky subject.)

I thought I'd write on these issues and then get to intelligent design, but to be honest, I don't want to. It's further afield than I care to stray, I'm tired of arguing the topic with people (not your fault!) and furthermore I've become pretty convinced that ID is a red herring in the evolution/creationist debate. BUT: I never said that ID wasn't science because it didn't get published in science journals. That'd be silly; I can do philosophy without it being published in a journal. And while ideally "pure" science wouldn't put a desired answer before testing which would inevitably be biased towards achieving that answer, that's not my objection either. It's not the conceptualization that I have a problem with, it's the fact that I've never seen a proponent of ID make anything resembling a falsifiable claim (other than "science can't explain why..." which is falsifiable as soon as science explains it, as has happened on prior occasions). Science has to be falsfifiable. It needs to be possible that tomorrow scientists find data which proves there was never a Big Bang. ID isn't falsifiable; any piece of science, or anything, anywhere could be pointed to by someone who could say: "this was caused by a Creator." My most recent bad haircut could've been caused by a Designer, and so could opposable thumbs, or the Rocky Mountains, or libertarians...If you believe that, fine. But it's outside the realm of science, and why shouldn't science - or any other discipline - get to point to its own longstanding principles and tenets about what science is to demonstrate what gets to count and what doesn't?
9.16.2005 9:24am
Jam (mail) (www):
Separate government from schooling and the issue goes away.

Let's see if I understand:
1) The government, with the ultimate threat of possibly killing you, taxes people to pay for "public" schooling.
2) The government, with the ultimate threat of possibly killing you, passed and enforces compulsory schooling laws.

What is the difference between forced and required?

Read Robert Lewis Dabney. He wrote about all this back in the 1870s.

As an aside, I differentiate between schooling and education. Education in government schools happens as an accident, when it happens. Yes, we home school. No, even if offered we will not take government vouchers if they were available.
9.16.2005 10:59am
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

I am also embarrassed. I should have realized you meant you weren't a fan of my plan. What if I add a requirement that the private schools have unionized teachers? What if the vouchers are means tested, so that people who can afford private schools don't get vouchers?

9.16.2005 3:55pm
BruceB (mail):
I don't think school vouchers are fair, regardless of whether the private schooling is religious or not. All citizens pay for public schools, whether they use them or not. It seems a seperate issue to me.

If your argument is that you shouldn't have to "pay twice" for an education, what do you say to those taxpayers that do not have children, or have no school age children? Should they be able to opt out of paying for public school as well?

We all pay for public schools, whether we choose to (or need to) use them or not.
9.16.2005 7:13pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):

Thanks so much for your comments. I have discovered another error in my thinking. I present the improved argument below.

You just gave evidence that the public schools system isn't fair. Not only do childless people get less benefit, parents with big families get more benefit. You didn't prove that a voucher system is less fair. You just asserted that a voucher system wasn't fair, but gave no justification or evidence for your assertion.

In fact, public schools are designed to be fair to the children who are all supposed to recieve an education, not the parents, or those who never are parents. People with no kids already got their benefit - when they were kids. So why do some children pay twice? Kids at Catholic schools could use that money for college.

Here's something from the other thread:

About 95% of all elementary schooling in this country is done via government run schools. Imagine that 95% of the people in this country got their 200 cable channels, their daily newspaper, and their weekly and montly magazines from the government. The other 5% paid $5000 to $7000 per year for private sources.

What would you say that would do to freedom of speech and freedom of the press?

I don't know how we can justify government run schools without an equal subsidy of privately run schools in terms of the broader freedom: freedom of thought. Free speech, free press and religious freedom are all examples of freedom of thought.

School choice fixes these pressing constitutional problems using the American way: liberty.

9.16.2005 8:31pm
BruceB (mail):

I agree with your point that the way public schools are paid for is not really fair, either. I personally find the way public schools are financed less unfair than vouchers, but that is largely personal opinion.

If we really wanted something fair, no school taxes would be collected from anyone, and all parents would pay tuition for their children - perhaps with scholarships and student loans for those who simply can't pay their children's tuition, similar to what is now done at the college level.

Since all parents would be paying and shopping for a school they liked, it would give maximum choice to families of all types of belief systems, and it would also spur competition among schools to improve, so that parents would choose to enroll their children there.

Now whether such a setup is remotely politically possible is another question. :-) But I think that solution - getting government out of a near monopoly of education and giving everyone full choice, while primarily putting the cost on those who actually use the services, is a good one.

9.16.2005 10:34pm
Richard B.:
As Quarterican suggests, our discussion has not only ventured farther a field than addressing the Pledge, but such discussions are difficult to maintain in such a limited context. Therefore, I think this will be my last post to this thread unless someone wishes to specifically discuss the Pledge decision beyond expressing a personal opinion along the lines of "I think they were wrong and I see no use in its continued presence." As this is just a touch too lengthy and may bore those who have a different direction in their discussion on the Pledge, I will break this into two, separate posts; hopefully broken at a good point.

As we have all amply demonstrated, the issue of inclusion or exclusion of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge is simply one component in a much broader ranging discussion. I suspect that this is precisely why the Supreme Court did not want to be forced into a position of dealing with the issue and why any decision it reaches will be as narrowly constructed as they can put together.

As to the request of creating a litany of pedagogies presumably 'lost' as a result of the secularization of education, if you are honestly curious, it takes only a dram of common sense, a modicum of educational history research, and an open-minded agenda to create your own, voluminous study replete with anecdotal and quantitative data. I suspect, however, that such a request is an often used debating device contrived, perhaps unintentionally so in this case, to distract from the main theme of the discussion. As each specific is proffered, focus is switched to attacking, then 'defending,' the individual pedagogical issue. It does not take long before the original discussion is lost entirely. I think that, unfortunately, we have already cast ourselves adrift as regards the original theme of this thread -- the Pledge.

To your question of my definition of "recognition."

You have spent considerable time on this thread defending secular education, synonymous in your arguments with teaching "in the absence of religious discussion." You then temporize such a perceptually 'extreme' position by stating that: "The agenda behind a secular curriculum is the absence of teaching a specific spirituality - or, really, ethics." (Ethics being defined by you as: "a proxy for the sense of religion articulated in Seeger and Welsh..." -- see above).

Thus, I am left to discern that your definition of secular education is, in practice, the absence of any reference to "a given belief that is sincere and meaningful...[occupying]...a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God." Yet, you then later claim: "Now, I have not argued, here or elsewhere, that ANY reference to religion should be banned from public schools. I only contend that any reference ENDORSING religion should be banned…my support for secularization is a support for lack of endorsement, not lack of information."

Though somewhat consistent in your argument, I sense more than a modicum of "dancing on the head of a pin" in trying to make your point. In effect, you have gone from an "absence of religious discussion" to a more reasonable sounding "absence of endorsement of religion." Thus, I think you have finally arrived at the very question engendered by the discussion of inclusion or exclusion of the Pledge. To wit: Does the mere presence of any aspect of religion (as defined by your "ethics" or the Supreme Court's definition) constitute a violation by the Government as regards the establishment of a religion? Or, just as importantly, does the removal of the presence of any aspect of religion constitute a violation by the Government as regards the free practice of religion?

To be continued...
9.17.2005 4:24am
Richard B.:
Part II

This goes to the very heart of our discussion regarding both "recognition" and SC/ID. You state: "I know how to teach the geologic column without denigrating fundamentalist teachings - I wouldn't mention them. I don't know how to teach it without contradicting them." The problem is that by contradicting fundamentalist teachings, you are, in both a perceptual and an absolute sense, denigrating them. How in an "absolute sense" are you doing so? You provide an alternative which has all the weaknesses of 'falsifiability' and the foibles of "ethics," so defined above, as you posit for SC/ID; proffering the conviction that "Science - necessarily, to be what it is - takes place in a sphere which has (should have) no spirituality, not even an ethics."

Let's take your example of the Big Bang. The Big Bang Theory is actually a conceptualized model in search of a theory or, more accurately, in search of a set of theories, not to mention the factual evidence to support them. It is NOT an accepted fact as defined either colloquially or by the scientific community. As the American Association for the Advancement of Science CEO Alan Lehner states in the 8 July 2005 issue of Science: "In our business, a theory is not an educated guess nor, emphatically, is it a belief. Scientific theories attempt to explain what can be observed, and it is essential that they be testable by repeatable observations and experimentation. In fact, "belief" is a word you almost never hear in science. We do not believe theories. We accept or reject
them based on their ability to explain natural phenomena, and they must be testable with scientific methodologies."

The problem is that the Big Bang Model is largely supported by theories which not only have not completely filled in the model itself, but are largely untested. This is not an attack based on "gaps" in theory. It is a relevant issue regarding reliance on an incomplete model; something scientific methodology cannot test or address. Thus, presentation of this model as the presumed 'secular' option regarding origin is premised on a 'belief' that no better, accepted, theoretical construct or conceptualization exists; even to the point of celebration over Big Bang Theory being described as "triumphant" over the Steady State Model, when, in fact, the hypotheses tested were more relevant to a rejection of the Steady State Model and provided only a limited basis for cautionary acceptance of specific theories within the Big Bang Model.

Paying lip service to the idea that science is not interested in competing models of beliefs does nothing to undermine the reality that Big Bang and Evolution are BOTH admitted to by the scientific community as incompletely accepted theories. Thus, their presentation as the secular option is premised on the 'belief' or 'ethos' in an "absence of religious discussion" rather than on their relative merits as valid scientific theories.

Forget the red herring of a lack of specificity insofar as English descriptions of electronuclear forces, particle-antiparticle pairs, quarks, etc; not to mention the attempts to label events occurring in fractions of a second as epochs lest we encourage a debate on time-lines. What we want to do in this context is compare the overall 'theories' rather than get lost in an overriding focus on assemblage of cause-event scenarios while searching for a model which links them; not to mention still searching for a theoretical construct which explains the absolutely essential causal factor that set these subsequent events in motion -- e.g., What caused our singularity's equilibrium to be disturbed in the first place? Let's look at the overall stages of the Big Bang meets Evolution in Earth's history -- an 'example' if you will of how one might approach a pillar of secular education while presenting a 'neutral' recognition of a pillar of religion.

In the simplest sense, you have a singularity (an infinitely compressed point of matter and energy) which, for some undetermined reason, went through a process of inflation; at which point, measurable 'time' began. At a specific point, matter and energy were separated into light and dark components. Systems galaxies, stars, and planetary bodies were formed. As regards the Earth specifically, the planetary body was formed and water was either created through a combination of elements present on the body or introduced at some point (some have suggested on asteroid or comets impacting the surface). Elemental organic material (e.g., plant life, including the ubiquitous and absolutely essential primary element in the food chain, plankton) developed. By this time, the moon had been formed and the sun had pretty much settled down into what we recognize now; pulling into its gravitational influence the planetary bodies. Skipping ahead, animal life, as we recognize it, developed in the seas. At some point, portions of this animal life appeared and permanently remained on land. The epitome of this process was seen in the ascension of man.

This is what is taught in the schools. This is the 'neutral, secular' story of origin. Fine. But, we have a potential problem. We fail to recognize that such a conceptual construct is, potentially, neither neutral nor secular in origin. A reasonable reading of Genesis, Chapter One combined with a smattering of awareness as regards ancient literature (e.g., 'sea' or 'waters' often being used as a reference for the universe or space), an open-mindedness regarding avoidance of day/age/epoch debates, and an actual, proper, academic neutrality offers the potential that the Big Bang Model, in its basic outline form, may not be a scientific construct of the 20th Century, but instead is a literary narrative from a religious text dating back, at least, 2,500 years.

Let's see, the sequence presented in Genesis is... without form and void; darkness was upon the face of the deep; moved upon the face of the waters; divided the light from the darkness; evening and morning were the first day; firmament dividing waters from the waters, calling the waters above the firmament Heaven; let the waters be gathered together and dry land appear, Earth and Sea; grass, herb and fruit seeds; sun and moon; waters bring forth moving creature that has life and the fowl; beasts of the earth; man.

It would seem the sequence, sans the epistemology, would be almost identical; right down to the use of the words 'light and dark' at approximately the same point in the progression as the separation of matter and energy into 'light and dark' components. Interestingly, Genesis is not the only ancient reference to a narrative of origin demonstrating a similar progression; certain text being found in Egypt, Babylonia, the Pacific, and among American Indian tribes.

Does recognition of the appearance of this sequence in the Biblical texts constitute an "endorsement" (and, by default, an 'establishment') of religion; or, worse yet, a theistic evolutionist position? Or, is it a scholarly recognition of an older source than Stephen Hawking? Would a similar recognition that Solomon, generally held to be a pretty bright guy, laid out a pretty accurate description of what we now refer to as the "hydrologic cycle" in Ecclesiastes 1:7 constitute an "endorsement" of religion? Or, would such recognition be simply the same scholarly duty and intent as citing Alfred Wegner when introducing Plate Tectonics?
9.17.2005 4:35am
Richard B.:
Uh, make that three separate posts...

Act III - The Finale

The pragmatic problems surrounding the absence of such reference regarding this and other, similar, issues of 'recognition' are multifold: a tendency to disenfranchise students who see the similarities but are taught the contradictory time lines and who or what is given credit, God or random chance; creation of cognitive dissonance and/or confusion among students who are told this is 'science' but that one must exclude 'metaphysical' references or explanations; and, most significantly, the potential opening of lines of scientific inquiry which may challenge the reigning paradigms within certain disciplines. What do I mean by this last? Let's try a few questions...

Given the potential similarities between the Big Bang Model and Genesis One, how did the ancient scholars come to their model or was the development of the Big Bang Model an unconscious application of an old narrative in an attempt to aggregate a select group of theories into a cohesive model regarding origins? If the former, once again, how did they come to the same conclusions we now accept as the appropriate model? If the latter, how did the ancient scholars craft a narrative that coincidentally provided an acceptable model for grouping recent, theoretical constructs?

Given the resistance to such challenging questions and the inertia involved with gaining any traction in the scientific community - "Well, that took about ten minutes. Let's get back to work" - is there a perceived or realistic threat to the status quo and the self-fulfilling lines of inquiry supportive of whatever the current conceptual model underlying the theories and practice of the particular scientific subject happens to be? If so, are we not, therefore, brought back to Kaplan's "Paradox of Conceptualization." We already have a concept - e.g., Big Bang, African Genesis, Evolution, take your pick - and any theory or theories which cannot be accommodated by the conceptual model (paradigm) must be rejected lest we find that our conceptual model is insufficient.

Doesn't that sound just a bit like precluding "falsification" through lack of recognition? Using scientific standards, isn't the lack of "falsifiability" the standard by which you and many in the scientific community judge something to be appropriately 'scientific' vs. 'a set of beliefs/spirituality/religion/ethics' of a philosophical nature? Doesn't an paradigm contingent upon an exclusivity of thought and lines of inquiry based on "natural phenomena" come dangerously close to "a given belief that is sincere and meaningful...[occupying]...a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God?" If we then must judge such paradigmatic constructs, those very constructs upon which a 'secular education' rely, as 'ethics,' then does this not meet your and the Supreme Court's definition of religion?

So, far, the courts have rejected this argument. However, the more entrenched the resistance to intellectual challenges, the more Inquisitional the rooting out of non-conformists, and the more adamant the zealousness of science becomes, the less automatic will be such rejection. As it affects the classroom, isn't it the job of educators to encourage students to QUESTION and to give them the tools by which they may seek the answers to their questions? Rather than parsing terms, creating unique, personal definitions, and premising conclusions on personal predilections rather than scholarly argument, isn't it a teacher's job to provide a breadth of information which allows the student to develop their own views instead of a straight inculcation of paradigmatic bullet points? As a lack of discussion regarding abortion, the Ten Commandments, culture, ethnicity, etc. might "impoverish" a social science class, doesn't a lack of open-mindedness and a dismissive lack of recognition for competing theories or lines of inquiry "impoverish" a scientific education, not to mention Science itself? After all, isn't it when we start claiming -- "We know how the World works!" -- that we generally find out we weren't so smart as we thought we were?
9.17.2005 4:48am
Quarterican (mail):
Richard B. -

Yeah, I'll be signing off after this one. In advance, I appreciate the effort of your triplicate response, but I'm going to try and condense this into one post.

I really was curious what you thought a good and dependable mark of educational achievement was - average grades? rate of repeating a year? And I'm sure I could indeed take the premise you've given me and do research and come up with a conclusion. The reason I requested narrowing is because - no offense, honest - I'm not inclined to put a great deal of effort into researching something beyond what's near-immediately available (in memory and bookshelves) for a tangent in a discussion on a comments thread...etc. I've enjoyed the back and forth, but I'm not sure I would've started up if I'd known we'd produce, oh, something like 20 single spaced pages of writing. :) (NB: I hate smileys; but I'm never sure if people get things like "")

Yes, you're right, I made a semantic error, and if I were starting over from the beginning, I would'nt have used "religious discussion" the way I initially used it, and would have distinguished "religious discussion" from "religious endorsement/religious education," i.e., the difference between "this is what [Protestants, Hindus, etc.] believe" and "this is what we [Americans, Protestants, etc.] believe." I don't consider, however, the presence of "under God" to be, as you say, "the mere presence of [an] aspect of religion," I consider it to be an endorsement, because I reject that "under God" has the effect for most people of reminding them that our forefathers who came up with our country's principles were mostly Christians or something like Christians-without-the-Jesus (but not Jews!).
So disagreement is denigration? Should we apologize for having insulted each other so profusely? I don't really follow this part of your argument - would contradicting fundamentalism be non-denigrating if the rhetoric of science were not one of "theory" and "falsifiability" but one of "absolute fact and certainty"?

I didn't say the Big Bang is a theory, I just said it was a piece of you want to call it knowledge? conjecture? educated assumption? All I said was its something most scientists take for granted, I wager, but if they're intellectually honest most of them would be willing to say they were wrong about doing so if new data contradicted their model. I don't recall what the specifics were, but when I was in a high school physics class (not so very long ago) our teacher excitedly informed us towards the end of the year that some weird new data was suggesting that [something] which helped shore up the Big Bang Model might be wrong. I don't know what came of that discussion. I didn't really enjoy the philosophy of science when I studied it, so I'm not really into the idea of cracking open Popper, Kuhn, etc. - and we're finishing this discussion, not extending it! right? - but I don't object to your characterization of how the BIg Bang beat Steady State. I do think you're playing - intentionally or not - a very commong game wherein you use the everyday "well, that's just your theory" use of the word "theory" (etc.) in the more specialized and rigorous scientific context.

I like your Big Bang/First book of Genesis analogy, but I don't see how that potential similarity means the Big Bang Model fails to be neutral or secular. Want to discuss the interesting fact that many (most?) creation stories preserved today involve a variant on "in the beginning there was the void" and then out of the void...Gaia and Uranus have sex, or some Norse fellow starts milking a cow. Cool. Nifty thing to chew on. But what am I - or a high school physics student - supposed to *draw* from that? Did God whisper in the ear of the author/transcriber of "Genesis" and - give an incomplete account of events? a metaphoric one? get misunderstood? would we have had the Big Bang Model in Judasim four thousand years ago if not for a scriptural game of Operator? Scientists didn't arrive at the Big Bang Model via religious creation stories, and what evidence could - not does, could - exist for the assumption that these stories actually preserve real knowledge of the universe's origin?

It's the essence of science that it excludes metaphysics! That's what the word metaphysics means - beyond physics! If you want to reintroduce philosophy to the scholastic curriculum I won't argue, but few modern philosophers are interested in metaphysics (and no, I'm not getting into a discussion of whether or not that's a good thing.)

I think you occasionally stray into being woefully unfair to science and scientists. It's not as thought the Big Bang Model, for one, is a particularly venerable and long-lived theory, in the scheme of things. Evolution has been around for much longer. I don't think ID presents a serious threat to evolution. African Genesis may have the majority of defenders, but whatever name you'd ascribe to the opposing theory (wherein humans spontaneously evolved in multiple locations) is a live theory and there are live scientific debates between proponents - there's a noted professor at Michigan whose name escapes me who argues that defenders of African Genesis are not merely wrong but unconscoiusly racist; and of course people argue that the competing theory is intentionally or unintentionally racist...the point is, there's a discussion between scientific models which includes and adjusts according to the revelation of new data. Which can be incorporated into an account of the world without resort to metaphysics. It's the job of educators to encourage students to question them - *within the limits of the course*. An appeal to religious belief necessarily strays from the limits of what a biology or physics class can reasonable be expected to teach. They're classes in biology and physics, and the origin of the universe is usually a single topic in the course of a year (or whatever) in which they also need to get through DNA and the cardiovascular system and taxonomy and electro-magnetic fields...etc. If you want to teach a course called "origins of life and the universe" and posit that it isn't merely a science course, fine, but I think you'll have a lot of arguing and very little learning, because there is no possible resolution to argument between people with differing religious perspectives about their religious perspectives, unless you so thoroughly convince someone that they convert. Perhaps it could be a survey course on every creation story we're aware of...

Quarterican out.
9.17.2005 11:59am