January 18, 2012

Sitting Shiva: You never can tell!

Today’s New York Times has an important op-ed from Kevin M. Kruse, associate professor of history at Princeton, on the manipulation of the phrase “under God” in American politics by corporate leaders and the religious right. It sent me back to the “Crank Call” archive, where I dug up this column from 2002. Read Kruse’s “For God So Loved the 1 Percent” to see why this issue won’t go away.


(First published 07.03.02)

Well, score one for our side, however briefly and without a prayer of success — you’ll forgive the expression.

I refer to the “God” business — that is, the “under God” business — and the decision of the 9th U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the inclusion of the words “one nation, under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional, a violation of the separation of church and state.

“A profession that we are a nation `under God’ is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation `under Jesus,’ a nation `under Vishnu,’ a nation `under Zeus,’ or a nation `under no god,'” said Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, speaking for the court: “None of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion.”

I’ve known this since I was old enough to crawl, and I mean that literally. The first angry letter my mother sent to a newspaper was in June 1954, when Congress, pandering to fears of Communists, flying saucers and nuclear war, caved in to President Eisenhower and the Knights of Columbus and stuck “under God” into the Pledge, smack between the nation and its indivisibility. I was less than a year old at the time, but I grew up in a house where this perfidy was not forgotten.

I suppose everyone knows by now — don’t they? — that the Pledge of Allegiance was written by a card-carrying socialist, Francis Bellamy, and that it first entered the public schools in honor of Christopher Columbus. There’s a topic best avoided! The Pledge had already been altered once, over Bellamy’s protests, before the bingo crowd got their hands on it during the McCarthy years. He never lived to see the further perversion of his work. But on June 14, 1954, President Eisenhower declared:

“From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and every rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.”

This sounds uncannily like our own President George W. Bush, who remarked after the California ruling last week, “America is a nation … that values our relationship with an Almighty.” So elegantly stated! Of course he forgot to add the nouns: Almighty dollar, Almighty oil, Almighty blather, etc.

“The declaration of God in the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t violate rights,” Bush insists. “As a matter of fact, it’s a confirmation of the fact that we received our rights from God, as proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence.”

Very nice — that’s “fact” twice in one sentence. But the Declaration of Independence isn’t the U. S. Constitution, which never mentions God at all and moves from there to its first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” This is meant to be a two-way street: In exchange for the right to keep its own laws, no religion may impose itself statutorily on any American citizen. Get it?

No matter: The California ruling has already been suspended and hasn’t got a chance in hell of standing up on review. Congress — including Vermont’s touted “Independent” delegation — has proved 100 percent craven on this issue, blustering about “values” and squawking for a Constitutional re-write.

“Let us not wait for the Supreme Court to act on this,” says Senator John Warner (R.-Virginia).

“This decision is just nuts,” answers majority leader Tom Daschle (D.-South Dakota). They want you to be thinking in slogans and cheap patriotism, the better to keep your eyes off the Almighty corruption in their coffers and halls. On the Pledge itself, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer sounds like Eva Perón.

“This decision will not sit well with the American people,” Fleischer says. “Certainly it does not sit well with the president of the United States.”

In fact, the president of the United States has nothing to do with this decision. It is, properly if forlornly, in judicial hands, where conservative judges will make sure it’s overturned. You’ve got nothing to worry about.

According to polls, 87 percent of Americans interviewed are in favor of keeping “under God” in the Pledge. I expect this has more to do with the way they learned it than anything else. So lousy with cowardice are the press and the pundits on this issue that Sunday’s New York Times saw fit to run a front-page story under the headline, “Court That Ruled on Pledge Often Runs Afoul of Justices.”

“The court that pronounced the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional has a reputation for being wrong,” the Times reports, “and critics say its unwieldy size is to blame.” A bit farther on we learn that “wrong” doesn’t mean “incorrect” in this case — or even, you know, wrong — just that the 9th Circuit often ends up on the losing side of its cases. Way, way down in the story, where most will never go, a California law professor is permitted to explain:

“The opinions written by conservatives on the 9th Circuit are just as likely to be overturned as opinions by liberals. When you’re dealing with hard questions, a reversal rate does not mean the court of appeals was wrong and the Supreme Court was right. It means the Supreme Court got the last word.”

Y’all remember the Supreme Court? They’re the ones that put Junior into office.



  1. Marlene koenig Says:

    Hey, I was born on June 14, 1954

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