Monday, December 24, 2007

UDK Article on Ninth Circuit Court decision

Originally titled: Unpopular Court Decision Supports Liberty
Titled in Print: Ninth Circuit Court decision makes U.S. seem hypocritical
University Daily Kansan
March 28, 2003

There has been much misunderstanding about a controversial ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled that recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, when led by teachers, was an unconstitutional act. Since that day, the ruling has been misconstrued by the lay public to mean that anytime anyone said the pledge, it was somehow an unconstitutional act. This is not the case.

The United States enjoys freedome of religion because of a small phrase in the Constitution that says, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion." This phrase does not mean that Congress is only to avoid establishing a national church. It says that Congress shall do nothing that could be seen as a national endorsement of a particular religious creed.

Does the United States seem to any casual observer to endorse religion? Yes. We may give lip service to the idea that we have freedom of religion, but how free are we?

May courthouses across the United States, including teh Supremem Court, are fighting to keep up large displays of the Ten Commandments, citing them as the basis of our laws - as if we would never have figured out that it was a bad idea to kill one another. But consider Hinduism, a polytheistic religion: when the local government tells you that the laws you live under are based in an ancient document that commands you to have no other God before the God of the Bible, what does that say about your beliefs?

Congress opens with a prayer. "In God we Trust" is printed on our national money. Students were formerly forced to recite the Lord's Prayer and study scripture in public schools. There is nothing wrong with statements of religious beliefs, but to insert them by legislation into the public sphere is to give the government's stamp of approval, or endorsement, to a particular type of religion.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled taht, when a teach leads the class in saying the Pledge, you are free not to say it with no mandated school punishment - but you are still not free. Psychological coercion plays a role in what we say and do, from the way we dress to the things we do on Friday nights. Children with minority religious viewpoints who are faced with a school full of peers and choose to refuse saying teh pledge open themselves up for ostracization and isolation. Most young children will choose to compromise their beliefs rather than face teasing and ridicule.

There is no way around it. "Under God" is a religious statement that establishes the existence of a deity and says that said deity is the sole god that watches over us. As a person of a minority religious viewpoint whose people have been persecuted for centuries, including one of the worst cases of religious intolerance in all of Western history, I now what it is like to be looked down on for being different. The pressure to conform, at least in deed, is enormous.

Ruling the phrase "Under God" in the pledge unconsitutional does not diminish the free exercise of anyone's political rights. All people, including me, are free to recite the pledge, the Lord's Prayer or scriptural passages, whenever and wherever they like, including public school buildings. The Constitution only prohibits that the goverment appears to be endorsing what I say while reciting one of those.

To have a government free from endorsement of religion is the only way to preserve the beautiful religious traditions of our country. It is not political correctness run amok; it is the necessity that allows religious persuasion, from Jew to Muslim to Buddhist to Religious Humanist, to practice their religion with the dignity that befits all religious practices. By taking this unpopular position, I, at least, will support "liberty and justice for all."


1 comment:

Ecclectic Essayist said...

For a few semesters in my undergraduate educational career, I was a paid opinion writer for my campus daily newspaper. I had a love/hate relationship with that job - I enjoy being able to inform people of divergent viewpoints and ideas they might not have considered, but I hated that my editors at the paper did their best to destroy whatever I'd written.

Not that I'm maligning editors. I've known my share of fantastic editors. The ones I worked with at the newspaper, though... Yikes. They would routinely cut about 30% of my articles out, including sentences explaining nuanced positions, and whole clauses. Unfortunately, once I submitted my copy to them, my contract didn't allow me to have any input on the final product that they published under my name.

I kid you not, one time they inserted the word 'not' into one of my sentences, proving that not only did they misunderstand my argument, but they also misunderstood my conclusion.

Nonetheless, looking back on this piece, I'm left cringing. Three years of legal education has shown me exactly how sloppy the arguments presented in this piece truly are. Shockingly bad.

Nevertheless, I still stand by the conclusion. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case declaring the phrase "Under God" unconstitutional was a positive and justified step in the right direction. The United States is a country of religious pluralism, and those who claim that it is a Christian nation either are misrepresenting history to a gross degree or are ignoring history in favor of ideology. The United States' religious politics is unambiguously about keeping government and religion separated for the benifit of both. Bureaucrats in cloistered offices have no business deciding for all Catholics, Mormons, or Hindus what doctrines are the correct ones. Not only do government bureaucrats have no authority to issue such doctrinal edicts, but to do so would swallow up their much more valuable time. As for keeping religion out of politics, I think history speaks to us clearly about the wisdom of mixing temporal and infinite authority and the abuses that have followed swiftly and immediately in each case.

Allowing the government to pass its imprimatur upon any statement of doctrine is equivalent to having the government proclaim the truth of whatever doctrine that it endorses. If the government endorses the phrase "under God" is is directly passing judgment upon matters it has no business intruding upon in exactly the same way as if the Government inserted the words "under Vishnu," or "under God who sent his son to the American continent to minister to Native Americans after his Middle-Eastern crucifiction." The government has no place deciding any of these questions, and until we realize the truth of that position, we will continue to find our policies marred by intrusions of utterly needless divisiveness and intrigue.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals saw that truth back in 2002/2003 when they heard and decided the case of Micheal Newdow. With any luck, soon they will find their way back to deciding a similar case in the same fashion.