I Have a Few Comments on Mike Straw’s story this week. Let’s start with the story; it’s from the 18 January 2015 issue:
Under New Management
The city council of Winfield, Ala., passed a resolution: “Whereas we acknowledge God is the owner of the City of Winfield and that it is a City under God. We acknowledge that at all times, He is in control.” Mayor Randy Price admitted, “It blew up on Facebook last night after the atheists got a hold of it.” The viral response came after the blogger known as The Friendly Atheist posted a response on his website: “I promise you God has better things to do than take over your city.” Price still stands behind the decision, though. “I feel like we need to stand up for what is right,” he said. “Our forefathers said ‘One nation under God’ and we went so far away from that. There are not enough godly people involved in day-to-day decisions,” he said. “There’s no other way; there’s no other God. There are a lot of religions out there but only one God.” (MS/Haleyville Journal Record) …Be careful: I hear if you eat any fruit from the trees, the landlord will evict you.
Mayor Price believes that “God is the owner of the City of Winfield” because “Our forefathers said ‘One nation under God’ and we went so far away from that.” Actually, going to ‘One nation under God’ went away from our forefathers: the de facto motto of the country, adopted in 1782 on the Great Seal of the United States, was “E Pluribus Unum” — “Out of many, one.” Or, to translate the idea more completely, out of many kinds of citizens joined together, we become one nation” — the “melting pot” we used to talk about in this country, even in my lifetime. Not anymore: now it’s “us vs them” …when in reality, we’re all “them”; we all moved to this continent from somewhere else. (Yes, even the “Native Americans” — Indians, if you prefer.) The human race started in Africa, and moved out from there.
“In God We Trust,” shortened from “In God is Our Trust” from the Star Spangled Banner (our national anthem, which surely you remember was not written until 1814, late in the War of 1812), wasn’t adopted as the national motto by our forefathers, but rather by a modern Congress — in 1956, during the “red scare” — our fear of communism. Congress simply wanted to declare God was on our side, not them commies’.
Before that, the motto was on U.S. coins, also for political reasons: to declare God was on the side of the Union, not the Confederacy, during the Civil War. That’s not just my interpretation, the U.S. Department of the Treasury admits it openly on their web site. I’ve written about this before, years ago in a post called Religious Freedom in the USA.
Not that I expect Mayor Price to let inconvenient facts get in the way of his narrative. But if it was my choice, I’d get both “us vs them” and religion (including ‘In God We Trust’) out of government, as our forefathers clearly actually intended, and formally adopt E Pluribus Unum as our national motto. But alas, nobody asked me.
What About “Under God”?
When I Ran This Commentary in the Premium issue on Monday, the only “criticism” received was that it didn’t mention that “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was also added recently — in 1954. Yes, well, I can’t cover every point in every short essay, but there were so many, I’ll go ahead and cover that now.
Near me is a historically protected structure — an old schoolhouse and, more recently, Grange Hall. The first time I had the opportunity to tour inside, there was something interesting on the wall, so the next time I took my camera to get a photo: it’s a framed copy of the Pledge of Allegiance, decorated with an American flag — a 48-star flag, which dates it between 1912 and 1959 (when Alaska was admitted to the Union). Notably, it does not include the phrase “under God”. Yeah, a lot of religious and/or patriotic folks will bristle at these simple facts, but not only is this oath completely politicized, but you do know the Pledge was written by a dreaded socialist, right? Indeed, Francis Bellamy (1855–1931) was a Baptist minister, and also a Christian socialist. Despite him being a minister, he didn’t include “under God” in the Pledge. His “flag salute” was specifically written for this nation of immigrants to salute our origin flags, not necessarily the American flag (the original text in 1892 began, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the republic for which it stands…” (emphasis added). In 1923, it was changed to read “the flag of the United States” to ensure loyalty from immigrants, but that wasn’t specific enough, so in 1924 the words “of America” were added.
The Bellamy Salute
But wait, there’s more. Bellamy had a specific salute for the kids to use when saying the Pledge; it was even dubbed the Bellamy Salute (see photo). Not surprisingly, that gesture was changed during World War II thanks to its similarity to the Nazi salute, and replaced by the now-familiar hand-over-heart. Still, Congress adopted the Pledge as official in 1942. Even before that, children were compelled to recite the Pledge in school, and when Jehovah’s Witnesses sued to stop their children from being forced to swear an oath to a symbol, which they consider idolatry, the case went all the way up to the Supreme Court. Incredibly, in 1940 the court upheld that students should be forced to say the Pledge, even though it had not yet been adopted by Congress. (And a rash of mob violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses followed.) Yep: the United States has Freedom of Religion! The Supreme Court reversed itself in 1943, however, again after a case filed by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The court’s majority decision, written by Justice Robert H. Jackson, noted that “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” Now that’s freedom of religion!
Why not put it up for a vote, suggested by Justice Felix Frankfurter, in the earlier decision? Jackson slapped that idea down hard. “The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts,” he said in the ruling, making things clear. “One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.”
So in some ways, Mayor Price is correct: we have drifted away from what our Forefathers set us up with. What, exactly, was that? “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” (emphasis added), wrote Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury (Conn.) Baptist Association.
The only true freedom is for the government to stay completely out of religion, as our Forefathers wisely saw. People like Mayor Price seem to think true freedom is when their religion is institutionalized. Do you agree with his specific religion? Or the religion Congress comes up with? The vast majority won’t. So what’s the right one to adopt? None at all. Religion shouldn’t be subject to a vote, and it shouldn’t be dictated: only you should decide what’s right for you. And the flip side of that coin is, you should only dictate what’s right for yourself, not for me, not for your community, and not for the country. You want to be Baptist? Fine. You, or Mayor Price, or the government wants to dictate that you, or I, must be Baptist? Hold on there! That’s not freedom. Any questions?
A Brief Update
In response to this page over the weekend (read: by the Monday Premium edition on January 26), there were 50+ protest unsubscribes, plus a few who lied and said that the newsletter they signed up for (and confirmed that subscription request) was spam, and reported it as such. Gee: how godly of them!
In the meantime, there were a half-dozen upgrades to Premium specifically in support of this page. All in all, then, the newsletter lost readers who don’t grasp that letting the government dictate what they are allowed to believe will destroy everyone’s religious freedom, except for the very few who happen to agree with the government’s take on things (and these are the same people who tend to think the government screws up everything!), and would rather shoot the messenger than think about the implications of a truly important issue, vs. gaining readers who prefer to think — and support the newsletter that prompted their thinking. Sounds like a great tradeoff to me.
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