17 September 2005

Pledge of Allegiance Thrown Out Again

A federal court in California has—again—ruled that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional. According to judge Lawrence Karlton, the words “under God” in the Pledge are a violation of the First Amendment. Reciting the Pledge would mean forcing a “coercive requirement to affirm God” on all students, according to the judge.

Christians and conservatives have not unexpectedly condemned the ruling. Legally, they say, this ruling is suspect at the very least since the judge claimed that he was bound by precedent. The precedent in question was the ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which ruled on this same question in 2002. However, conservatives claim that this precedent was overturned when the Supreme Court ruled that the plaintiff in that case—the atheist Michael Newdow who is now representing two other plaintiffs in this case—had no legal standing to bring the case.

But quite apart from the legal squibbling, Christians are outraged that the judge has now declared affirming God in public an offense. It is seen as another step on the increasingly slipperly slope toward official prohibition of visible religion. Although the term “God” can be taken as a very non-descript title of the Divine in general, there is hardly any doubt that in a Christian country like the US, Christians are the main victims of this ruling.

So, what are we to think of this ruling? The first observation that needs to be made is that the ruling is hardly a surprise. All the same actors were on the scene and the California courts are hardly known for their conservative leanings. Whether or not the 2002 ruling was rendered inoperable by the Supreme Court ruling, the same facts were presented to substantially the same court by the same people. One could hardly have expected the same liberal court to suddenly take a shine to affirming God.

Yet we need to look a bit deeper than that because the outrage vented by the conservative critics is virtually the same as the very shallow objections raised by Democrats this week against Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. Just as the Democratic senators continued asking the judicial nominee Roberts questions about his political views, so the critics of judge Karlton’s ruling have complained about its ethical and moral insufficiency rather than its legal value. Regardless of whether judge Karlton is Christian or anti-Christian, he had to decide this case based on the laws available to him. And like it or not, the notion that the First Amendment prohibits reciting the words “under God” in a public school is legally quite compelling.

After all, the relevant words in the First Amendment are as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It can certainly be argued that at the basis of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance there is no act of Congress so that there is no legal coercion. But such an argument would be restricted entirely to a very legalistic, quite frankly pharisaical view of law. In actual fact, Congress has passed many laws regulating the mandatory school attendance of America’s youth and regulates the public—and even private—schools with numerous laws and rules. American children who find themselves in a public school classroom where the Pledge of Allegiance is recited are not there of their own accord and cannot effectively influence the school system that arranged for the Pledge of Allegiance.

I believe, therefore, that as a legal ruling, based on current American law and the Constitution, judge Karlton’s ruling is correct and will be upheld if it is appealed. If it should reach the Supreme Court, newly appointed Chief Justice Roberts would almost certainly uphold the ruling. Probably not because he agrees with the sentiment of the ruling, but because he would be bound to do so based on the laws as they are on the books now.

One may wonder why the Pledge of Allegiance has ‘suddenly’ become unconstitutional when it has been recited for decades. Of course, speaking from a very principled point of view, the Pledge has always been unconstitutional. But no judge in the 1950s would ever have ruled it so. Before the rampant outbreak of postmodernism, which rejects all authority and truth, including relgious truth, it has probably not occurred to anyone that the words “under God” might be in violation of any law or right. America, even liberal America, simply had not become allergic to religion yet. The Pledge flew under the radar until Michael Newdow went into his now infamous anaphylactic shock over the word “God” and decided to do what he believed was the American thing to do: sue.

Thus the tragedy in this case is not so much the ruling. Judge Karlton probably had no choice. The tragedy here is the fact that American culture has degraded to such a level of rabid secularism that religion offends some people to such an extent that it excites them to acts of anti-religious vengeance. Mr. Newdow could not let the Pledge slide. In his view, it is so odious and dangerous that it needed to be eradicated from society.

It is a tragedy that America has let society get to this point. More than likely, we are paying the price for a number of very unrighteous acts performed in the name of Christ in the past that religion is so hated by a large chunk of the general public. But then again, it is in man’s nature to rebel against God and so perhaps it is merely the decadence of twenty-first century luxury that allows some of the most ardent rebels to elevate their wickedness to higher levels. After all, as Agur said in Proverbs 30: 8-9,

Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the Lord?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God. (NKJV)

Perhaps America, which is getting obese on whopping amounts of unhealthy food, is getting full.

2 comments:

Broken Man said...

I am going to have to disagree with some of your assertions here, just some. I haven't placed all of my arguments into position just yet, but I will. For today, let us actually lay out, in it's entirety, the First Amendment.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishedment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right to the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

Michel van der Hoek said...

Well, don't get me wrong. I personally have nothing against the words "under God" in the Pledge. My point is simply that from a legal point of view, the Pledge of Allegiance probably cannot stand. Not surprisingly, there are some in Congress who want to pass a law that simply disallows federal courts from ruling on the constitutionality of the Pledge. That way, the Pledge can stand regardless of its constitutionality.

The difficulty in this situation is to try and separate your personal views from your understanding of what the law says. I may be wrong in my assessment and the Pledge my be legally in the clear. But I do think that the argument that it is not constitutional on the basis of the First Amendment is not a baseless assertion.