Raymond Kraft, a lawyer and author, has written on his disapproval of Michael Newdow and the attack on Christianity in the public sector (see sources). Newdow, a doctor and lawyer, has previously tried to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance and is currently trying to remove “In God We Trust” from our currency. Kraft believes Newdow is misinterpreting the Constitution for his own gain, and disagrees with the general principles that Newdow espouses.
This attack seems to be directed at Newdow both for his legal views (which I support) and his religious views (Newdow is atheist). I am not an atheist, but I happen to support Newdow’s legal opinion and see attacks on his beliefs (or lack thereof) as weak ad hominem attacks. In the following piece, I will explain the views of both Newdow and Kraft, and provide my own thoughts on the matter in support of Newdow and the removal of religious messages from public life.
Pledge of Allegiance Argument
Raymond Kraft has expressed the viewpoint that Newdow’s challenge to the pledge is a restriction of our freedom to recite the pledge in schools. Basically, we have a freedom of speech and we can recite the pledge if we so choose. Kraft thinks Newdow is silencing this speech. However, this is completely incorrect and somewhat absurd.
There are at least three flaws with this line of reasoning.
First, the courts have already ruled that no one can be forced to recite the pledge. Long before Newdow became involved in the issue, the pledge has stopped being mandatory in our schools. Whether the words “under God” are present in the pledge or not, the pledge will not be recited in our classrooms. So Newdow is not silencing speech. If anyone is, that would be the court. However, I should note I do not believe that eliminating mandatory recitation is a silencing of speech.
Second, anyone who wants to say the pledge – either version – is welcome to under the law even if Newdow were successful. With the pledge removed from our classrooms, this only means teachers cannot force the students to recite the pledge. If a student felt inclined to recite the pledge, they are welcome to. And if Newdow were successful, and a student recited the old (current) version, this would be acceptable and legal. This student has not been silenced.
And third, while the general issue was about “God” in the pledge, that was not the larger issue raised by Newdow. The larger issue was that the original pledge did not have “under God” in its text and it would be a disrespectful act to add this against the wishes of the creator (who was, incidentally, a socialist). Abraham Lincoln was an atheist or at the very least a non-practicing Christian. It would be a travesty to add God to his speeches in an arbitrary manner just because we felt that would be to the benefit of the country.
Upholding in the Court System
Kraft might think that Newdow has no legal standing with his court cases, but the federal courts would disagree with this view. In his original lawsuit, the case went all the way to the Supreme Court with Newdow in the lower court’s favor. The Supreme Court never ruled against Newdow, but merely denied him a hearing because they felt he was not the party that could carry the lawsuit (because he filed it on behalf of his daughter whom he had no authority over). The case failed on technicality, not on a legal opinion of the pledge’s wording.
Newdow re-filed the lawsuit on behalf of other people. When the case reached the federal courts, the judge who ruled in his favor the first time held that he was bound by the precedent of the prior trial. So Newdow is currently supported by the court – the pledge should not have “under God” until the Supreme Court says otherwise.
In God We Trust: John Kasich (November 19, 2005)
Now I would like to switch gears to Newdow’s lawsuit to remove the words “In God We Trust” from American currency. The issue was first brought to my attention on November 19, 2005 while casually watching John Kasich’s news program. And his presentation I feel sets the tone used by Kraft and other opponents of Newdow.
Kasich repeatedly said things to the effect of “the atheists are after our money” and other generalizations. Which is false. I don’t believe “the atheists” are doing anything. I believe Michael Newdow, who happens to be atheist, is. Suppose that Pat Robertson calls for the assassination of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. Would we be able to say that the Christians are calling for the head of Hugo Chavez? That would be grossly dishonest.
Yet, this is how I feel Kasich, Kraft and others are seeing the issue. While some of us see the matter as strictly legal with the beliefs of the people involved being unimportant, others make the faith of those involved a primary focus. But what difference does this make? The difference between law and theology. And in the court system, only law matters. So to switch law with theology is not only a deceitful trickery, but also incites religious warfare.
The Establishment-Endorsement Distinction
The First Amendment includes a section known as the establishment clause; the rule that the government cannot establish a state religion. What is the difference between an establishment and an endorsement?
Raymond Kraft has offered a nice bait-and-switch argument about the difference between “establishment” and “endorsement”. Newdow fully understands the definition of establishment as well as the history of legal cases that agree with him. Kraft asserts that Congress can endorse whatever they want. A congressman can say “Ford trucks are great”. I happen to agree. A congressman can also say “The idea of God is good for America.” I agree with Kraft there as well. These are endorsements. Something legally acceptable but vastly different from the endorsement both I and Newdow see as the case with the currency.
Response: An All-Ford State
Establishments would be such things as declaring Ford trucks the only trucks allowed to be driven in America. Rather than simply stating a preference, they would have it be made law. And this is exactly the money issue. All money says “In God We Trust” without exception. Atheists are not allowed to use a currency that is without this saying. Thus, this statement has been established (not simply endorsed) by Congress. Congress, as a body, does not have free speech. Congressmen individually have free speech, but the body does not. Speech presented by the body is law, which is regulated by the constitution. Within these limits, it cannot be free because there are previously regulated rules of what can and cannot be said. And if printing religious statements on money is against the constitution, they were not free to “say” this.
Establishment Clause and Creches
Now, the lower courts tend to agree with my position of what is endorsement rather than establishment, and vice versa. In federal cases, they are more hesitant to rule one way or another, knowing how much a small ripple can escalate. Newdow lost his original Pledge case on technical grounds (as Kraft knows), not on the merits of his charges. Another man tried to get Christmas off the list of national holidays and failed. The courts, when affecting so many people, do not like change. However, on lower levels they have time and again sided with Newdow’s general view that government cannot present a religious view without it being an establishment of some sort.
Time and again I see public land having to remove creches (nativity scenes) or have secular messages placed alongside them. The money case is no different. America, whether Kraft likes this or not, is moving in a secular direction (as evidenced in my article “A Government of Swedes”). If Newdow fails now, another person will succeed in the future when the political climate is different. And the reason is simple: the Constitution, as written, is against religion and politics joining together in any way. The law is clear, and Kraft’s Carrollian word games do not change this. (If you want to discuss what the amendments “really” mean, read the words of the Founders who wrote them. Their intentions of excluding Christianity from the State are made very transparent.)
Raymond Kraft’s arguments do not stand on solid ground. He may want a Christian America. Certainly millions of other people do in this country. But a Christian America is not something the constitution speaks in favor of. We are all free to practice in our own way. If Kraft wants to pray and attend church, he is welcome to. If Newdow wishes not to, he is welcome to. When the government steps on the toes of one group in the favor of another, then we have problems. And this clearly sees to be a situation where removing the phrase would benefit Newdow without hurting Kraft in any way.
The Founding Fathers wanted a country for the freedom of all and utilizing the liberalism of John Locke and others in the Western tradition. Let us not try to fight against the current of something that has only worked on our behalf all these years.
Kraft, Raymond. Michael Newdow vs. the First Amendment: Endorsing or Establishing Religion? http://www.chronwatch.com/content/contentDisplay.asp?aid=17911 November 16, 2005.