Fighting Words For A Secular America
The next time you hear Bush, Falwell, O'Reilly, Limbaught, etc... talk about preserving our "Christian nation," read this essay by Robin Morgan, a political theorist, poet and journalist. Here are excerpts:
"Traditionalists" rabid to keep inserting "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are actually anti-traidition. Those words never appeared in the original, penned in 1892 by Rev. Francis Ballamy (a Baptist forced to resign the pulpit for having called himself a Christian socialist). After intense lobbying by the Kings of Columbus and American Legion, "One nation, indivisible" was changed by Congress to "One nation under God, indivisible"; this was in 1954, reflecting McCarthyite bombast against "godless Communist" at the Cold War's height.
On Day, 1943, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional a law compelling schoolchildren to recite the pledge and salute the flag. For the Court, Justice Jackson wrote, "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."
What about our currency? Originally, the motto on coins was simply: "Liberty." But "In God We Trust" began to appear informally on some US coins during the 19th century, due to a spread of religious fervor following the Civil War. Yet early in the 20th century, when President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned the design for new coinage, he left off "In God We Trust," expressing his "very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins ... not only does no good but does positive harm." Congress overrode him in 1908, after a lengthy crusade initiated by a hyper-religious director of the Mint, James Pollock.
The Constitution itself contains not one reference to a deity or any supernatural powers. This is not an oversight. In fact, the word "religious" occurs only once, in Article VI: "Senators and Representatives ... shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
When Geroge W. Bush and his Cabinet members invoke the "Christian Fathers of our country," the Founders must be picketing in their graves. They were a mix of freethinkers, atheists, Christians, agnostics, Freemasons, and Deists (professing belief in powers scientifically evinced in the natural universe). They were definitely imperfect. Some were slaveholders. Female citizens were invisible to them -- though Abigail Adams warned her husband John, "If particular care and attention are not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion and will not hold ourselves bound to obey any laws in which we have no voice or representation."
But the Founders were, after all, revolutionaries. Their passion -- especially regarding secularism -- glows through their documents and personal correspondence.