Freedom not to Pledge

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Bill Poser at Language Log argues that the words 'under God' in the pledge of allegiance are indeed unconstitutional, as the 9th Circuit court ruled in 2002. It's now going before the Supreme Court, so it will be making the rounds once again. His main point is that it "violates the freedom of religion of those who do not believe in God or who do not consider the United States to be a nation under God." Now I don't see any reason why we need to have those words there. Their origin in the pledge is a little suspect. I don't see how it's persecution of Christians to remove them. Removing them doesn't harm Christians' liberty in any way, and not everyone who wants them removed hates Christians. Still, I'm not sure how having some words in a statement violates anyone's freedom.

Even if the government were to pass a law declaring the existence of God, that wouldn't violate anyone's freedom. Such a law wouldn't make it illegal to believe that there's no God, nor would it prevent you from saying that there's no God. The laws states it as a fact but doesn't force you to say it as one. It just states in the law that God does in fact exist and then adds no normative consequences.

I don't see how the pledge of allegiance is any different except for its being less severe than a law stating that there's a God, since our government's actual laws are neutral on that issue. I'm not even sure the pledge of allegiance has any legal significance. I don't think you have to say it to become a citizen (I was at my wife's interview, and I know they didn't make her say it there). You don't have to say it at any point to remain a citizen. I don't think you have to say it to be in the military (just an oath to uphold the Constitution, which doesn't include the pledge). It seems to me to be on the same order as RI having the Rhode Island Red as the state bird and coffee milk as the state bird. What if you don't like coffee milk? I certainly don't. Does that give me a reason to get mad at the government of the state where I was born and lived for 22 years? It's true that public schools do have an event in the morning at which most students recite the pledge, but that's not a government-enforced saying (and it's in fact illegal to enforce it because of freedom of religion).

Poser's main objection to this argument is that some schools do enforce it illegally. So? Some religious groups use coercive behavior to get people into their cult. Does that mean religion should be outlawed? The existence of people breaking the law to get people to say something that they have the legal freedom not to say is not a reason to say that the words in that phrase are violating anyone's freedom of religion. The rogue teachers and administrators who illegally force kids to say the pledge are the ones violating people's religious freedom, not the mere presence of those words in an optionally utterable statement. If the Supreme Court gives in on this one, they're not thinking straight.

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Nice Post. Seems like you might be committed to not only a) not requiring anyone to recite the pledge, but also b) not allowing official school time to be taken to recite the pledge. It seems you're committed to (b) because if they were to allow such time, that would be a promotion of theism over atheism (since the pledge is theistic). So those school recitations may be bye-bye. Just a thought.

What I'm committed to is:

1. Christians are not being persecuted by people's trying to remove these words from the pledge. The people making this argument base it on perceived fairness and freedom of conscience not to be forced to say something you disagree with (which can't happen legally anyway).

2. Atheists' liberties are not threatened by the presence of those words in the pledge, even if it's said every day at their school or at their children's school. If their liberties are threatened, it's by illegal enforcement of saying the pledge.

I'm not sure why the conjunction of those two points, which I think is all I said in the post, should get you anything about whether the recitations are said in schools. I'm not committed to saying that a school's giving time to recite the pledge is promotion of theism rather than allowance of theists to express their commitment to the country by acknowledging that it stands under divine authority, something any non-theist can leave out and still pledge to the country as an absolute authority with none higher.

"Even if the government were to pass a law declaring the existence of God, that wouldn't violate anyone's freedom."

Actually, it would be a violation of freedom, just not the kind of freedom you are thinking of.

There are two kinds of freedom: freedom to, and freedom from. Most of the 1st amendment rights are of the first category--they are freedoms to do various actions. However, included in the "freedom of religion" section of the 1st amendment is the "establishment of religion" clause, which essentially a freedom from government estabilshed religions.

Thus your hypothetical law would violate this freedom from government established religion. This may not oppress anyone, but it is a violation of freedom nonetheless.

As you point out, the "under God" phrase in the Pledge is just a (much) weaker version of your hypothetical law. The opponents to the "under God" phrase who are on (somewhat) firm legal ground oppose it not on the grounds that it oppresses atheists, but on the grounds that the Pledge is an endorsement of Religion, and that such an endorsment constitutes an establishment of relgion by the government.

The case is not necessarily watertight, but that is the explanation of how "having some words in a statement violates anyone's freedom."

I guess my concern with seeing it that way is that the founders didn't have any problem to begin with when it came to endorsing belief in the existence of God. What they had a problem with was setting up a state religion, as most European states had. They wanted freedom of practice between the various Christian denominations, and that's now gotten extended to other religions as they've become more prominent (and as the ones that were historically Christian have gotten less so). Endorsing the existence of God does not set up a state religion, at least as the founders saw it, and their intent basically determines what the 1st Amendment means. There's still freedom of practice, as I've been arguing, even if there were a law declaring God's existence, since it wouldn't affect practice, and that's all the 1st Amendment was ever intended to say.

"There's still freedom of practice, as I've been arguing, even if there were a law declaring God's existence, since it wouldn't affect practice, and that's all the 1st Amendment was ever intended to say."

What if we take your hypothetical law a bit further? What if the law declared that Christianity is the official state religion but that any and every individual is free to practice whatever religion they please?

Surely such a law would run afoul of the Establishment clause. Yet, in theory, you should still be fine with it as it does not affect practice.

Again, as I mentioned before, the 1st amendment freedoms are not only the freedoms to do certain actions, but they include freedoms from certain things too. This "freedom from" belies your statement that "that's all the 1st Amendment was ever intended to say." as a "freedom from" will never restrict practice.

In theory I would be fine with it except that it violates the letter of the law and therefore does run afoul of the Establishment Clause, because in its own terms it's establishing a state religion, even if it has no significant consequences. It would thus be against the letter of the law but without really being against the spirit of the law, so in that sense I would be fine with it in principle.

This isn't true of my law. It doesn't set up a state religion. It just declares something to be true that many religions also happen to teach. It doesn't violate the spirit or the letter of the law.

You seem to have some other moral principle creeping in here, something about "freedom from", but I'm not sure what it's freedom from. It's not freedom from being forced to do anything. It's not freedom from being forced not to do something. It's not freedom from being expected to believe something. It's not freedom from being treated as less of a citizen. I'm not sure what kind of freedom requires official government documents to agree with you on everything, and belief in God seems to be one of those. I would say the same thing about a law that there isn't a God that had absolutely no consequences in terms of what people can do, believe, say, and argue for.

"You seem to have some other moral principle creeping in here"

It isn't just "creepipng in", it is the point of my arguement. What I'm trying to show here is that you are judging the Constititionality of the "Under God" pharse by the wrong measure. You have been argueing that the presence or absence of the "Under God" phrase in no way "violate(s) anyone's freedom", and thus is Constitutional and in line with the Framers' intent.

What I am argueing is that that is the wrong measure. The Bill of Rights offers two kinds of freedoms, Freedom to do various actions, and Freedom from certain kinds of Governmental action.

The brouhaha surrounding the "Under God" clause is not about the former kind of freedom, but the latter. To then judge the merits of the case by the former standard instead of by the latter is a category mistake.

The Framers of the Constitution intended to impose various restrictions on the government. The right to privacy and Haebius Corpus are two such restrictions. The Establishment Clause is another. If the government violates any of these "freedom from" restrictions, it in no way "violate(s) anyone's freedom" in an individual liberty sense.

Example: if the government violates our Right to Privacy (essentially, our Freedom from Government surveillence without just cause), that violaion has "absolutely no consequences in terms of what people can do, believe, say, and argue for". That does not however mean that our right to privacy is useless or irrelevant. More importantly, it does not mean that a government violation of the right to privacy is Constitutional, acceptable, or in any way consistent with the Framers' intent.

Similarly so with the Establishemnt Clause. Just because a government violation of the Establishment clause might have "absolutely no consequences in terms of what people can do, believe, say, and argue for", doesn't mean that such a violation is acceptable, or in any way consistent with the Framers' intent.

Where is the harm in my proposed hypothetical law? Say that it was followed with a law that decreed that some percentage of all taxes collected by the state will be given to the Established religion. Or that members of the Established Religion would be given additional priviledges (note that I said priviledges, not rights).

The Framers of the Constitution would never be satisfied with my law, even in principle because of abuses such as these. The Framers were very aware that the government could abuse its powers and that is why they included various "freedom froms" in the Bill of Rights.

Anyone who has any sort of Libertarian streak within them (and you have confessed to having a small one) should readily understand that the curtailment of governmental power is something which is worth preserving, even if it has (in theory) "absolutely no consequences in terms of what people can do, believe, say, and argue for".

Now, your law does not officially Establish a religion, but it certainly Endorses one (or possibly a few). The legal question is whether or not Endorsement is essentially the same as Establishment. IANAL and I haven't followed this issue closely enough to have an informed opinion, but my uninformed opinion is that it probably does. However, if the "Under God" phrase is deemed Constitutional, then it will most likely be because either Endorsement is not equvalent to Establishemnt, or that "Under God" does not count as Endorsement.

At any rate, the issue at hand is not a matter of individual liberty or oppresion, but a matter of government restraint.

My law doesn't endorse any religions. What it does endorse is a claim that some religions also endorse. I just don't see how that counts as endorsing those religions, since it doesn't take a stance on whether those religions are correct in their other claims. Your law does endorse a religion. That's why it's in violation of the letter of the law, which mine isn't. Both are consistent with the spirit of the law, I believe.

As for curtailing government power, I see no reason for governments to have power they don't need or can't justify through important principles of justice. However, I see no reason to prohibit governments from doing something with no effect. I don't see declaring that God exists as an exercise of power. It would be a a mistake in what laws are supposed to be about, so it would be a dumb law.

Still, it's not an exercise of power, since it's a law that doesn't do anything. It's not just that it doesn't infringe people's rights to do things (freedom to), but I don't even see how it violates any freedom from. What is the government doing to someone by declaring God's existence that those people are free from if it hadn't done it? I just don't see what I'm free from that I wouldn't be if they passed such a law. There's no constraint on me from such a law, so there's nothing I'm being protected from if there isn't that law.

It sounds like you're just explaining why it would be wrong to have a law saying that God exists by saying we have a freedom from the government saying God exists. That's not an explanation. It just repeats the claim that I'm asking for an argument for. I want an argument why we have a right for the government not to do this. The first amendment doesn't seem to me to say anything about endorsement of a view that religions also happen to endorse, since that's not an establishment of a religion.

The connection between Endorsement and Establishment is, in my mind, far from iron-clad, so I will not attempt to make that arguement. Simply rest assured that that is where the legal arguement arises in the "Under God" issue.

"My law doesn't endorse any religions. What it does endorse is a claim that some religions also endorse." It is endorsing a very central tenent of certain religions, especially inasmuch as "God" is being used as a proper name. Would it count as endorsement if the government passed a law declaring that the Catholic Church is correct in all of its claims except for X (where X is some trivial but universally accepted Catholic belief), but on positition X it takes no stance? According to you, this would not be endorsement as it does not exhaustively affirm Catholocism, and it takes no stance on the positions it does not explicitly affirm. However, to most people, this would seem very much like endorsement. Where do you draw the line?

"Both are consistent with the spirit of the law, I believe." I have to believe that the Founders would strenuouly disagree. Mine at the very least would infuriate them. Reasons to be given below.

"[I]t's not an exercise of power, since it's a law that doesn't do anything." Here, I think, is the crux of our disagreement. Declarative words have power especially when spoken by those in authority. Consider the harrasment laws. While a person may say to another person of equal standing "I believe it is in your best interest to have sex with me.", it is considered an act of sexual harrasment for a person in authority to say those words to a subservient person. (e.g. A teacher may not legally say this to a student, nor a boss to an employee, not an arresting oficer to the person being arrested.)

Now, according to you, this statement should never be illegal as the person being spoken to is free to disagree with said statement, and the statement in no way compromises the liberty of the one being spoken to. In theory, such as statement "doesn't do anything". In reality, becuase of the relationship of the people involved, it creates and atmosphere of expectation and an implied threat of punishment.

Now take it further and change the statement to "I decalre that it is in your best interest to have sex with me." This moves it even closer to the terminology of your hypothetical law. And it is even stronger in force than the "I believe" version. Now the threat of punishment is palpable. Yet again, the person being spoken to is free to disagree and personal liberty is not being compromised. Do you think that this is OK?

The federal government stands as the highest (secular) authority of our nation (almost by definition). For it to make any declarative statement is for it to imply that its subjects should agree. And when it wields the power that it undeniably does, the threat of punishment is palpable though not explicit.

Thus, declarative laws, while on their face pointless in that they seemingly "[don't] do anything", actually have a profound effect. (Another example, after 9/11, the President "declared war on Terror". "So what?", according to you. [note: by strict definition, you cannot declare War on anything besides a sovereign nation. Thus such a declaration is nonsensical, accomplishing and meaning nothing] Yet that declaration has had a huge impact on the laws and actions of this country and its citizen.)

The whole point to the Establishment Clause is to prevent this kind of government influence, either in its strong forms where the government can coerce the citizens to practice a particular religion, or in its weaker forms where it endorses or influences its citizens to some religions over others. (The exceptions being, presumably, to ensure a civil society.)

Thus, the Establsiment Clause is providing a freedom from government influence (whether strong or weak) in religious practice. Your hypothetical law violates such a "freedom from", though it has no effect on our "fredom to"s.

note: as for why the Founders (and the citizens at the founding of this country) would be so infuriated at my proposed Law: most of them were not Christian, or at least not Christian as we would understand it. According to Noll, "in 1970 only 10 percent of Americans professed membership in a Christian church." (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, pg 63). Most of the Founding Fathers were Deists, not Theists, and though they mention "God" frequently, they are referring to the Deist God, not the Theist one. (Though "God" is the proper name of both, they have different referents.) So my law, Establishing Christianity as the national religion, presumably with its Theist God intact, would turn their stomachs. Similarly, the "Under God" in the Pledge would be as agreeable as "Under Baal" to them inasmuch as God refers to a non-Deist deity.

But more importantly, and disagreements over which deity the name "God" refers to aside, I think that the Founders were well cognizant that declarations from on high have a profound influence on the masses. To Establish a religion while in theory not demanding it would undercut the intent of the Freedom of Religious Practice section, of which the Establishment Clause is a part.

1. The spirit of the law point about your law is inconsequential to my argument. Whether any of this is in or against the spirit of the law won't affect what the Supreme Court says (or shouldn't). They're not after the moral reasons why laws were implemented and whether the same reason should lead to new laws. That's what Congress does. All that really matters is the letter of the law for this issue.

2. Here's a view that I can conceive of someone finding plausible. If a large number of claims particular to one specific religion or denomination are endorsed by law, then it might count legally as endorsement of that religion. Your argument is that once you admit that you've basically given enough reason not to accept even one proposition that's accepted by any religion, because we can't find a place to draw a line. I think that's bad for two reasons.

In cases where there's a continuum between A and B with unclear cases in the middle, that doesn't necessarily undermine seeing A and B as clear cases in different categories. For instance, the difference between being a healthy saver and being really stingy and greedy seems to be a difference of degree, as does the difference between being courageous and brave and being foolhardy. Is there a sharp line between such character traits? No. Are there clear cases? Yes. Your case might just be a clear case of violating the first amendment while mine is a clear case that doesn't do it. So the fact that you can't draw a clear line down the middle according to which one side is ok and the other not doesn't show a thing about whether one extreme might still be wrong and the other extreme perfectly fine.

3. There seem to be clear cases of the government doing exactly the sort of thing you're saying it can't do. Many tenets of many religions are enforced by law, and these do affect conduct. There are all sorts of religious motivations for a large number of our laws. The reason that's not considered to be in violation of the first amendment is because the first amendment doesn't prohibit religious views as motivations for laws. It does prohibit saying in a law that a particular religion or denomination is officially recognized or promoted.

4. The pragmatics issue you raise does get to the right issues, but I don't think they apply to the pledge case or even to some ways of how my law might come about. The issue is a conversational implicature of certain claims, ensured by the combination of a social context of utterance and certain norms of communication that we as a culture have. If I said "I believe it's in your best interest to have sex with me" to a student who came to my office hours to ask what to do about a low grade in my class, that would clearly carry the conversational implicature that the students grade is going to suffer if she doesn't have sex with me. The conversational implicature is what does the work in making my claim immoral. If I said it in response to my wife's expressed desire to have another kid, then it might be a strange response but not immoral in any way.

I don't think the same sort of thing necessarily goes on with my law, since you would need a context showing that the law does have such pragmatic force. We can discuss that issue if you'd like, but all I really need to do is argue that there isn't such force with the pledge case. I think that's pretty easy.

The pledge of allegiance is an act of patriotism. The Supreme Court justices seem to be indicating in their questionings so far that most of them think this. Souter, Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist, and Thomas at least are in this case (and Scalia too but he's recused himself). That will be enough to win the case if that issue determines it. Is there any pressure with the pledge of allegiance to join a particular religious group or even to be religious at all?

For your argument to succeed there will need to be the same sort of force in that direction as there is in this case with particular religions (or maybe in religion in general, but I don't think there's that either). It seems to me that any pressure from the pledge of allegiance is a pressure of loyalty to the country, not to religion.

5. Your point about the war on terror seems to me to be a mistake. Traditional just war theory makes points about who can initiate a conflict, and who can be a legitimate target of such a conflict. It had to state explicitly that another country had to be the target of a war for it to be just. That suggests that it's not in the definition of a war that it has to be against a constituted government over a land that has no disputes about its government. Terrorist groups or large-scale organizations aren't like that, so traditional just war theory as conceived by pre-moderns would not allow a war on terror. I think we have reason to question their arguments for that moral view in the light of how much success terrorists have been able to have. I don't think there was ever a definitional exclusion here, just a moral one.

6. As for the deist/theist thing, I think it is the same God but with false beliefs about God. I've dealt with this before. Either you haven't seen or haven't responded to. My main reasoning goes back to the Morning Star/Evening Star case. People were referring to the same object but under different descriptions -- it's the planet Venus. Suppose you had someone who worshiped the Morning Star and someone else who worshiped the Evening Star. They disagree about what propositions are true about Venus, and they even think they're talking about two different gods. They think the other is worshiping the wrong god. They think the moral propositions the other believes that god revealed are wrong, since the ones they believe their own god revealed are the right ones. In the end, though, there's one object that they're both worshiping -- Venus. They just both believe a whole bunch of false things about it.

1. OK, but that means we won't be able to discuss original intent or Founders or historical considerations if we limit ourselves to the strict letter of the law.

2. Fallacy of the slippery slope. Yes. And I agree. My question of where to draw the line was not meant to be a rhetorical one, but a sincere one. The guidelines you give (not restricting personal liberty, and no coersion in the practice of religion) are not enough, for they allow both extremes. Under your guidelines, the only way you could cross the letter of the law is with something akin to my law, namely, one that actually uses the language of Establishment. But a law that, say, makes the votes of all Catholics count double or a law that deprived the vote from all Lutherans would not cross the 1st amendment at all (the 14th yes, but not the 1st). Yet those sound awfully like Endorsement (or in the latter example, anti-endorsement) to me. Your guidelines need to be more strict. But you may have a hard time doing so without putting your law on shaky ground.

3. There is a difference between affirming something that a religion happens to also affirm and affirming a central, fairly unique tenent of a relgion. If the government and Methodism both happen to condemn murder, it does not follow that the government Endorses Methodism. However, the existence of God is not simply an affirmation of JudeoChristianIslam, it is the first and central religious axiom of these religions. And to accept this central axiom is, to many people, akin to endorsing the entire religion. An example might make it clearer: if the government were to pass a law declaring that the Aryan race is the supreme race, most people would consider that at least tacit endorsement of the KKK. Such a law does not explicitly endorse the KKK, but it affirms its central and primary axiom. So it is with your law, it affirms the central and primary axiom of several religions to the exclusion of many more.

4. "all I really need to do is argue that there isn't such force with the pledge case." I think that this is the crucial issue here. Does or does not the pledge have such a pragmatic force?

Let us take in mind the context of of the Pledge. It is the official (passed by law) Pledge of Allegiance to our nation (technically, to our flag, but "same difference"). Now let us take a look at the context of when the Contitution was written. The Founders (I know that I said I wouldn't drag them back into this back in point 1, but they are too relevant to this point and as one who values original intent, I'm sure you will be gracious) were writing it roughly two-hundred years after the Protestant Reformation in Europe. They would have been well aware of how state religion was determined at that time: there would be a debate in the presence of the governement officials. The government would declare that they agreed with the proponents of one religion or another. Such a declaration was identical with the Establishment of that religion.

"you would need a context showing that the law does have such pragmatic force." That is exactly the context of Reformation/Post-Reformation Europe, and is most likely the context that the Framers had in mind when writing the Establishment Clause. And in this context, a declaration had tremendous pragmatic force (enforcable by the death penalty).

"all I really need to do is argue that there isn't such force with the pledge case. I think that's pretty easy.//The pledge of allegiance is an act of patriotism." Reciting the Pledge is an act of patriotism, but the Pledge itself is not. The Pledge itself is an official statement of what this country is ("one nation, inddivisible, under God") and what it stands for ("liberty and justice for all"). The issue is not a matter of whether or not the Pledge must be recited or when (that has already been decided...pretty much no one ever needs to recite the pledge), the issue is the content of the Pledge itself. Even if no one ever says it. This is important precisely because it is an official statement of what this country is and stands for. If this statement conflicts with what the Constitution allows, then it one or the other must be amended.

While at first glance, the Pledge seems like a weaker verion of your Law, under closer scrutiny, it is far stronger. Your law "merely" declares the existence of God, while the Pledge says that our nation is "Under God", namely under the authority of God. This is quite a statement! When saying the Pledge, you are not only pledging allegience to the State, but also by proxy to God. But beyond the individual recitation of the Pledge, the State itself, by making this the official Pledge of Allegiance, is making itself subservient to a particular God. Far from merely affirming His existence, the Nation has acknowledged His authority over it. Do you see how this could be taken as, if not Establishment of Religion, then at least Endorsement of Religion? Especially in the historical context of coming out of Reformation Europe?

5. I guess you could stretch the definition of War so that you could declare war against terrorists or against large organizations. You can do this becuase they are comprised of people who can be killed or who can surrender. But the President declared a War agaisnt Terrorism, which is a methodology, a tactic. It isn't even an ideology, like "communism". Like the "War on Drugs" and the "War on Poverty", there is no one to defeat, no one to surrender. How do you know when you have won? Even if all terrorists have been eradicated, terrorism as a tactic is still available to any and all who wish to use it. A "War on Terrorists" parses sensibly; a "War on Terrorsim" does not.

6. I did see your earlier treatment of this issue, but I did not respond. I did not agree with it, but could not put my finger on why. I think I've got it now: John 8:41-44. In this passage, the opponents of Jesus are asserting that they follow God but reject Jesus. Jesus, far from saying that they do indeed follow God but have wrong beliefs about Him (as you would have said), says that they do not follow God at all, but the devil. Thus, to claim to follow God but deny Jesus as Christ is not to follow God at all, but to assign a different referent (namely, the devil) to the same name of "God". Under this view, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Deists all follow different deities whom they all name "God", though that name has different referents for each group.

3. Theism is a central tenet of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other religions. I agree with that. But to say that endorsement of theism is to endorse all these religions just can't be right. Its centrality to these religions means it's necessary for any of these. It's not sufficient for any of them. You can't endorse all of theose religions, since they conflict on central points. Besides, there are far too many people who are theistic in such a general sense that would affirm the pledge. They don't endorse any of those religions.

4. Do you think "In God we trust" should be removed from money? Is that an endorsement of religion? I think you have to say yes.

My main opposition to most of what you say here is back with the issues of #3, so I have little else to say at the moment.

5. When Bush first started talking about the war on terror (not terrorism), my first inclination was to think of it as metaphorical. Of course you're not going to find a target called terror and attack it militarily. You don't do that with terrorism either. That doesn't mean it's a misuse to declare war on terror any more than it's a misuse to declare war on drugs or cancer, to have a crusade for or against any political issue, or to say something is a meeting of the minds or a marriage of ideas. (Incidentally, this creates problems for those saying it's a misuse of language to talk about gay marriage. I think I've mentioned this before.)

6. Somewhere I'm not finding but later than that post, I spent some time explaining that there are two ways scripture talks about this sort of thing. (I'm wondering now if it was someone else's blog.) John 8:41-44 is one of those ways. There are other places that talk the other way. II Kings 17 talks the other way, going as far as saying that the ancestors of the Samaritans feared Yahweh despite also worshiping other gods.

This is similar to the two ways in the gospels to talk about whether people believe. There are people who believe (and then at the end of the chapter throw stones at Jesus, indicating that it was mere propositional belief and not genuine faith), and then there are those who really believe. Similarly, there are those who believe in God (but reveal in the end that they don't really) and then those who really believe in God.

I'm going to deal with these somewhat out of order, so here goes:

4. "Do you think "In God we trust" should be removed from money? Is that an endorsement of religion? I think you have to say yes."

You are right--I do have to say yes. Though it is less strong than "Under God" it is stronger than your law. Historically, it was an expression of the "Guilded Age", a time when Protestant America saw itself as the new Christendom. Exactly the kind of political sentiment that the Founders had sought to prohibit via the Establsihemnt Clause. That puts "In God We Trust" on even shakier grounds origen-wise than "Under God".

However, "In God we Trust" is not the case being heard by the Supremes, so it is kinda moot in regards to this discussion.

[Note: regarding opening legislative sessions with prayer: the High Court has already provided room for this citing "historical practice". See the annotations to the first amendment. The Founders, being fully aware of this practice did not seem to object to it, so it can be assumed that the original intent did not include prohibition of this traditional, non-official practice. "Under God" and "In God We Trust" are too recent to qualify for "historical practice" protection as they weren't around while the Founders were drafting the Constitution.]

5. Agreed that the "War" should be taken metaphorically. I personally think that it was a masterful turn of the phrase and the right policy to take as a nation (though I disagree with how the President has executed said policy). I just figured that you, of all of my firends being the most literal minded and the most bothered by misapplied grammar, would appreciate the misuse of the word "war" in its most literal sense.

At any rate, this point is not germane to the discussion at large as it was merely an example of a principle which stnads quite well without it. Namely, declarations from Authority carry great power, even if on their face, they don't "do anything".

If I may switch to a different example: the state of CA in the recent past considered having two official languages: English and Spanish. Who cares, right? No one would be forced to speak Spanish. Spanish is not being "endorsed or established", nor is anyone saying that it is better than any of the other non-official languages. So who cares? It would just be a declaration of what the official language is, just like a declaration of what the offical bird is. No one has to agree.

So why did it not pass? (Besides the low turnout of the Hispanic population for that vote?) It didn't pass because such a declaration has profound implications. Amoung other things, all of the signs would have to be redone to be in Spanish too. And that costs money. And the state would have to hire lots of translators. More money. Etc.

So even though declarative statements might not "do anything" in and of themselves, when spoken by Authority those statements have powerful force and multiple unintended consequences.

3+6 Allow me to combine these two together and also change my position slightly.

Tackling first II Kings 17. This can be seen as harmonious with John 8 if you assume that the Samritans in questions had right belief about the Messiah, even if they also worshipped other Gods. The issue in John 8 is about whether you know Jesus as Messiah. All who do, also know God regardless of their other wrong beliefs about Him. Where there is agreement on Jesus as Messiah, your model of "Same God but with fasle beliefs" is appropriate.

However, where there is a denial of Jesus as Messiah, then John makes it clear that they do not know God at all, but the devil whom they are calling by the same name. No self-respecting deist would call Jesus the Messiah, so the Deist God and the Christian Theist God are not identical. In a similar manner, the Theist Christian God is not identical to the God that most Jews or Muslims worship as most in those religions deny the Messiahship of Jesus.

So, given that, then the God referred to in "Under God" and in your law is not merely a Theist God, but a particular Theist God (this is where my position has changed). For "Under God", that is undeniably the Christian Theist God as distinct from the Jewish Theist God or Muslim Theist God. Presumably that is the case in your hypothetical law too.

Now my point for section 3 is quite strong. Endorsment of the central Christian religious axiom--There exists the Theistic God of Christianity--is in essence to endorse Christianity itself.

You now need to deal with my revised point4. The Pledge claims that our nation is under the authority of the Theistic Christian God. By pledging allegiance to our flag, we are also, by proxy, pledging allegiance to the God of Christianity. This cannot be what the Founders had in mind. It should certainly count as Endorsement of religion, if not outright establishment.

4. Just below the stuff on the prayers opening Congressional sessions, there's some stuff on religious displays on government property. The Court's opinion at that time seems more like what I'm saying. The reason they upheld some (but not all) of the religious displays had to do with the background of secular uses of language some might consider religious in a different context. Two things listed were the pledge of allegiance and "in God we trust" on money.

The people writing those annotations seem to have thought that the prayer in Congress was an exception. I think this other data suggests otherwise and that the principles that would exclude it, that the annotater thought made this just an exception, are really illegitimate extensions of the first amendment.

I'll respond to the rest later.

5. Using a term metaphorically isn't misuse. I think it's fun to poke fun at metaphorical uses, thinking about what they would mean if they were intended literally, but that doesn't mean I think there's anything wrong with using the term that way.

I don't see how the official language case is really parallel. What is an official language? It's a language in which all official documents and signs are written. So making something an official language does have all those consequences. Making something a state bird doesn't. A declarative statement that doesn't do anything is more like the state bird. If a state declared something clearly false, such as that pi=3, but it didn't require math classes or engineers to use that value for pi, it would be more parallel to the law I had in mind. How does the authority of the state make a difference to that?

I would say that the II Kings Samaritans didn't know God at all, just as the people in John 8 didn't. Still, their terms about God do succeed in referring to God. It's God that they don't know while claiming they do. It's God that they're not genuinely worshiping while worshiping God in vain. All those prophetic texts involving false worship (e.g. Isa 1:10-17) are still false worship of God, not worship of some non-existent God who requires ritual without obedience (Isa 29:13; Mk 7:7)

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