I for one am glad that the Pledge of Allegiance has been thrown into the ash heap by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. If I wanted to join a secret society replete with oaths, clubby handshakes and ceremony, I'd seek out the Shriners, Elks or some other club. I am an American. That means I cherish the ability to chart my own course.
Truth be told, we are not "one nation under God," even though there is a strong subculture that wishes it were so. I recall once being scorned by then judge William Sullivan, now Chief Justice Sullivan of the Connecticut Supreme Court. In an off-the-record sigh provoked by the obduracy of an adversary, I muttered "Jesus Christ." The judge glared. "Don't take the name of the Lord in vain in my court," he hissed with the charm of Torquemada. I reminded the judge then, as I do now, that he is not my lord, but merely an itinerant Jewish preacher of historic interest.
I have long been offended by the Pledge of Allegiance for the simple fact that I do not know what it means. I went to school to learn, and came home with my head spinning. Where is God? What does it mean to be under Him, or Her, or Whatever the case may be? And why should the state require us to recite this quasi-prayer before beginning a day devoted, we hope, to learning of what the world consists?
No sooner had the 9th Circuit ruled than the Senate leaped into action, expressing by a vote of 99-0 its disagreement with the ruling. And religious zealots from Jerry Falwell on down the descending scale of rationality are promising bedlam until the ruling is reversed.
Millions of Americans are homeless. The Senate's response? Nothing.
Corporations and accountants rape investors. The Senate's response? Nothing.
Our air is unclean, our waters clogged with pollutants. The Senate's response? Not much.
We are hated in much of the world for faults we care not to examine. The Senate's response? Nothing.
But attack a trope, and, well, the heavens disgorge themselves with cheap sentiment. Why?
Because it is easy. Talking about God has the mysterious quality of sounding like sound and fury. In fact, such speech often signifies nothing. I have never once read a book, heard a debate or faced a decision in which the figure of God played any decisive role. Fanatics kill in God's name; others defend in God's name. God, in the meantime, keeps His preferences hidden from view.
Of course, Congress will pass a law reaffirming that God belongs in the pledge. And of course, Justice Antonin Scalia will write a scathing opinion, most likely in the majority this time, about the centrality of God in our lives. And of course, millions of Americans will be relieved when this little three-letter word is once again given pride of place in our schools.
And the politics of selecting federal judges will get even goofier. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mo., has already announced that the 9th Circuit decision "highlights what the fight over federal judges is all about." Really, Senator. I guess anything sells in the Bible Belt; go ahead and pray while Rome burns. It beats fiddling.
How different are we than the mullahs whom we now seek to bomb? "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet," they say. And we are one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all. Liberty and justice that is, for all those content to swim in the mainstream. I find it offensive to be required, or to have my children be required, to pay homage to invisible gods, phantoms and deities.
The "In God We Trust" poster at the Capitol Station Post Office, Madison, Wis., gets a "thumbs down" from Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor.
Learning over the Internet that "In God We Trust" posters were ordered up in every post office in the nation in late November, I sought to confirm this rumor with the United States Postal Service. I phoned its (dreaded) national switchboard and listened to umpteen menu options before making my request to a live person.
I was on hold for at least ten minutes before the voice returned and confirmed that there was indeed an undated "internal memo" ordering the posting of "In God We Trust" in every post office lobby.
The postal employee reluctantly read me the memo, which cited a House of Representative voice vote reaffirming the national motto, and another resolution reaffirming the religious Pledge of Allegiance and religious national motto that was signed into law by Bush in November.
When I asked if the postal employee could fax me this memo, as I needed verification before reporting it, I was put on hold for another ten minutes. A woman finally came on the line to turn down this request. When I naturally enough suggested she put it in the mail, she told me (I am not making this up): "The United States Postal Service does not have the capacity to mail you anything."
She did, however, provide me with the name and local number of the PR woman at the Madison Post Office, a dyed-in-the-wool bureaucrat. Ever-helpful Pam assured me that it would be a "long wait" before I would see that memo.
Two days later, when I phoned back again explaining I was on deadline, she told me she had not attended to my request because I had not put it in writing. (She had not told me to.) She gleefully informed me she would then have seven business days to acknowledge my written request (which I duly faxed immediately).
Our representative's office sympathetically promised to try to get the memo for me in a hurry, but apparently ran into the same bureaucratic stumbling block. There is still no paper memo, and it has been a week as I write this.
Meanwhile, Lynn, my assistant editor, accompanied me on an exciting foray to our local post office, to look for the "In God We Trust" poster. We found a blow-up of an antique stamp of the Statue of Liberty, in which, fortunately, the word LIBERTY is more prominent than the religious motto. The postal decree nevertheless sets atrocious legal precedent.
As we snapped a few photos for Freethought Today, a postal employee informed us it was "illegal" to take a photograph in a post office! We took three photos anyway, sure she was "going postal," and that we really weren't playing out a scene from "1984." This charming postal employee then threatened to confiscate Lynn's digital camera. As I was leaving, she kindly advised me:
"Where your rights stop, another person's rights start."
When I told the representative about this unbelievable comment, he wryly said he hadn't realized Americans possessed "rights that stopped." (I was glad to hear it.) He obligingly looked up the federal regulations--media are specifically permitted to take photographs in public areas of post offices, I was happy to learn.
S. 2690 passed the U.S. Senate 99-0 on June 27, only one day after Michael Newdow's 9th Circuit victory against "under God" in the Pledge was released. On Oct. 8, it passed the U.S. House 401--5 (opposed only by the indomitable Barney Frank, Robert Scott, Michael Honda, Jim McDermott, and Pete Stark). Good ole George II signed it on Nov. 13, making it Public Law No. 107-293.
Every student of English poetry has read the metaphysical poet John Donne's "Death Be Not Proud." Donne (1573-1631) concludes the poem with the line "Death, thou shalt die," assuming that his Christian soul will live on after death.
To freethinkers it may seem that Donne is setting up a cardboard villain (Death) that he can easily knock down. He reminds us of a boy walking through a cemetery at midnight trying to ward off his fear, trying to substitute superstition for the facts of nature.
Death Be Not Proud
by John Donne
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so; For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones and soul's delivery. Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell; And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
If a freethinking contemporary of Donne had been allowed to express his or her views, perhaps the following lines might have been published.
by Tom Schlicht
John hopes his ogre Death to overthrow (As if death were a phantom not hard fact). The carcass and the corpse remain intact Not long. Then longing home to earth they go. The decomposing crow grows shoots in spring. Do nature's cycles need a creed to drive Them? John's own coil of clay will not survive As saint but as snake or other earthsprung thing. Nor do the dead across the Styx embark To Hades or Hereafter. Within his mind He stalks a man of straw but fails to find His Mother as he whistles in the dark. Can he not see that life and death are one? With his conceits I hope to see John done.
Roger Cleveland and I were recently in the right place at the right time, the meeting of the Talladega County Commission. The USS Talladega Reunion Committee was asking the commission for $3,000 toward sidewalk construction for the USS Talladega Memorial that was to be erected on the Courthouse Square.
The USS Talladega was an attack transport ship that served during WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, receiving seven battle stars. The ship was named for our county, and a reunion for all former crewmembers was to be held in September.
Although Roger and I had rather honor peace than war, our attention was captured by the proposed placement of the words, "Before you leave this place please pray for peace," on the reverse of the monument.
Both Roger and I contacted our county commissioners and the probate judge who happened to be on the Reunion Committee. We wrote letters and made phone calls to the aforementioned persons and requested a place on the agenda of the next commission meeting. We both voiced our opposition to any taxpayer money being spent to help fund the placement of a monument bearing a religious edict on government property. Roger assured the commission that it would cost Talladega County a lot more than $3,000 if the planned proposal were implemented.
As you can see, the reverse of the monument is a tabula rasa. It is a secular tribute to a secular cause. Government was kept free from religious encroachment. As Roger said, "Not this time!"
Greg Krauter (left) stands by the lovely freethought cenotaph honoring "The Founding Freethinkers," which was dedicated on Nov. 2 in front of his historic store in Comfort. Photo by Catherine Fahringer.
It was a chilly and rainy day but still over 100 people turned out for the Nov. 2 unveiling of the new German Freethinker Settlers monument in Comfort, Texas.
Although a five-year controversy preceded the dedication, the event went smoothly.
Originally, an impressively large, 32-ton limestone freethought monument had been placed in Comfort Park in 1998, with approval of the Chamber of Commerce and the proper authorities. The monument was later "kidnapped" in late 1999, following an outcry by some townspeople because part of the funding for the project had come from "atheists."
All present were pleased by the new eight-foot tall limestone monument, constructed by Karl H. Kuhn of Boerne, which was placed in front of the Ingenhuett Store on High Street in Comfort.
The ceremony brought together atheists and freethinkers, who sponsored and paid for the monument, and others who respect freedom and history.
There were attendees from local "Hill County," Kerrville, Austin, San Antonio, Abilene, Houston, and the Dallas area.
The German Freethinkers were a fiercely independent group of intellectuals who settled the Hill Country beginning in the 1840's. Their settlements were called the "Latin Colonies." They supported many progressive causes including abolition, women's suffrage, and secular schools. Most were decidedly unreligious.
Don Lawrence, president of Freethinkers Association of Central Texas during much of the time of the Comfort "Rock" controversy, introduced the speakers, most of whom were descendants of the Founding Freethinkers of the area. Don has been the master of ceremonies for several of the "atheist invasions" that have taken place in Comfort.
Two representatives of local government spoke first. Eddie John Vogt, soon to become Kendall County Judge, and descendant of original area settlers, was followed by Rusty Busby, president of the Chamber of Commerce, which had approved the original cenotaph. Mr. Busby is a newly-elected Kendall County Commissioner. Irene Meyer Scharf, a candidate for the Texas Board of Education, and Bebe Fenstermaker added an intimate note to the speeches with poetry and histories of stalwart women freethinker settlers. Ms. Fenstermaker's grandmother was instrumental in securing the vote for women.
The crowd was awed by the golden eagle put on display by the next speaker, John A. Karger, a descendant of original area settlers and Executive Director of a bird-of-prey conservancy. The eagle was seen as an appropriate symbol of the independence of mind of the freethought settlers.
At last, the cenotaph was unveiled by Ed Scharf, author of the booklet "Frontier Freethinkers in the Texas Hill Country." Ed, currently a candidate for Congress, instigated the original Freethinker Cenotaph project after attending the re-dedication of the Treue der Union monument several years ago. That monument recognizes those men who were massacred in the Battle of the Nueces. Ed realized that a monument was needed to keep the story of all the freethinking settlers alive. Many in current-day Comfort were unaware of the amazing story of the Founding Freethinkers, and how some were slaughtered for opposing slavery and the Confederacy.
Greg Krauter, the descendant of six of the original freethinker founders, made the closing remarks. Greg owns and operates the Ingenhuett Store where the cenotaph was placed, a landmark that has been in his family and in continuous operation since frontier times.
The lunch at the Armadillo on the Creek afterward, attended by more than 70, was one of good cheer and celebration.
This started when, sort of spur-of-the-moment, I stood up and said, "Nope, you're wrong." [laughter]
Really, I ticked off one guy twice in the same weekend and that's what started it off. I embarrassed him horribly and wouldn't shake his hand and told him he didn't deserve the respect of a handshake. So that's pretty much what started it and from there on, it just blew up.
His name is Glenn Schmidt, he's our district committee chairman, and he came out with the comments about how an atheist who found a wallet would just steal the money. He said that for an atheist to be in the Boy Scouts, they'd have to go around the rules and essentially lie, and that an atheist cannot be a good citizen.
That's when I stood up and said, "I never lied. My Eagle board knew I did not believe in God when they passed me and they commended me on my courage and bravery to say so, and they never asked me a question about it. If anybody wants to tell me that I'm not a good citizen, they can kiss my butt." Although I was thinking the other word, my sister assured me that's what I said. And then I walked out of the room and told him I wouldn't be part of that discrimination.
Main thing with me is, I didn't mind so much if they were against me, it's that I have other Scouts in my troop who deserve Eagle. It is ludicrous that someone can ask them if they believe in God, and that they would not pass their Eagle board because they don't. They deserve their Eagle far more than a lot of boys I've seen get it. So I'll stand up to that any time.
I've always been against discrimination of any sort. There's no point in it, really, to take one character aspect of a person and then base an entire opinion on that. It's ridiculous. A district executive told me that scouting would be less without me, "but it was the right thing to do." Now tell me, how is that the right thing to do? It's not a better society in any way.
I didn't really prepare much to say, so if any of you have any questions, I'd love to answer them.
Q: What's your feedback from the community, positive and negative?
Almost 100% positive. My troop supports me 100%. They may not agree with my opinions but they support me. The community, I've never got any threats or anything like that. I get about 30 letters of support to one letter of non-support, so it's been encouraging, really encouraging.
Q: Do the Scouts have any free use of public facilities?
Yeah. There's a Boy Scout building in a public park in my county. I actually meet at the Veterans Home, which is on federal government property. So there's a chaplain right there. Sea Scouts a couple of years ago got whaling boats for a dollar, and, you know, I always thought they were a little bit more expensive than that, but I guess the government didn't care.
So yeah, they get tons of government support. So I don't see how they're getting past their federal charter on that one.
Q: Who was their sponsor for the organization?
A veterans' home chapel, but it's still a church. Unfortunately, the pastor of the church doesn't support me. He'll go with anything the Boy Scouts go for, but other than that, everybody else is for me.
Q: Why is superstitious belief so important to the Boy Scouts?
Another question is why is it so important for Boy Scouts of America to be religious when it is not important all over the world? I can't tell you. My group never supported religion. You learn religion at home with your family or the religious institution of your choice. You come to me, you learn how to camp, hike, bike, climb, wilderness survival. That's what I always teach. I don't teach religion.
Q: What about Girl Scouts?
They changed their policy and they're still as much of an organization as they were before. They didn't fall apart like Boy Scouts think they're going to.
Q: Do the Boy Scouts require that Scouts be "reverent"?
As it's defined now in the Scout handbook, yes. You get a handbook from 1938, no, it's a reverence toward your fellow Scouts, reverence toward your schoolwork, and it's used in the dictionary definition of the word, not the "You have to believe in God, you have to follow your religion." Oddly enough "respect others' opinions" is the other part of that requirement!
The current manual says "faith for God" or "belief in god," "practicing religious duties" and "respect for others' opinions."
Q: What about Explorer Scouts?
That's a tough one, because Explorer Boy Scouts don't necessarily have to believe in god, they don't have any discrimination. So they kind of bypass the whole government thing. Like my Explorer Search and Rescue Unit, we get funding from Department of Emergency Management. But I still don't agree with public funding of Explorer Scouts if they're going to be any part of Boy Scouts.
Q: How did you become an atheist?
I always had the question in my mind. It's just, religion doesn't make any sense. How can anybody do some legitimate research and learn and still believe? That's basically it, it doesn't make any sense, you can't scientifically prove that there is one god. People get thrown into the loonybin for believing in Santa Claus!
Q: What's your family's position?
My mom was raised Catholic, I believe, but she walked out of the Church when she was 11. Since then she believes in God, not necessarily organized religion. My dad is an atheist, which I didn't find out till after I'd come to my own conclusions. I was a little worried about that night. My dad's 6-foot-3, 320 pounds, I'm like, "Uh-oh." So, it's a very open family, they always encouraged us to find our own way, which we all did. One of my sisters is an atheist as well, the other one believes in spirituality more than an actual higher supreme being.
Q: Was your troop supportive?
I have never encouraged them not to believe in God, because it's not my place to encourage that, it's their family's. The only thing I've encouraged them to do is think for themselves. So our troop was very unreligiously oriented. I think we have two boys now who actually believe in God. The other 18, when this all came out, asked me, "What do we say if someone asks us?" I told them to say that it's none of their goddamn business.
Thank you, everybody.
Thanks for this wonderful "Emperor Has No Garments" statue.
Dan Barker presenting Steve's statuette
During her presentation last night, Julia Sweeney talked about how meeting Mormon missionaries helped drive her to atheism. You know, Julia, it had the same effect on me.
I was a Mormon missionary and, like Julia said, we used to go door-to-door, two-by-two, bringing God's message to the unsuspecting people of Japan. As Julia said, in doing so, we announced that we were, indeed, messengers from God.
I remember one evening in Okinawa, when my missionary buddy and I were out working the neighborhoods. I was brand new at this--what they called in the business a "greenie." It was my turn to do what was known as "the door approach."
We stood at the entrance of one home and, as is the custom in Japan, I declared our presence by loudly yelling out in Japanese, "Please excuse us!"
A tiny Japanese woman slid open her front door and seeing two ugly Americans, immediately fell to her knees and bowed her face to the floor in the traditional Japanese greeting.
It was then my turn to speak. I had memorized my door approach but didn't understand a word I was saying. (Kind of like speaking in tongues without knowing what tongue.)
I told the woman in Japanese, "We are messengers from God." We looked a little strange, so---who knows?--maybe she believed us.
I then said, "We have brought a special message for you and your family." Then I asked, "Is your husband home?"
She replied, "No, he isn't."
I said, "We'll be back in this neighborhood next week and would like to drop by when he's here."
At that point, the Japanese woman started to laugh, covering her mouth with her hand and "tee-hee-heeing." The Japanese are a very polite people, so for her to start laughing in my face was highly unusual. In fact, she kept on laughing and wouldn't stop, so I just gave up and we left the porch.
Walking down the street, I turned to my missionary buddy and said, "What happened?"
He said, "Well, you told her we were messengers from God and that we were bringing a special message to her and her family. You asked if her husband was home.
"When she said 'no,' you said, 'We'll be back in this galaxy next week.' "
Steve's Emperor award, Mormon version
Mormons do indeed live on another planet. In fact, they actually believe God lives on a planet called "Kolob" with his innumerable polygamous wives--and that if Mormons do what he tells them, after they die they, too, can become gods just like him, create lots of worlds, make millions of spirit babies and be Masters of the Universe.
Which leads me to this "Emperor Has No Garments" award.
When Mary Ann and I left Mormonism, we pointed out that the Mormon emperor had no clothes.
But he still has garments. ("Garments" is the term for Mormonism's magical underwear.) I don't think that those two nice Mormon boys told Julia about this, so--what the hell--I will.
I'm sure you've seen Mormon temples out in the neighborhoods where you live--those big, tall edifices with an angel statue perched on top, costing millions of dollars, and that no one is allowed to enter, unless you're a good Mormon who has first agreed to pay the admission fee: 10% of your gross income for the rest of your life.
Devout Mormons go through a secret ceremony in their temples called the "endowment." During the endowment, they are each given a special set of underwear and told to wear it night and day for the rest of their lives, except when they take a bath, have sex or play sports.
Workers in the temple ceremony tell Mormons during their initiation that this "garment of the Holy Priesthood," as it is called, will be "a shield and a protection" to them against both physical harm and the devil.
Mormons are also told never to reveal what I'm telling you to anyone outside the temple, or they'll be in big trouble with God. That means I only have a few minutes left to educate you about this before he strikes me dead.
The fact that I am sharing these things with you would be considered highly offensive by devout Mormons and even others. But the reasons for talking about them here are well expressed by Richard Packham, a former Mormon and retired attorney:
"The rituals in the temples--especially the 'endowment'--are considered so sacred that Mormons are forbidden to discuss them outside the temple itself.
"Even non-Mormons sometimes object to articles [giving an 'overview of the nature of Mormon temples and their rituals'] since they reveal Mormons' religious secrets to a curious--and perhaps unworthy and even mocking--world.
"Many people, not only devout Mormons, feel that it is wrong to do this. Usually two reasons for the objection are given: 1) things that anyone holds sacred should not be profaned, mocked or ridiculed by anyone else, even by one who does not consider them sacred; and 2) the person who is revealing the secrets usually is someone who obtained the secrets only by swearing an oath of secrecy, and thus is breaking an oath.
"As to the first objection, it seems pointless to refuse to discuss objectively and openly any subject just because someone else feels that subject is taboo. I doubt that many Mormons would refuse to discuss the sacred initiation rituals of some primitive African tribe or some Satanist cult on the grounds that the tribe or cult considered those rites sacred.
"As to the second objection, the validity and binding nature of an oath or any promise depends, both legally and morally, upon the validity of the mutually accepted facts underlying the demanding and the giving of the oath.
"The oath of secrecy given by a Mormon in the temple is based on the assurance and sacred promise that the oath is required by God, and that the secrets one will receive are given by God. If that assurance is in fact false, then one cannot be bound either legally or morally by any such oath, since it was obtained by a lie."1
The secret Mormon temple ceremony was copied from the Masons in the 1840s by Mormonism's founder, Joseph Smith, who himself was a Freemason.
Sewn into the Mormon garment, over the right and left breasts, are the Masonic symbols of the square and compass, signifying exactness and honor in following God.
Over the right knee of the garment is sewn another mark, reminding the underwear wearer that every knee shall bow to God. There is also one sewn over the navel, indicating that God is the ultimate source of nutrition--so you'd better not put a belly button ring there.
Mary Ann and I have made a miniature set of the Mormon underwear (kind of like a paper doll cut-out) and stuck them on this little Emperor guy, if you'd like to come up afterwards and take a closer look.
When Mormons are given their new underwear, they're also given a new name that they will eventually be known by in heaven. Mary Ann's was "Deborah." Mine was "Ezekiel." (My pet macaw's name is also "Ezekiel.")
Armed with their new name and new underwear, Mormons then go through a temple ceremony in which they learn secret handshakes and passwords that they believe will be required for admission into God's presence in the Mormon heaven.
When Mary Ann and I went through our temple endowment back in 1977, the ritual included oaths of secrecy in which we all simulated taking our own lives by slitting our throats from ear to ear and being disemboweled--representing the punishments we would incur if we ever dared reveal the secret handshakes and passwords. (And you thought Mormons were just good family folk who spent all that time in their temples baking cookies to bring over to their neighbors.)
The secret Mormon handshake. Steve says that if you shake hands like this with a Mormon missionary at your door, you will scare him off forever.
Mormons take other secret oaths in the temple, including promising to give everything they have--including their lives--if demanded, to the Mormon Church.
They also promise to obey their church leaders and to never say bad things about them (in temple jargon, to not engage in "evil speaking of the Lord's anointed").
In the temple, Mormons are also secretly married to each other "for time and all eternity."
Since only worthy Mormons can enter the temple, non-Mormons are barred from attending the wedding ceremony, even if you're the parents of the bride and groom.
As a tract distributed to visitors at the recent opening of the Mormon temple in Bedford, Oregon (before it was closed to the public), explains:
"No music, no poetry, no photographs are allowed during the short wedding ceremony in the temple. (Although the bride may wear a traditional white wedding gown, she must wear the ritual temple clothing over the gown)."
The tract also mentions another little-known fact that goes on behind the walls of the Mormon temple:
"Most Mormons attending the temple rituals are doing so as proxies for the dead, in order to qualify the dead for admission to the Mormon heaven.
"Probably most of your ancestors have already been posthumously inducted into the Mormon Church. The Mormons have done this for millions of dead people (this is the primary purpose of their extensive genealogical research), including deceased presidents of the U.S., many Catholic saints, and even Adolf Hitler."2
So, there you have it.
I'd better stop now, before the Mormons slit my throat.
Thank you very much.
I want to thank the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I've always been an atheist but was never part of any movement like this. It's a special honor. I'm going to mention later how Robert Tiernan and FFRF were somewhat integral and became part of this lawsuit. I'll start at the beginning, though.
I have two friends who are law professors in Chicago, Michelle and Larry. They're great people, and I like to visit them. But when you go to their house, they only have liquid soaps, and I just hate liquid soaps--you can't get clean with the stuff.
I thought as a gag I'd bring them soap, regular soap, so I bought about a hundred bars. I'm standing in line, and it turns out it comes to $36.96, which all of you will immediately realize can be paid for with a twenty, a ten, a five and a one, and a half-dollar, quarter, dime, two nickels and a penny.
As I'm standing in line, I'm looking at the twenty dollar bill, and it says "In God We Trust." What the heck is this doing here? It just had never hit me. I looked at the ten dollar bill. "In God We Trust." And the five and the one and all the change. I thought, "What is going on here? I don't trust in God. I'm an American."
By the time I get to Michelle and Larry's house I'm fuming. I said, "Did you see this? It says 'In God We Trust.' " And they said, "Well, it's been there for a while." I told them, "I'm getting it off."
Larry, who knows constitutional law, said, "I think the case has already been tried." It turns out he was correct. The Freedom From Religion Foundation had tried to challenge the phrase as the motto and on currency in 1994. It eventually went to the Tenth Circuit.
When I got home from that trip, I resolved to get "In God We Trust" off of the coins and currency. I got on the Internet, and typed in "In God We Trust."
The first thing that came up was a website from the Treasury Department, and it tells the story. In 1861, Rev. Watkinson wrote a letter to Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, saying we need God on our coins.
Chase contacts a man by the name of James Pollitt, who was a founder of the NRA, which was not the National Rifle Association back then. It was the National Reform Association, which still exists today. Their goal is to have us declared a Christian nation. They came up with the idea of putting "In God We Trust" on a two-cent piece in 1864. Since that time it's progressed and it got on all the coins.
The second thing I found on the Internet was the Gaylor case. The Foundation attorney was named Bob Tiernan.
Last year's Freethinker of the Year, attorney Robert R. Tiernan, hands Michael Newdow his "Freethinker of the Year 2002" award.
Somehow I found his phone number. I called him up and said, "Hi, my name is Mike Newdow and I'm going to get 'In God We Trust' off the currency," which was pretty arrogant, 'cause he had just lost in the Tenth Circuit.
I was down in Florida, which is the Eleventh Circuit, so I told Bob I would bring the case there, in a different circuit. Bob says, "More power to you, I give you my blessings." I told him I had one small problem I was wondering if he could help me with. He said, "Sure."
"I haven't the slightest idea how you file a lawsuit or do any of that stuff," I said. He was really amazingly generous, because he had spent a lot of time on the case, and he offered to send me his papers. I modeled my complaint on the Gaylor case.
As I thought about it, I realized that the case to get "under God" out of the pledge was stronger. The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892, and for 62 years it was doing perfectly well with no religion. Then in 1954 Congress took two words, "under God," and stuck them in the middle of this pledge, where it didn't belong. That's clearly unconstitutional.
So I'm thinking, "I really wish I had taken this case instead of the 'In God We Trust' on the coins." It turns out there's a Rule Fifteen that says you can amend your complaint as long as the defendants haven't responded. The sixty days had gone by, and they asked for an extension. So I thought, "All right, I take this as a sign from 'God,' " and I amended my complaint to challenge "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. That's how I got to this case.
I was planning on enrolling my daughter in a school in Florida, but for reasons we needn't go into, she ended up out here in California. I had lost in the lower level. My case got to the court of appeals and I wrote that I was no longer in Florida, and didn't have standing anymore. They threw the case out. When you lose the case on standing it's not like losing; it's like you never brought the case.
So I got one run-through and then I got to bring it again in the Ninth Circuit. You know what happened since then. We had oral arguments on March 14, and then they came out on June 26 in my favor. [applause] Thank you.
It turns out that in Rule Fifteen there's also a section rule 15(b)3 which says if you amend your complaint you have to come up with a song. So. . . [brings out his guitar, song excerpted below]
"They had those Pledge-of-Allegiance-needs-some-old-religion blues"
Well the world was full of danger,
It got worse with every hour.
The people put the call in
to Dwight E. Eisenhower
They ran it through the Congress.
Each colleague gave a nod.
"Well damn the Constitution--
This country needs some god."
In the aftermath of the Pledge of Allegiance, I wasn't prepared for the media. I had got a computer program that arrived the day of my decision. I was really bummed because I'd planned on setting up my computer to say, "Hi, this is Mike Newdow. For compliments press 1, for questions 2, for insults 3, for media 4." I never got a chance to set it up.
The Ninth Circuit call came in that they had a decision, and they vaguely told me I'd won. Then I waited for the papers to get faxed. Before the fax comes through, the Associated Press calls. Then I started getting phone calls from the television stations. I'm thinking: this is dangerous. I'd never publicized my case in any way.
At first I refused to have a photograph taken. The television studio started calling, wanting to do an interview. I said, "Well, can you blur the face?" Really!
Then the doorbell rang, and like an idiot I answered. There's four cameras there. There goes the anonymity. (I can just let you know I've yet to see a story that doesn't have something that's significantly wrong.)
You recall the 99 Senators coming out and saying how much we need God in our country? The Ninth Circuit ruling said I couldn't name Congress in my lawsuit because they have sovereign immunity--unless they waive immunity. Well, when they came out to say how wrong this decision is, they said, "We're sending the congressional legal authority out to the Ninth Circuit to go argue this case." So now we have Congress in the case.
The chaplains came out the next day and specifically said this decision was wrong. I decided that I'd bring suit against the chaplains and try to get them taken out of our government.
I have all this fodder now because of the pledge case. Now I have standing, because they addressed me personally on this case. I also applied for a position of chaplain. It turns out it's the highest paid position in government. They work for a minute a day, they get $140,000. It's not a bad job.
It's clear that nobody who's an atheist would ever get this position. In Article VI of the Constitution it says that "no religious test shall ever be required for any office of public trust under the Constitution."
Robert C. Byrd, a Democratic senator from West Virginia, came out and called Judge Goodwin "stupid." He also said, "If his name ever comes before me in his promotion in the judiciary, he'll never get it because of this case." Pretty amazing stuff.
Then Byrd said, "I for one am not going to stand for this country being ruled by a bunch of atheists. If they don't like it, let 'em leave." Which is really good because it gave me another song, this one about Byrd, hold on. [gets guitar]
He is the man for the whole USA
As long as you're Protestant and you're not gay
"If they don't like it, let 'em leave"
Q: When does your CD come out? Thank you for asking. I actually have a CD.
Q: What's happening in your case? We don't know what's going to happen yet in the Ninth Circuit, it hasn't been finalized. If I win there, it's pretty certain it'll get appealed to the Supreme Court and I think they'd take it. If I lose, I'll ask the Supreme Court to hear it, but you have about a 1% chance of the Supreme Court ever hearing a case, so it's not particularly great odds. We'll hope anyway.
Q: What can we do to help you? Financial support is always appreciated, I'm doing this myself. I did go to law school, although I never took the bar, I never did any practice until this case came along. I like the idea that people can look and see what just one person can do in this country, how one person can change it. It's impressive. There's a website: www.restorethepledge.com and we keep names of volunteers.
Q: How has this affected you in the medical community? It hasn't affected me much. I'm a part-time attendee at UCLA in the Department of Emergency Medicine.
Q: How has this affected your daughter? My daughter's great. She wants to go swimming and play. Doesn't affect her too much at all. She's happy.
Aug. 16, 1917 - Nov. 4, 2002
Charles H. French, age 85, Brooklyn Center, Minn. died peacefully at home.
He had a lifelong commitment to civil and human rights, and had been an active member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, along with his wife Dorothy, since 1982. Charles had served as a Foundation Board member from Minnesota, and regularly attended Foundation conventions.
Charlie, who had a degenerative illness, took control of the end of his life, deciding when to stop taking his live-sustaining medication.
Charlie served 15 years as a minister in the American Baptist Church, always a liberal, with special interest in civil rights and fighting racism, working with the NAACP and Freedom Riders. He joined the Minnesota Human Rights Department where he worked until he retired in 1982.
Charlie gave a speech about leaving religion at the 1985 convention in Minneapolis, which was reprinted in Freethought Today.
"I highly recommend atheism to anyone and everyone," said Charlie.
He became an active member of the Minneapolis area freethought community, and was honored by the Humanists of Minn., the Minnesota Atheists and the Freedom From Religion Foundation of Madison, WI.
He is survived by his wife, Dorothy, and children, Jane (Richard) Bovard, Fargo, ND; Don, San Francisco; Doris French and Alice (Richard) Fowler, Chanhassen; Nancy French, Plymouth; Robert, Minneapolis, and Pam French (Kent Carlson), Shorewood. His stepchildren are Clay (Mary Lynn) Oglesbee, Northfield; Jeff Oglesbee, Minneapolis; Brent (Holly) Oglesbee, Bowling Green, Ken.; Sondra Oglesbee, Brooklyn Center, and 11 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
A memorial service was held on Nov. 29 at the First Unitarian Society, Minneapolis. In lieu of flowers, his family prefers memorials to donor's choice. "His cheery presence, activism and practical assistance to freethought will be missed," said Foundation president Anne Gaylor. "We send our best wishes to Dorothy."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation's gilt "Winter Solstice" sign returned for the month of December to the Wisconsin State Capitol for the seventh consecutive year. It says:
At this season of
THE WINTER SOLSTICE
may reason prevail.
There are no gods,
no devils, no angels,
no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but
myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds.
"We think it is important during December that the nonreligious views held by at least 14% of the Wisconsin population be represented at our State Capitol," commented Foundation president Anne Gaylor. The capitol so often is taken over with symbols and events reflecting only the majority Christian viewpoint, she pointed out.
"It is a fact that Christians stole Christmas," said Gaylor. "We don't mind sharing it with them, but we don't like this pretense that it originates with the birthday of Jesus. It is the 'Birthday of the Unconquered Sun--Dies Natalis Invicti Solis.' Christmas is a relic of sun worship.
"I have often said I am quite willing to celebrate the fun parts of anybody's holiday, but spare me the religious schmaltz," she added.
"The customs of this time of year endure because they are pleasant customs. Correspondence with old friends and relatives, gifts, family feasts--these are not religion-based. These are friendly things to do.
"In celebrating the Winter Solstice, we celebrate reality."
The Foundation asked the Capitol police for special attention in protecting the sign, for which the Foundation has a permit. Last year, the inserts were stolen and never recovered. The Capitol Police have surveillance videos at all exits.
The back of the sign reads: "State/Church: Keep Them Separate," and carries a little caveat, advising "Thou shalt not steal."
Three groups have filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation's appeal challenging indirect public funding of an overtly religious social services group.
The American Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed the brief on Nov. 29, in support of the Foundation's appeal of its Faith Works case before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.
Last January, the Foundation won its nationally significant challenge of more than $700,000 in direct public funding of Faith Works of Milwaukee, whose purpose is to lead "addicts to Christ."
The state did not appeal. The Foundation's case was the first challenge in the nation of so-called "charitable choice" funding to be fully adjudicated and won.
However, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb deferred a decision about indirect funding of Faith Works until June, when she ruled the state of Wisconsin could contract indirectly with Faith Works for more than $170,000 to work with men on parole or probation.
The Foundation has appealed the second part of Crabb's decision, which she based on the recent Supreme Court case approving tax-paid vouchers for use at parochial schools. Crabb said government aid to religious institutions is constitutional if it is a result of "genuine and independent private choice."
The friend of the court brief agrees with the Foundation that men in custody of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections are not free to make an independent choice, but are "strongly influenced to enroll in Faith Works."
Oral arguments will be heard early next year in Chicago.
"If the wall of separation between government and religion is not to be destroyed, it is very important that courts recognize now what is going on with this administration," said Anne Gaylor, Foundation President.
"Faith-based initiatives not only will ruin the wall of separation, but the economy as well. There will be a wholesale assault on public funds by religious groups whose raison d'etre is proselytizing."