A Notion Forgotten by Time (August 2003)

On June 27, 2002, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made what could be considered the most controversial ruling of a federal court since Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. In a 2-1 ruling, the court declared that the phrase “under God” amounted to a government endorsement of religion. In the months that followed, public outrage ruled the airwaves of radio and television. School children began to recite the pledge every morning, a practice abandoned long ago in many schools across the nation. Even the House chamber of the United States Congress was filled to capacity for the morning recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, a ritual usually greeted by an empty chamber and gallery. Amidst all the outrage and protest, however, a very interesting question was raised. Could the court actually have been correct? A quick glance at the Constitution says the answer is “yes.”

According to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free practice thereof.” The Establishment Clause is clear in its intent. The government shall in no way promote or fund any religion, lest a theocracy overtake the nation. Yet on June 14, 1954, Congress passed a law that added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. The passing of the bill was to be a slap in the face to the “godless” Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. Yet at this crucial time in our history, America overlooked one of its founding principles. By adding the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, the United States Congress had effectively passed a law respecting all monotheistic religions. The Pledge of Allegiance, as it stands today, does not represent polytheists in our nation and totally neglects atheists and their beliefs. This encompasses literally millions of American citizens.

In the wake of the court’s ruling, the nation rose up in protest. We watched as people across the nation slandered the Ninth Circuit Court. Editorials filled local papers, including the one in my hometown of Beaumont, Tex., urging the Congress to act. In a true testament to the failure of public education in this country, a high school student wrote an editorial in the Beaumont Enterprise bashing the court by saying, “How can the court rule this way when it is clearly not the will of the people?” She goes on to ask how this is an example of a true democracy. Had this student known anything of what makes this nation a “true democracy,” she would have known that the United States has an independent judiciary that doesn’t answer to the people, but to the Constitution and to the Constitution alone. Writing for the majority, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin explains this in the following excerpt.

“. . . judges are by constitutional design insulated from the political pressures governing members of the other two branches of government. We are given life tenure and a secured salary so that, in our unique capacity to ‘say what the law is,’ Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Branch) 137, 177 (1803), we may decide constitutional issues without regard to popular vote, political consequence, or the prospect of future career advancement.”

Political correctness has become the tragedy of our legislative and executive branches of government. Too many times our elected officials appeal to their constituents rather than to the demands of our Constitution.

This country has seen vast changes since the days of Madison and Jefferson. Despite their most valiant efforts, politics and popular opinion, no matter how unconstitutional, now reign over the nation as the most powerful authorities governing our lawmakers. Luckily, our court system is immune from this virus, which plagues the halls of Congress and the Oval Office. The independent court system is one that will not forget the idea that the government of the United States should be free from religion, a notion long forgotten by time.

Russ is a graduate of Hamshire-Fannett High School in Texas. He will attend the University of Texas at San Antonio. His special interests are government, politics and public policy. He plans to major in political science and communications and to attend law school.

Freedom From Religion Foundation