Congress Sells Out Constitution (April 2003)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation condemned the “shallow religious opportunism” of the U.S. Congress in once again passing resolutions supporting the use of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Senate voted 94-0 on March 4 that it “strongly disapproves” of the Feb. 28 decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals not to reconsider the ruling last summer declaring the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional. The case was brought by Michael Newdow, M.D., a California father and attorney.

“It is hard to believe that not one United States senator had the integrity to vote against this exercise in religious conformity,” commented Foundation president Anne Nicol Gaylor.

The unanimous Senate vote authorized and instructed the Senate Legal Counsel “again to seek to intervene in the case” and to file an animus curiae brief in support of “under God” in the Pledge.

The Foundation praised the integrity of the seven members of the U.S. House who opposed the House vote March 20 on the similar House Resolution 132, also condemning the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. Sixty-three members of Congress sponsored the resolution.

“The fact that this vote, showing lockstep religious conformity in the House, would be taken on the first day of the U.S. attack against Iraq is not an augur of good times for civil liberties,” commented Anne Gaylor.
House Resolution 132 urges the Attorney General to appeal the decision, and indirectly endorses a religious litmus test for judical nominees.

The House vote was 400-7, with 15 voting “present.” The seven voting “nay” were: Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY; Robert Scott, D-VA; Jim McDermott, D-WA; Pete Stark and Mike Honda, D-CA; Gary Ackerman, D-NY, and Barney Frank, D-MA.

The 15 members of Congress who simply voted “present” were: Ballance, Berman, Blumenauer, Capuano, Conyers, Delahunt, Hinchey, Lofgren, George Miller, Olver, Payne, Sanchez, Linda T., Schakowsky, Waters, and Watt.

The long resolutation “insults freethinkers, by linking patriotism with piety,” Gaylor said.

The Foundation noted how ironic it is that proposals have been introduced before both the U.S. House and Senate to amend the U.S. Constitution to permit references to a deity in the Pledge of Allegiance.

“What an admission that the addition of religion in the Pledge of Allegiance does in fact violate our secular Constitution!” Gaylor pointed out.

The pledge was deliberately written without reference to religion by Baptist minister Frances Bellamy in 1892. The religious tampering with the pledge occurred only in 1954.

U.S. Rep. Lucas, Oklahoma, introduced House Joint Resolution 26 on Feb. 27 to add an amendment to the Constitution, saying it is not “an establishment of religion for teachers in a public school to recite, or to lead willing students in the recitation of” the current pledge.

Senate Resolution 7 to amend the Constitution, introduced on March 3, would also codify the religious motto “In God We Trust.”

“Clearly politicians have not caught up with changing demographics showing that more than 14% of the adult population is not religious,” said Gaylor. 
“We know that legislators are fearful of ‘gotcha’ issues,” Gaylor added. “But it is time for the reasoning public to demand some representation.

“Congress took the pledge vote before they even read the briefs.”

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House Resolution 153, which passed by a 346-49 vote on March 27, urges the President to issue a proclamation “designating a day for humility, prayer, and fasting for all people of the United States.”

It is similar to Senate Res. 91, which had two sponsors and passed by unanimous consent on March 17, declaring March 17 to “be designated a national day of prayer and fasting.” 

The House version calls on the people of the United States “to observe the day as a time of prayer and fasting,” “to seek guidance from God to achieve a greater understanding of our own failings,” for the “nation to humble itself before God in repentance for its national sins,” and “to gain resolve in meeting the challenges that confront our nation.”

“This is offensive not just to nonbelievers, but to practitioners of many diverse beliefs, including Christians who do not follow ‘fasting’ traditions of supplication,” Gaylor added. She quipped, “Of course, I think it might be a good idea if Rep. Sensenbrenner fasted.

“It is insufferable ego to imagine that, if there were a god, it would respond to these demeaning supplications. It is primitive to imagine that the natural laws of the universe could be suspended or altered by group wishful thinking. Ironically, as Congress entertains these meaningless motions, the Iraqi people and their supporters are praying to their God for the opposite result!”

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Voting against the prayer proclamation were: Ackerman, Inslee, Rush, Allen, Jackson (IL), Sabo, Baird, Jones (OH), Sanchez, Linda T., Ballance, Kennedy (RI), Sanders, Berkley, Kilpatrick, Schakowsky, Blumenauer, Kucinich, Scott (VA), Capuano, Lee Smith (WA), Conyers, Lewis (GA), Solis, DeGette, Lofgren, Stark, Delahunt, Majette, Tauscher, Dooley (CA), McDermott, Velazquez, Edwards, McGovern, Waters, Farr, Oberstar, Waxman, Futtah, Olver, Weiner, Frank (MA), Payne, Woolsey, Hastings (FL), Rangel, Hinchey, Roybal-Allard.

The 23 who voted present were: Cardin, Hill, Snyder, Davis (CA), Israel, Thompson (CA) , DeFazio, Kind, Tierney, Dicks, Lantos, Udall (CO), Emanuel, Owens, Van Hollen, Filner, Rothman, Watt, Gutierrez, Schiff, Wexler, Harman, Sherman.

Freedom From Religion Foundation