Burned by Bernstein, Newdow Takes Solace in Solstice

This slightly tongue-in-cheek article was submitted by First Amendment litigant Michael Newdow, M.D., famous for challenging “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Equal Rights activist Mike Newdow has been denied the right to produce his exceptionally educational, extraordinarily entertaining and incredibly inspiring version of West Side Story. Despite rallies in Denver, Chicago and Washington, D.C., that put Barack Obama to shame, The Leonard Bernstein Office has refused to grant Newdow permission to distribute his derivative work. Fortunately, however, his highly acclaimed Merry Solstice! album is still available for the holiday season. (Available at a 25% discount for all who write letters of protest to The Bernstein Office.)

“It all began with the song, ‘Maria,’” says Newdow. “I had heard of someone using that West Side Story classic with the name changed to ‘Scalia,’ in reference to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, that came to my mind as I was working on a law review article that focuses on Justice Scalia’s claim that the Constitution ‘permits the disregard of devout atheists.’”

That quote is from a dissenting opinion in one of the two Ten Commandments cases decided by the high court in 2005. Newdow says that Justice Scalia (in order to conclude that monotheism is to be preferred by the government) scavenged through the nation’s history to find favorable (to his thesis) incidents, which he strung together to bolster his claim.

“Isn’t it interesting that monotheism just happens to incorporate the Justice’s own religious view?” Newdow asks. Answering his own question, he continues, “Of course, it’s not as interesting as the fact that, by playing the same game, one can just as easily conclude that Protestant Christianity is also to be preferred.”

This is the premise of Newdow’s WASP Side Story, which reveals that just as history can be twisted to exclude Atheists and others, it can also be twisted to exclude Catholics such as Justice Scalia (and the other four Catholics on the current Supreme Court’s bench).

“It turns out,” says Newdow, “that our nation was founded by White Anglo-Saxon Protestants who literally despised ‘Papists.’” Newdow highlights that, at some point or another, every one of the thirteen original colonies had laws that specifically excluded Catholics from fully exercising their civil rights.

With this anti-Catholic history in mind, Newdow purchased the rights to use the instrumental tracks from a karaoke CD containing 16 of the songs from West Side Story. He then created new lyrics for each selection. For instance, instead of “The Jet Song,” he has “The WASP Song,” which references the rabid anti-Catholicism of one of the most influential men of the founding era:

When you’re a WASP, you’re a WASP all the way
Like the nation’s first Chief Justice, yes old John Jay!

Interspersed between each of the show’s songs is an educational narrative, which sets up the next selection. For instance, Newdow speaks of the Philadelphia bible riots of 1844, where the Protestants and Catholics engaged in gun battles that left city blocks in charred ruins, and at least 17 persons dead. Instead of “Boys, boys, crazy boys,” Newdow’s version has “Goys, goys, crazy goys.”

Yet Newdow is quick to point out that all is not astonishing creativity, ineffable cleverness and side-splitting humor.

“My real goal is to send the message that although one can always find an excuse to favor one group or another, the Framers had something completely contrary in mind: Equality.”

Thus, in the Finale, the song, “Somewhere” (in which “There’s a place for us” is replaced with “In God some don’t trust”), alludes to the Constitution, noting:

You can pray in the public square
You can pray, in fact, anywhere
But there, show care. Be fair.

as the narrator eloquently speaks of the dream held by those men of more than two centuries ago, that they could create a nation that is home to all religious views. Despite this poignant presentation (which would allow the original West Side Story to broaden its reach and to spread knowledge about the American Constitution, while simultaneously publicizing the 1950s musical to a wide audience that otherwise might be unfamiliar with it), the owner of the copyright (i.e., The Leonard Bernstein Office) has refused to grant Newdow permission to release his version. Newdow has considered doing so nonetheless under the “fair use” doctrine, but that puts him at risk for drastic penalties. “It can be as much as $150,000 per infringement, with some people contending that each track on each CD counts as an infringement.” Under that interpretation of the law, were Newdow to sell 1,000 CDs and then lose a copyright lawsuit, he would be liable for almost two and a half billion dollars!

“I’d have to sell the CDs for two and a half million dollars each,” Newdow says pensively, after which he exclaims, “I can do that!” Realizing that the world’s present economic doldrums might interfere with this plan, Newdow reassesses his predicament. “Okay. Say I don’t sell them for $2.5 million apiece. Say, it’s a little less—maybe $30 apiece. That would be $30,000 in sales. Subtract that from the 2.5 billion, and I think I could make it.”

Calculator in hand, he reflects on the donations he’s received for his work in the Pledge of Allegiance cases. It comes out to be approximately minimum wage—that is, about $6.55 per hour. “Okay. Let’s say I can keep that rate while working 80 hours a week. That will get me a little over 26 grand per year . . . even allowing for two weeks of annual vacation leave.”

Feverishly working the keys of his hand-held device, Newdow eventually cries out confidently, “No problem! If I lose the case, I’ll be able to pay off The Bernstein Office by the year 93611!”

Newdow’s optimistic countenance suddenly turns sour. “Uh-oh . . . what if they charge me interest?” But he brightens again shortly thereafter. “Hey, that’s no problem, either. I can pay that off with the Merry Solstice! proceeds!”

To order the Merry Solstice! CD, to protest to the Leonard Bernstein Office, or to do both (and get a 25% discount on the CD), log on to www.restorethepledge.com. Merry Solstice!: (1) December Solstice (original composition); (2) It Isn’t Perpendicular (God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen); (3) Joy to the World; (4) H.G. Wells (Jingle Bells); (5) Silent Night; (6) Deck the Malls (Deck the Halls); (7) No Hell, No Hell (Noel, Noel); (8) 12 Hours of Solstice (12 Days of Christmas); (9) Oh, Wholly Night; (10) Bark is That of Which We Sing (Hark the Herald Angels Sing); (11) Green Cheese (Greensleeves); (12) O Come Don’t Be Wasteful (O Come All Ye Faithful); (13) Copyright Wrong (Santa Claus is Coming to Town, It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, Let it Snow, Little Drummer Boy, Have Yourself a Very Merry Christmas, White Christmas); (14) Had No Lawya’ (Hallelujah); (15) Holly & Ivy; (16) We Wish You a Merry Solstice; (17) Manger Music (Away in a Manger); (18) O Modesty (O Christmas Tree); (19) Solstice Time (original composition).

Freedom From Religion Foundation