Still Pissed Off About the Hawley-Smoot Tariff

Friday, December 17, 2004

Separation of Church and State, the Constitution, and the Pledge

Not until this morning on Neal Boortz' radio show did I hear anyone actually defending the pending recall vote against David Habecker. Not that I've been looking, really, but I got a Google hit for my original post, and while skimming through other Google hits I only saw people criticizing that decision. Example here, where the author sarcastically asks "I mean really... who wants a rotten atheist making decisions for the rest of us?"

The issue, in my opinion, is not about atheism, but about whether voters are satisfied with their elected officials. That's what the electoral process is all about - representative responsiveness to popular concerns. MichaelTOE might disagree with Estes park voters about the relative importance of atheistic Councilmen (actually, I didn't see anything in the article that says he an atheist), but what the majority wants, the majority should get.

"I can hear the bitching already; 'there's nothing religious about tradition!' Nevermind that the pledge wasn't originally worded that way. Nevermind that the words 'under God' were a product of the Red Scare, a time which seems all too familiar these days."

I have two problems with that paragraph. First, the claim that there is nothing religious about tradition is simply wrong. Religion and tradition are inextricably woven together. I asked a Rabbi recently why he says that the words of King Messiah won't be added to the Tanakh, and his response was "it is accepted tradition." Islam is governed cheifly by the Qu'ran, but also in large part by the hadiths - sacred traditions - about the life and sayings of Muhammad. Christians celebrate Christmas and Easter, not because the Bible tells us to, but because that's what Christians have always done (and we accept the date chosen for Easter celebrations although it was originally connected with pagan worship).

My second problem is the author's suggestion that because the pledge didn't originally have the words "under God" in it, those words can't be part of tradition. There is no time limit on when tradition becomes tradition. If we've been saying "under God" for fifty years, I'd say that's long enough to give rise to tradition. Whether or not tradition may or should be modified is, of course, another question.

Anyway, back to Boortz defending the Estes park recall. He ripped into Habecker on the basis that the Constitution nowhere says the words "separation of Church and State." No, it doesn't, but I don't think that really says anything about the issue. I won't go so far as to hysterically call the Pledge of Allegiance the first step towards fascist theocracy (go to Democratic Underground for that kind of nonsense), but a reasonable argument might be made that combining religious elements into an oath of loyalty to a political entity is beyond the bounds of propriety.


"My response to Mr. Habecker: You think this is intolerance? If you’ve still got your head or your tongue or your eyes or your hands or you haven’t received 100 lashes…then sir, you haven’t seen intolerance. This is simply a town excercising their rights to the kind of social standards they deem sufficient. And, sir…if you can’t even stand your lousy butt up and go through the freaking motions…then you’re the intolerant one, not them."

From Voices In My Head.