Michael New­dow is an Amer­i­can attor­ney and emer­gency med­i­cine physi­cian. He is best known for his efforts to ban recita­tions of the cur­rent ver­sion of the Pledge of Alle­giance in pub­lic schools in the United States because of its inclu­sion of the phrase “under God”. Most recently, he filed a law­suit to pre­vent ref­er­ences to God and reli­gion from being part of Pres­i­dent Obama’s inau­gu­ra­tion. You can read Dr. Newdow’s legal briefs and other mate­ri­als at http://​www​.restorethe​p​ledge​.com/

When we asked him if he had any edi­to­ri­als he would be will­ing to share with us, he for­warded the fol­low­ing essay pre­pared in advance of the Jan­u­ary 2009 inau­gu­ra­tion. While you may not agree with Dr. Newdow’s the­ol­ogy, his views on reli­gious equal­ity are thought pro­vok­ing.  What do you think?  Post your com­ments below.  Editor


By Michael New­dow, Esq.
Posted on Reli​gious​Lib​erty​.TV with the per­mis­sion of the author.

In 1892, the 1/8th black Homer Plessy was con­victed of vio­lat­ing Louisiana law by sit­ting in a “Whites only” rail­road car. He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court, where his con­vic­tion was upheld by an 8–1 mar­gin. “A statute which implies merely a legal dis­tinc­tion between the white and col­ored races,” wrote the Court, “ … has no ten­dency to destroy the legal equal­ity of the two races.”

The lone dis­senter in that case was Jus­tice John Mar­shall Har­lan, who refused to buy into the majority’s logic. Although it was true that whites and blacks were treated “equally” in a lit­eral sense (since the law pro­hib­ited whites from rid­ing in col­ored cars just as much as the oppo­site), Jus­tice Har­lan focused upon the “real mean­ing” of the leg­is­la­tion: “that col­ored cit­i­zens are so infe­rior and degraded that they can­not be allowed to sit in pub­lic coaches occu­pied by white citizens.”

It took fifty-eight years for the Supreme Court to rec­og­nize that Jus­tice Harlan’s view was cor­rect. In Brown v. Board of Edu­ca­tion, the “real mean­ing” of “sep­a­rate but equal”– i.e., that the nation’s white major­ity was using the gov­ern­ment to affirm its self-proclaimed racial supe­ri­or­ity – was put to an end. As a result, the whole of Amer­i­can soci­ety changed, so much so that we now have an African Amer­i­can poised to become the nation’s pres­i­dent. Surely, Barack Obama would never have been elected had Plessy remained the law of the land.

And yet not every­one has learned the les­son of Brown, includ­ing, of all peo­ple, Barack Obama. The mes­sage that “we” in the major­ity are “bet­ter” than some minor­ity to which our Con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­tees equal­ity is once again about to be sent. This time, rather than with race, it is in the realm of reli­gion, as Mr. Obama plans to con­tinue the prac­tice, first intro­duced in 1937, of hav­ing clergy espouse the view that belief in God is supe­rior to disbelief.

Mr. Obama plans to con­tinue the prac­tice, first intro­duced in 1937, of hav­ing clergy espouse the view that belief in God is supe­rior to disbelief.

The hypocrisy of this “tra­di­tion” might best be seen by sim­ply read­ing from his inau­gural committee’s web­site. There one can read of a “com­mit­ment to … ensure that as many Amer­i­cans as pos­si­ble … will be able to come together to unite the coun­try and cel­e­brate our com­mon val­ues and shared aspi­ra­tions.” With the offi­cial theme being “Renew­ing America’s Promise,” Mr. Obama is quoted for the propo­si­tion that “in Amer­ica, we rise or fall as one nation and one peo­ple. That sense of unity and shared pur­pose is what this Inau­gu­ra­tion will reflect.” Thus, in this inau­gu­ra­tion, there is alleged “a com­mit­ment to orga­niz­ing activ­i­ties that are inclusive.”

Mr. Obama, a for­mer con­sti­tu­tional law pro­fes­sor, is surely aware that (as Jus­tice Scalia has writ­ten) “gov­ern­ment may not … lend its power to one or the other side in con­tro­ver­sies over reli­gious … dogma.” After all, he was teach­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Chicago Law School when the Supreme Court instructed the nation that “the reli­gious lib­erty pro­tected by the Con­sti­tu­tion is abridged when the State affir­ma­tively spon­sors the par­tic­u­lar reli­gious prac­tice of prayer.” More impor­tantly, hav­ing undoubt­edly reviewed Jus­tice Harlan’s dis­sent in Plessy on numer­ous occa­sions, the President-elect has to real­ize that the “real mean­ing” of such for­mal espousals of God’s sup­posed exis­tence is to brand believ­ers as “supe­rior” and Athe­ists as “infe­rior” cit­i­zens, in pre­cisely the same way as the “sep­a­rate but equal” laws did barely half a cen­tury ago.  Actu­ally, that’s incor­rect. “Sep­a­rate but equal” at least pays lip ser­vice to the notion of equal­ity. There is noth­ing equal when the gov­ern­ment explic­itly chooses to place one belief sys­tem above another. It is only Monothe­ism that is pro­vided with an offi­cial plat­form at the nation’s pre­mier celebration.

There is noth­ing equal when the gov­ern­ment explic­itly chooses to place one belief sys­tem above another.

Does Mr. Obama really think that this divi­sive reli­gious claim helps “to unite the coun­try?” What mes­sage does he believe is con­veyed when he asserts that pro­claim­ing the glory of God is a “com­mon value?” What could pos­si­bly lead him to argue that a “sense of unity and shared pur­pose” results from intrud­ing into the inau­gu­ra­tion a reli­gious ide­ol­ogy that, like every reli­gious ide­ol­ogy, is divi­sive? He’s a grad­u­ate of Har­vard Law School, who must have reviewed the text and the his­tory of the First Amend­ment numer­ous times. How can such a learned man reckon him­self “inclu­sive” by pay­ing homage to a Supreme Being denied by mil­lions of those he represents?

Two months ago, when the Amer­i­can peo­ple chose Barack Obama to serve in the high­est office in the land, it seemed that Homer Plessy’s dream had finally been real­ized. Amer­ica, we thought then, truly stands for the jus­tice and equal­ity guar­an­teed in its Con­sti­tu­tion. Yet, in a few days, as our new pres­i­dent steps up to the inau­gural podium, the real­ity will be that government-sanctioned favoritism – now for reli­gion, instead of race – will con­tinue. Per­haps some day, as the leader of our nation swears “to pre­serve, pro­tect and defend” the doc­u­ment upon which Homer Plessy’s dream was founded, he or she won’t simul­ta­ne­ously be rip­ping it … and us … apart.

 
 

2 Comments

  1. rlbolton says:

    While Newdow’s rea­son­ing has some merit, the fact remains that athe­ists have no apolo­getic for moral behav­ior like those who are moti­vated by a reli­gion have. I dis­agree with his premise, that athe­ism is equal to or supe­rior to religion.

    It is true that all peo­ple are cre­ated to be free and equal, whether they are black or white, slave or free, edu­cated or une­d­u­cated. Yet we can see that they are not free and equal because of dif­fer­ences of oppor­tu­nity and choice. Tyranny and oppres­sion, polit­i­cal cor­rup­tion and nat­ural dis­as­ters, and other cir­cum­stances have lim­ited oppor­tu­nity and choice for some people.

    But argu­ing that philo­soph­i­cally there is noth­ing supe­rior about reli­gion in con­trast to god­less­ness is not a good par­al­lel. For instance, care for the weak and help­less is accepted as nor­mal in US soci­ety today, but it is a Chris­t­ian prin­ci­ple that was not a given before Christ. The sick and weak have long been despised and rejected, either left to die or out­right killed even.

    While there has been injus­tice in the name of reli­gion, it is against the prin­ci­ples of the gospel. There is no “guid­ing light” for athe­ists that offers moral instruc­tion or a foun­da­tion for mak­ing moral deci­sions. I am uncom­fort­able accept­ing Newdow’s premise.

  2. rlbolton says:

    While Newdow’s rea­son­ing has some merit, the fact remains that athe­ists have no apolo­getic for moral behav­ior like those who are moti­vated by a reli­gion have. I dis­agree with his premise, that athe­ism is equal to or supe­rior to religion.

    It is true that all peo­ple are cre­ated to be free and equal, whether they are black or white, slave or free, edu­cated or une­d­u­cated. Yet we can see that they are not free and equal because of dif­fer­ences of oppor­tu­nity and choice. Tyranny and oppres­sion, polit­i­cal cor­rup­tion and nat­ural dis­as­ters, and other cir­cum­stances have lim­ited oppor­tu­nity and choice for some people.

    But argu­ing that philo­soph­i­cally there is noth­ing supe­rior about reli­gion in con­trast to god­less­ness is not a good par­al­lel. For instance, care for the weak and help­less is accepted as nor­mal in US soci­ety today, but it is a Chris­t­ian prin­ci­ple that was not a given before Christ. The sick and weak have long been despised and rejected, either left to die or out­right killed even.

    While there has been injus­tice in the name of reli­gion, it is against the prin­ci­ples of the gospel. There is no “guid­ing light” for athe­ists that offers moral instruc­tion or a foun­da­tion for mak­ing moral deci­sions. I am uncom­fort­able accept­ing Newdow’s premise.

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