Cain Gets His Demagogue On »« Libya: One for All — and All for Love, Baby

Obama Responds to Secular Petitions

The White House has responded to two petitions on its We The People website that got enough votes to force such a response. One would remove the phrase “under God” from the pledge of allegiance and another would remove “In God We Trust” from our currency. Josh Dubois, Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, wrote the response:

The separation of church and state outlined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is an important founding principle of our nation. Our nation’s Bill of Rights guarantees not only that the government cannot establish an official religion, but also guarantees citizens’ rights to practice the religion of their choosing or no religion at all.

Throughout our history, people of all faiths – as well as secular Americans – have played an important role in public life. And a robust dialogue about the role of religion in public life is an important part of our public discourse.

While the President strongly supports every American’s right to religious freedom and the separation of church and state, that does not mean there’s no role for religion in the public square.

When he was a Senator from Illinois, President Obama gave a keynote address at the Call to Renewal conference where he spoke about the important role religion plays in politics and in public life.

A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation – context matters.

That’s why President Obama supports the use of the words “under God’ in our Pledge of Allegiance and “In God we Trust’ on our currency. These phrases represent the important role religion plays in American public life, while we continue to recognize and protect the rights of secular Americans. As the President said in his inaugural address, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.” We’re proud of that heritage, and the strength it brings to our great country.

This is a purely political response, of course. Obama and his advisers know that pushing that issue can only hurt them, no matter how he might feel personally about it (and I doubt he much cares about it at all). It might make folks like us happy but we are very small minority and the backlash it would create would be nothing but trouble for them in next year’s election.

Comments

  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    Breaking news: “Progressive” Barrack Obama whores himself out to religionisrs, capitalists, and other sub-human barbarians for votes!

    In other news: The sky is blue!

  2. eric says

    That’s why President Obama supports the use of the words “under God’ in our Pledge of Allegiance and “In God we Trust’ on our currency.

    Boo! Ed, even as “purely political responses” go, this one’s a stinker. I would have been just as easy to craft a message that said (very nicely) Obama has little opinion on the matter and isn’t going to try and change it.

    No it’s not just a political response; there is a level of endorsement given in that letter which comes through as fully intentional, as well as being unnecessary from a minimalist, political response.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the backlash it would create would be nothing but trouble for them in next year’s election.

    So, by abandoning the basic principles of the US Constitution, the Obama administration instead faces nothing but trouble from some set of recycled hyperchristian lies.

    It’s a lot easier to see what’s lost by this strategy than what’s gained.

  4. says

    I would have preferred he actually be honest and say: “Look, I understand how you feel and what the constitution says, but it ain’t gonna happen. There’s not enough political capital on the planet to get those phrases removed. “

  5. DaveL says

    I know the chances of Obama or any of the Democrats actually growing a spine on this issue are close to nil, but there’s still something about this response I find particularly galling.

    I don’t like being bullied. I don’t like being conned. But what I hate most of all is when bullies pretend they’ve got me fooled.

  6. says

    FFS, is this what it’s come down to? Obama is a fake progressive and is in bed with the fundies because he won’t remove invocations of God from the pledge and from currency?

    Putting aside the obvious — that it would be politically idiotic for him to pursue this issue — these are church-state “violations” that are almost completely harmless. It’s a testament to the overwhelming success of the strict separationist cause that we’re even discussing such trivialities. Serious violations of the 1st amendment happen all the time, and would happen much more frequently if the religious right had their way. Be happy that thanks in part to Obama, they don’t.

  7. says

    I have to agree with Akira MacKenzie’s comment above.

    “Surprise!!” no not really. What should we expect from the Obama administration and its handlers.

    I have ceased being at all optimistic about what any politician will do, left, right or center.

    The only thing that sustains any level of optimism is reading the postings and the majority of the comments here and the other FreeThoughtBlogs postings.

  8. Aquaria says

    Putting aside the obvious — that it would be politically idiotic for him to pursue this issue — these are church-state “violations” that are almost completely harmless.

    This one isn’t.

    It’s used all the time by the fundies to prop up their Christian nation bullshit when they’re “proving” that atheists don’t deserve a voice, moron.

    It’s a testament to the overwhelming success of the strict separationist cause that we’re even discussing such trivialities.

    It’s not trivial when it’s fueling deluded morons who are intent on turning this nation into a theocracy.

    Serious violations of the 1st amendment happen all the time, and would happen much more frequently if the religious right had their way.

    And this is one of the things that make them think they can violate the first amendment with impunity.

    Be happy that thanks in part to Obama, they don’t.

    Obama does fuck all for non-believers, other than throwing them a few crumbs that we’re supposed to get down on our knees and slobber over him for.

    Fuck that.

    The Under God bullshit is the one obvious thing that puts non-beleivers at the back of the American bus. It was vomited onto our money and Pledge of Allegiance precisely to shit on non-believers. There aren’t too many things like that that are done just to alienate and deride one group of Americans–but that was done to atheists, with impunity. Without one fucking care for what it said to us, or about us.

  9. says

    Why does “the important role religion plays in American public life” need to be on our money? It’s already all over the public square, federal holidays, national days of prayer, churches on every street corner and hordes of people piling into buildings on the weekends for various forms of worship. Why do we need this represented on our money?

    Oh… wait…

  10. daveau says

    “These phrases represent the important role religion superstitious nonsense plays in American public life…”

    There. Fixed that for ya.

  11. says

    I would be very interested to know how many Americans actually know what words are imprinted on their money. I would be very surprised if a majority of them did, and I suspect it’s much lower than that.

    (Full disclosure — I had lived in the USA for several years before I knew, and I’m someone who has long be interested in issues religion and politics. I suspect I had probably seen the words on several occasions, but it just never registered as something I should care about.)

    The backlash in making this an issue would not be limited to Obama’s re-election chances. It would further demonize atheists and atheism as an undesirable reactionary force in America. No matter how correct in terms of constitutionality removing religious mottoes from government issued coins and notes would be, it’s simply not worth the fallout, in my opinion.

    Perhaps my views are colored by my British background and the fact that even though expressions of religious faith are far more engrained in the public and government sphere in the UK, the power of religion to shape public policy is far less than in the USA.

    Apathy is one of the greatest enemies of religious fundamentalism, and nothing excites the fundamentalists more than atheists engaging in a high profile public battle over something that most people didn’t care or even know about.

  12. dogmeat says

    Putting aside the obvious — that it would be politically idiotic for him to pursue this issue — these are church-state “violations” that are almost completely harmless.

    Actually the “almost completely harmless” claim isn’t accurate. While the currency question could be argued to be meaningless in most context, the pledge is a significant issue because it is a de facto requirement that students participate. Every year I ask my students if they have, throughout their time in school, seen a student pressured to say the pledge. Every time roughly half of the class has had that happen. In addition it is quite common for the pledge to be a requirement in the elementary school curriculum (I know of at least four states that require learning the pledge). This means that students are required to participate in an activity in which the state takes a vocal and positive position on the question of the existence of a deity. In specific, in most cases, that question is rather loudly answered in an affirmative, specifically Christian manner.

    That kids are required to participate, that they are rarely notified that they can choose to not participate, that they are introduced to this activity at a time when they are not, in any way, prepared to adequately consider the scope and meaning of what they are reciting makes the pledge very problematic at best, an utter disaster when it comes to personal freedoms as far as I’m concerned.

  13. Eric R says

    I have in the past argued like Area Man, that these particular offenses are largely harmless. I’ve had it argued to me that “under god” in the pledge represents a nearly irresistable indoctrination to xianity, which is complete and utter bollocks in my opinion. What bothers me about the pledge is the fact that kids dont know they dont have to recite it, they dont know that they can leave out under god, and they are way too often pressured into it and they are rarely taught the history of it. I now hold a position more akin to Aquaria’s who correctly points out how the existance of these two items are too often used by fundies as proof of something.

    However court findings in every lawsuit put forth against both have found that they are not proof of anything, and that they are nothing more than ceremonial deism. That seems to me to be the more tractable approach against fundies trying to make claims otherwise.

    Thus, ultimately the real solution to fundies using these items is education, I guarantee you few, outside the athiest community, know that “Under god” was added to the pledge in the 50′s or know that “In God we trust” replaced the more appropriate “E Pluribus Unum” as the nations motto also in the 50′s, even though it has appeared on various coins since 1864.

    Courts have repeatedly found that both uses are of ceremonial character and are examples of “Ceremonial deism”, since I believe it will be a cold day in an imaginary hell when these are removed, it seems to me that repeated stressing of of these findings, that they do NOT represent xianity, they are NOT declarations of the existance of any god, but are nothing more than old traditional ceremonial utterances is the best defense against them. Educate the public that they are both far newer than the nation and as such cannot be any indication as to the origins of the nation. Further stressing of the fact that both of these changes were made at the height of the Cold war, the red menace, the red scare, connect them with McCarthyism, however you want to put it, can only be of benefit in defusing some of their usefulness to the fundy community.

    Of course getting that information out in the mainstream and seeing it used every time a Fundy makes a false claim needs to happen, because it hasnt.

  14. says

    I don’t know about you, but it almost felt to me like the President’s church goons have no idea about the history of all this god bothering on our currency and pledge. It’s as if they got their history lesson from Faux Noise: “If Under god and in god we trust was good enough for our founding fathers, then it’s good enough for me.”

    Of course, that doesn’t excuse the fact that just because someone has done something a long time, doesn’t in any way make it right.

  15. says

    This one isn’t.

    It’s used all the time by the fundies to prop up their Christian nation bullshit when they’re “proving” that atheists don’t deserve a voice, moron.

    There’s no need to be a jerk. If the worse thing you can say about “Under God” in the pledge is that it’s not actually causing anyone any harm, but is merely used by fundies to make obviously fallacious arguments, then you’re proving my point.

    As near as I can tell, those phrases themselves don’t actually keep you from having a voice, as annoying as you may find them.

    And this is one of the things that make them think they can violate the first amendment with impunity.

    You seriously think they’d curtail their efforts if “Under God” were removed from the pledge. Really?

    I think you have the problem backwards.

    Obama does fuck all for non-believers, other than throwing them a few crumbs that we’re supposed to get down on our knees and slobber over him for.

    Speaking as a non-believer, I’m not sure what exactly Obama is supposed to do for me other than leave me alone. I’ve seen no indication that he shares the agenda of the religious right (who, predictably, hate his guts), so I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be upset about.

    Demanding that he pursue trivial and politically suicidal policies that don’t actually make a difference in anyone’s life, and that would never pass Congress anyway, is being unreasonable, to put it mildly.

    The Under God bullshit is the one obvious thing that puts non-beleivers at the back of the American bus. It was vomited onto our money and Pledge of Allegiance precisely to shit on non-believers.

    Likening some words in the Pledge or on coins to being physically placed in the back of a bus is both absurd and insulting to the people who actually had to endure such discrimination.

    Those words may have been intended to shit on unbelievers when they were first adopted, but virtually no one among the general public sees it that way today. The phrases have been around for decades, and are what the courts refer to as “ceremonial deism” — meaningless, ritualistic pablum. They’re annoying, but that’s all they are.

  16. DaveL says

    Those words may have been intended to shit on unbelievers when they were first adopted, but virtually no one among the general public sees it that way today.

    That’s quite incorrect. On this point Aquaria has it right – you can hardly have a public discussion about the separation of church and state without someone claiming “This is one nation under GOD!” or “If atheists object to mentions of ‘God’, they’re free to stop using our money.” It’s clear that at least a sizeable chunk of the public sees these phrases as official stamps of theistic ownership upon our government.

    The phrases have been around for decades, and are what the courts refer to as “ceremonial deism” — meaningless, ritualistic pablum. They’re annoying, but that’s all they are.

    In which case they ought to be repugnant to believers of the Abrahamic faiths, and should be removed.

  17. says

    Ed Brayton wrote:

    This is a purely political response, of course. Obama and his advisers know that pushing that issue can only hurt them, no matter how he might feel personally about it (and I doubt he much cares about it at all). It might make folks like us happy but we are very small minority and the backlash it would create would be nothing but trouble for them in next year’s election.

    And are you criticizing a politician for being, well, political? Of course he’s not going to remove “In God We Trust”! I’d seriously question his sanity if he did.

    I don’t like the phrase either, but it’s not going away until skeptics, atheists, and agnostics have gotten too numerous for politicians to ignore; and since we are getting more numerous, I think that day will come.

  18. benjdm says

    these are church-state “violations” that are almost completely harmless.

    Having a National Motto that defines ‘We’ as those who believe in a trustworthy God is not harmless.

  19. says

    I sure as hell don’t think it’s “harmless.”

    1) We’re living with lots of popular historical revisionists who are trying to destroy the secular roots of our government and impose church onto state. I’ve met far, far too many of these people who are constantly trying to reinforce their false history by pointing to the money and pledge. They also use it as precedent for their proposed theocracy. I want to pull out one of the foundational lies out from under their feet for this generation as well as future generations.

    2) The pledge in particular is being used to marginalize and indoctrinate children in school. If you don’t say the pledge, there’s a very strong chance that you’re going to be targeted for bullying from fellow students and possibly even intimidation from the staff.

    How is inaction supposed to fix that? I know it’s going to be damn hard to accomplish, but I don’t see alternatives.

    One thing I really despise coming from the fundies is the code word “public square.” It’s a straw man, since this isn’t about the public square. This is about our government. There’s a difference. We aren’t trying to tear down private citizens’ churches or censor people who want to speak in favor of religion. We’re trying to censor a government that has pretty much agreed to censor itself. The government doesn’t have the right to express a religious opinion.

    What makes it really enraging is that someone from the Obama administration used it the exact same way right wing fundies do.

  20. fastlane says

    I was going to post my stock reply to Areaman’s protest, but Aquaria has it covered.

    The phrase “Give them an inch, and they’ll take a mile.” comes to mind regarding these ‘minor’ religious infractions.

    This reply is galling because it’s a slap in the face to all those who want a secular government. And many of those are religious people.

    A better response would have been :

    ” We realize that this is a difficult issue for many people, but the Supreme court (Ref. Decisions…) has declared that they don’t actually endorse religious beliefs and don’t really mean anything.”

    I would like to see how the fundigelicals respond to that.

  21. says

    @17: Another interpretation of the “ceremonial deism” rulings is that the court also recognized the political difficulties of removing the references in question and not merely that they were echoing public sentiment that the phrases are “meaningless, ritualistic pablum.” Indeed, the problem with the latter interpretation is explaining how the constitutionality of those phrases ended up repeatedly in the high court’s lap given their alleged unimportance.

    Even cursory analysis of ceremonial deism reveals inconsistency: ‘These matters are so important that we will grant cert/hear appeals and then declare that it’s not important after all, but not important in a way that benefits the phrases’ defenders.’

  22. says

    “Ceremonial deism” is, of course, a crock. How can deistic mottoes (and for most Americans, they’re not deistic) be anything but an endorsement of (deistic) religion?

  23. says

    I haven’t fully decided how I feel on the “harmlessness” of the phrases, but I think we can all agree with Area Man’s point that even though we would want those phrases removed, if the President made any statement that gave even the tiniest indication that he empathizes with us, the conservatives would capitalize on it.

    I wish the President could make fully rational statements, but our political environment would result in such statements being harmful to his re-election. So I have a hard time asking the President to take a quixotic position, where the largest consequences of doing so would be negative.

    Such political positions need to be taken in races that are not quite as important as the Presidential race. Congressional candidates that are underdogs could take the utopian stand with little harm to the country, but the President doing so, and possibly losing re-election as a result (to someone who will do much more harm), I would not advocate that.

    Now this is a part of the Overton Window strategy. I know we all dislike it when the Tea Party Republicans try to move the politically feasible window to the right, but I would contend that it is different in this situation. The Overton Window is simply a description of trying to change what is politically possible. To take an unpopular (but correct) position and argue consistently in its favor can move the window, which is what we should advocate. Whereas the conservatives have taken a different approach, trying to shift the Overton Window by taking extreme positions (that are abhorrent) in order to make traditionally conservative positions seem “moderate”.

    If we were to actually adopt the Tea Party’s Overton strategy, we would advocate outlawing all religion, and then simply removing those phrases from our currency and pledge would be a “reasonable” compromise. But that would be an immoral approach.

    We can be intellectually honest in advocating a rational use of the Overton Window here, even after criticizing the Tea Party Republicans for using it the way they have. And then once the Overton Window has moved, that is when you put pressure on the President to actually adopt your position.

  24. says

    “I’ve met far, far too many of these people who are constantly trying to reinforce their false history by pointing to the money and pledge.”

    Again, I am perplexed by the notion that 1) these people would stop what they were doing if only those phrases were removed, and 2) the phrases actually make any difference in their odds of success.

    If you want to argue that those phrases somehow increase society-wide hostility towards atheists, well I think that’s highly dubious, but at least it’s a legit argument (as is the counter that removing them would cause far greater hostility). Declaring them harmful because fundies use them to make bad arguments? That’s just inane.

    “The pledge in particular is being used to marginalize and indoctrinate children in school.”

    You know, I remember reciting the pledge everyday as a school kid, and I somehow came away without being indoctrinated or marginalized. I think I was like just about every other kid in that I didn’t even pause to think about it. Which is to say that it’s nonsense to assume that the pledge, with one throw-away line, could have the power to shape a person’s religious beliefs.

    I agree that there’s a problem with bullying, etc. for those who opt-out of saying the pledge. But that’s a problem that exists regardless of content. Jehovah’s Witnesses, among others, won’t let their kids recite it because they regard it as idolatrous, which is their right. What to do about that? The better solution is to stop having daily recitations of the pledge. Admittedly, that has about as much chance of happening as removing “Under God”.

  25. lanir says

    The petitions served their purpose. At this point it’s important mainly to remind people in charge that there’s a space for change and people who would like it done. Too many people in our democracy would not approve of this change and there are more important battles to win first.

    If the revisionist history “christian nation” morons win and get their gag-worthy tripe into the school history books a phrase on coinage will be the least of our worries.

  26. Michael Heath says

    DaveL writes:

    I know the chances of Obama or any of the Democrats actually growing a spine on this issue are close to nil, but there’s still something about this response I find particularly galling.

    I don’t like being bullied. I don’t like being conned. But what I hate most of all is when bullies pretend they’ve got me fooled.

    I too find it galling; this is the most offensive argument I’ve encountered him making (I’m on the emailing list for the petitions and his campaign).

    I don’t perceive the president being a bully nor merely another typical politician in his response here. Instead this is the exact type of response that defines conservative politicians, e.g., he avoids the central arguments and principles advocated by those arguing the other side. As another commenter noted, it would have been far better to just admit why he won’t address this issue without revealing his own personal position – that’s at least a respectful argument though a bit cowardly.

    Only Christianists and other idiots would accept this response as a respectful position worth anyone’s consideration. I’m particularly offended by the fact the White House avoids confronting the central argument which motivated these two petitions, which is the violation of individual rights by the federal, state, and local governments shoving the Christian religion up our respective asses – without any lube and in spite of the two religion clauses expressly prohibiting such behavior.

    President Obama demonstrates cowardice on this matter.

  27. says

    It’s not the recitation that’s doing the indoctrination, it’s the bullying and intimidation that gets directed at people who don’t recite it, along with people who wrap themselves in the flag and declare that you’re a Communist or whatever if you don’t engage in the patriotic rituals.

    I know there’s plenty of effort put into combating those cultural forces surrounding the motto and pledge. That’s good in itself, but the longer we leave the violations intact, the more entrenched they’ll become. My dad’s old enough to remember “under god” being added, but his generation won’t last forever.

    Frankly, I think I may have to consider raising more of a ruckus about the issues instead of resigning myself so that people will see how important a secular government is. We get enough people openly talking about it, maybe it might become politically viable to support correcting them.

  28. Michael Heath says

    Reginald Selkirk writes:

    Another petition to sign [with link]:
    Actually take these petitions seriously instead of just using them as an excuse to pretend you are listening

    That’s a great idea and I went there to eagerly sign that petition. However the petition’s specific demand is very different than its title as noted by Reginald; it instead demands the president sign-on to supporting all the petitions, which is both impossible and imprudent. It reads:

    Although the ability to submit petitions directly to the White House is a noble and welcome new feature of the current administration, the first round of responses makes blatantly clear the White House intends to just support its current stances and explain them with responses everyone who has done any research already knows.

    An online petition is not meant as a replacement for using a search box in a web browser. We the People, those who grant you the power to govern in the first place, are requesting changes in policy directly, circumventing legislators who already do not listen to us. We the People request you govern FOR us, which means actually listening to us and actually acting in our interests instead of special interests.

    I’d happily sign one that precisely demanded the president directly and fully respond to the petitions which earn a response. But I can’t sign this one because it demands far more.

    The president’s response on legalizing marijuana also dishonestly sucked. Andrew Sullivan nailed him on that this morning.

  29. Michael Heath says

    tacitus:

    The backlash in making this an issue would not be limited to Obama’s re-election chances. It would further demonize atheists and atheism as an undesirable reactionary force in America. No matter how correct in terms of constitutionality removing religious mottoes from government issued coins and notes would be, it’s simply not worth the fallout, in my opinion.

    Which misses the point of the most incisive criticisms. We didn’t expect him to champion leading the effort on these two matters. Instead we demanded he fully confront our arguments and truthfully and sufficiently respond on why he wouldn’t be championing our cause.

    Championing our cause would be an act of courage few are naive to believe he’d do, responding to our cause but not championing it would have demonstrated character. Avoiding our argument as the president does here is pure cowardice. We didn’t demand courage, only mere character. The president fails big-time on this test.

  30. Michael Heath says

    aaronbaker writes:

    And are you criticizing a politician for being, well, political? Of course he’s not going to remove “In God We Trust”! I’d seriously question his sanity if he did.

    Which misses the core point. No one expects him to actually champion these causes, instead we expected him to at least acknowledge and confront our argument. President Obama did neither – I conclude out of cowardice to a degree it can’t be excused because he’s in an electoral season.

  31. Ben P says

    Boo! Ed, even as “purely political responses” go, this one’s a stinker.

    I don’t want to marginalize the secuarlism issue, but that’s not unique. Look at the one on legalizing Marijuana (which if you combine the two on the popular list on the topic, is the single biggest petition).

    The response is straight up drug warrior propaganda about Marijuana being associated with addiction and cognitive impairment and marijuana being three times as potent today as it was in the 70′s.

  32. says

    @Michael Heath

    Then I guess you expect more of President Obama than I do.

    In the end, I think atheists and other believers in the separation of church and state need to pick their battles. Choosing to take a stand over a motto that the majority of Americans likely doesn’t even know is on their money, isn’t it. Having grown up in the UK, I have seen first hand what institutionalized religion looks like (I attended a mini-church service almost every day of my public school life) and its debilitating effect on religiosity.

  33. says

    As much as I’d like to see this silliness off the money, I have to agree that he has bigger fish to fry at the moment. After all, what are we going to do–vote Theocrat/Republican?

    I still think it’s worth doing petitions and protests like this now and then, though, to let the politicians know that religious pandering does have a downside with a statistically significant portion of the electorate.

  34. Michael Heath says

    Bronze Dog writes:

    One thing I really despise coming from the fundies is the code word “public square.” It’s a straw man, since this isn’t about the public square. This is about our government. There’s a difference.

    I’m OK with using the phrase ‘public square’, but you are correct Christianists along with people like Jon Meachum and now Barack Obama also defectively and unconstitutionally conflate the public square with the government’s behavior. As individiuals do have constitutionally protected rights to express religious or a-religious beliefs in the public square, but the government doesn’t have the power to express or promote religious beliefs in that same venue. I’m arguing we take back the phrase, it belongs to us though I’m empathetic on your proposal. I think we lose the moral high ground and the argument if we claim there is no place for religion in the public square, it is precisely there where it’s most critical religious advocacy be protected (when emanating from individuals of course).

    Bronze Dog:

    What makes it really enraging is that someone from the Obama administration used it the exact same way right wing fundies do.

    I agree and I’m enraged partly due to what you report. However I’m not blaming his Administration on this one, the president solely owns this. This petition idea distinguishes him from other Administrations, this is not managing a traditional process but is this president starting a new one. I believe this could be a great process if properly employed. The fact that right out of the gate this president is pandering to us in a way that assumes we’re as equally submissive, delusional, and idiotic as the conservative sheep who vote against their interests and vote Republican really chaps my ass.

  35. DaveL says

    I don’t perceive the president being a bully nor merely another typical politician in his response here

    The gist of my comment was that if you’re going to tell me to go pound sand because there’s nothing I can do about it, I’d rather you just say it outright and not compound the insult by pretending you’ve got me fooled with some bullshit argument.

  36. Michael Heath says

    Jordan Genso:

    I haven’t fully decided how I feel on the “harmlessness” of the phrases, but I think we can all agree with Area Man’s point that even though we would want those phrases removed, if the President made any statement that gave even the tiniest indication that he empathizes with us, the conservatives would capitalize on it.

    It’s called leadership by way of character. What you are arguing for is a president who governs from a position of prudent weakness.

    Jordan Genso:

    So I have a hard time asking the President to take a quixotic position, where the largest consequences of doing so would be negative.

    It’s a false restriction of alternatives (logical fallacy) to argue his only choices were either championing the removal of these phrases as requested and what the president instead did when he altogether avoided the central point and instead took a position consistent with that falsely expressed by Christianists as seen on Fox News.

    As someone earlier noted, he could have pointed out it was politically infeasible for a black Democrat in the era when the GOP has been transformed into a religious-political movement to defend the Constitution on this matter (in more politically palatable rhetoric than what I use here).

    He could have stated something like:

    I understand why those who advocate for a strict separation from church and state want to end their government endorsing a providential [Christian] God* in our pledge and currency. However since the start of the Cold War our democracy through the popular will of the people has forced our government to make such endorsements in spite of the claims of some that it infringes on their individual and constitutionally protected conscience and religious freedom rights.

    The Supreme Court has ruled such endorsements are not an infringement on the limitations of government but instead mere ceremonial deism. That court has also ruled such phrases and rituals are not a sufficient infringement of the rights of those individuals who seek a government which leaves religion in the hands of private citizens and groups.

    Given the current state of our politics and the current make-up of Congress, a Democratic president taking up this cause would assuredly result in another losing fight while increasing the risk of losing other battles Democrats currently have an opportunity to achieve meaningful results on issues which are also vital to our country’s interests. It’s simply not pragmatic to take up this issue.

    While I’m cognizant of the fact these individual liberty protections guaranteed by the Constitution should not be up for popular vote, the courts nor many Americans see it that way on this matter. So the practical approach would be to get a sufficient number of voters to support your cause similar to how gays are winning some of their equal rights in the various states and recently, in the U.S. military.

    *Proper grammar should force me to use the lower-case, but I’m being politically correct in my endorsement of what the president should have done.

  37. Michael Heath says

    tacitus:

    In the end, I think atheists and other believers in the separation of church and state need to pick their battles. Choosing to take a stand over a motto that the majority of Americans likely doesn’t even know is on their money, isn’t it.

    Which again misses the point. Anyone even remotely informed realizes this president isn’t going to champion these causes, even if a million people signed this petition. Especially given the state of the Republican party and the make-up of Congress; it’s safe to assume most Democratic Congress-people would stand opposed as well. Instead the frustration is directed at the President avoiding the core points raised and responding with rhetoric consistent with what Christianists espouse on Fox News. He acted towards us like the Koch Brothers, Pat Robertson, Michelle Bachmann, and George W. Bush treat social conservatives from Iowa. That’s the beef.

  38. Michael Heath says

    DaveL:

    The gist of my comment was that if you’re going to tell me to go pound sand because there’s nothing I can do about it, I’d rather you just say it outright and not compound the insult by pretending you’ve got me fooled with some bullshit argument.

    Sorry for misunderstanding your previous post; this comment reveals our reactions were equivalent.

  39. John Hinkle says

    The phrases have been around for decades, and are what the courts refer to as “ceremonial deism” — meaningless, ritualistic pablum.

    I never even think of this meaningless pablum until some fundy waves it around as an excuse/justification for their moronic pronouncements. That’s not to say it’s benign, just that it’s out of the thought-sphere for the moment. And that’s the problem with this stuff – it’s insidious. You let it go and it gains renewed traction until you’re in your garden picking a cherry tomato or pulling a weird moth off your zuchini that suddenly they’re in your face…

  40. walton says

    Meh. Ideally, the Pledge of Allegiance in schools should be scrapped completely. It seems silly and a little creepy to impose a show of collective patriotism on little kids who are too young to think critically about it. Nationalist indoctrination isn’t really any better than religious indoctrination.

    (But then I’m a damned foreigner – albeit a temporary resident of the United States – so I don’t get a say.)

  41. says

    And that’s the problem with this stuff – it’s insidious. You let it go and it gains renewed traction until you’re in your garden picking a cherry tomato or pulling a weird moth off your zuchini that suddenly they’re in your face…

    There’s a weird slippery slope argument from a lot of people here that assumes that because the fundies use the existence of these phrases to argue for their brand of theocracy, we’re in real danger of theocracy taking hold unless we remove the phrases.

    Putting aside the fact that there’s no reason to believe this at all, the historical trend has been in precisely the opposite direction. “Under God” and “In God We Trust” have been around since the 1950s, but since then the theocrats have consistently lost ground to separationists. It’s crazy to think that the incredible progress in religious freedom we’ve made over the last 50 years is going to be undone by laws that predate that progress.

    Meanwhile, the religious right is deeply unpopular, especially among younger voters. There are lots of reasons for this, but IMO their obnoxiousness and bigotry is paramount. Let them be the assholes.

  42. macallan says


    While the President strongly supports every American’s right to religious freedom and the separation of church and state, that does not mean there’s no role for religion in the public square.

    It translates to:

    blah blah blah
    Go fuck yourselves
    blah blah blah

  43. quarky2 says

    As long as we are talking about separation of church and state, how about getting rid of deductions for contributions to churches, which is equivalent to a state subsidy of religion.

  44. matty1 says

    Maybe he has a stack of forms that read

    While the President strongly supports [insert petition here], that does not mean [ insert reason for inaction, to save time take this from nearest 'news' outlet].

  45. 10000li says

    Not one of the whiners here have made a logical case as to what Obama owes them regarding this issue. As Area Man has pointed out, the weird, slippery slope arguments being made wrt “under God” and “iGwt” bear no relationship to the real world: The occurrence of those phrases in those places has not led in any detectible way to a rise in xtian fundamentalism and no one here has made any kind of coherent argument that removing them would hasten the demise of xtian fundamentalism.

    Instead, we get the usual squawking from Aquaria trying to equate herself with gays and blacks.

    As for me, I never use paper notes or coin any more – I’ve divested myself of the illusion that those tokens are “money.” My kids don’t say the pledge at their school, and fewer and fewer schools are requiring it. It’s easier to just let the term “under God” die out as the pledge becomes less and less used. And the fundies are right about the idea that if you don’t like what’s printed on the money, don’t use it. In 21st century America, you can go your entire life and never have to trade FRNs for goods or services (well, unless you really like to stuff them into the g-strings of dancers at jiggle bars).

    On the list of things that people who prefer the government to behave in a secular and pluralistic way, these terms are near the very bottom. Issues that are much more important are:

    Ensuring the teaching real science as science in government schools (what happens in private schools is up to the people who shop there)

    Protecting the rights of same-gender couples to have marriages that are exactly as legal as those of two-gender couples (or, better yet, getting the government out of the marriage business and requiring explicit contracts for the material side of marriage – this would provide much more protection for women and children and men in the long run)

    Re-secularizing the Armed Forces: Thank you, Mikey Weinstein.

    Reminding people that the President is not the leader of the nation, or the society. The President is the leader of the Executive Branch of the US government. It says so right there in the US Constitution. The USC also defines who are the leaders of the other branches of government and describes that each branch has its separate roles. The writers of the Federalist Papers helped explain why it’s important to keep those roles separate.

    So what pisses me off the most about this whole thing is that this President thinks it’s his job to write or interpret laws, and most of you twits are going along with him.

  46. dingojack says

    10000li – “The occurrence of those phrases in those places has not led in any detectible way to a rise in xtian fundamentalism and no one here has made any kind of coherent argument that removing them would hasten the demise of xtian fundamentalism”.
    And what, prey tell, made you think that xtian fundamentalism has got anything to do with it?
    It’s about all citizens having equal rights (14th Admendment) to follow any kind of relgion they want, or to have none at all, without any kind of government interference or sponsorship (1st admendment).
    Dingo

    PS: Nice strawman BTW

  47. says

    @42 Michael Heath

    Thank you for the response. And I do agree that I provided a false dichotomy.

    In regards to what you believe the President should have said, I still feel that it would have done significant harm to his re-election. All the conservatives would have to do is point to the third paragraph you wrote and say:

    “See, he does hold these extreme* positions, he’s just trying to hide them from the public. He wouldn’t hesitate to follow through on them if they were politically feasible. All he is doing is waiting for the opportunity. We can’t trust him, as evidenced by this political calculating rather than correct principle.”

    *I assume that conservatives feel reverting back to the original pledge would be “extreme”

    And in some regards, if the President made the statement that you wrote, they would be correct. Now I think everyone here would want him to be willing to remove ‘In God We Trust’ if that was a fight we could win, but it doesn’t really matter to me if he isn’t. I disagree with him on several policies, and if he truly does want to keep those phrases in place (which is competely plausible), this one would be of lower significace on that list. So while I want him to be doing the political calculating as you described, he may not be. But if he were to reveal that he was, then he’s given away the game.

    I wish our system allowed the President to make statements like what you wrote, and be rewarded for his logical reasoning. But that is not what would happen in reality. So we need to change the system, but it would be counter-productive to sacrifice the Presidential race in the meantime. We should start by focusing on races where losing is not so consequential, and get the public to begin to see what happens when a politician runs an idealistic campaign. Show them that politicians can be 100% up front with the voters, but that the voters are unlikely to reward such honesty, unless we can implement the needed social change.

  48. 10000li says

    dingojack,

    What made me think xtian fundamentalism has anything to do with it is the slippery slope arguments that Area Man pointed to above. Aquaria and others claim that those phrases are used by fundies to justify claims of xtian nationalism and that we need to purge our money and the pledge of those phrases in order to not give fundies the fuel.

    Not a strawman at all.

    What’s printed on FRNs is hardly a Constitutional issue. If you don’t like what it says on FRNs, don’t use ‘em. I carry no cash in my wallet and literally have used no paper bills or coins in years.

    When we recite the pledge at my VFW and American Legion meetings, I don’t say, “under God,” and no one has even batted an eye. It’s irrelevant to them that I don’t say it, so why should it be relevant to me that they do?

  49. 10000li says

    dj,

    I gave my list of church-state separation issues I thought were much more pressing that the phrases under discussion. Do you disagree? Do you really think “iGwt” on money is worse than substituting creationism for science in schools or for giving equal marriage rights to same gender couples? If so, why?

  50. dingojack says

    10000li – I think all those issues are important as well.
    And I don’t think anyone is arguing otherwise.
    Why is this issue important?
    “It’s about all citizens having equal rights (14th Amendment) to follow any kind of relgion they want, or to have none at all, without any kind of government interference or sponsorship (1st amendment)”.
    Unless, of course, the ideas in the Constitution are unimportant to you.
    Dingo
    —-
    I know it’s teaching you ‘to suck eggs’ but consider why the idea of religious freedom was part of the first amendment.
    Europe had been torn apart by religious wars in the 16th and 17th centuries. During the Thirty Years War, for example, it has been estimated that around 25% of rural communities and perhaps 40% of urban ones in German States, had been killed in a vicious war, fuelled by religion. Most European countries had no idea how to stop the sectarian violence between believers in differing religions.
    Most chose a simple solution – everyone had to be of one religious faith (some Catholic, some Protestant) by law. Poland, however, had a different take on the matter, it made the state religiously neutral. No religious wars consumed Poland, people could believe what they wished.
    Later the Americans adopted this idea when they wrote their constitution, meaning (theoretically) that sectarian wars would never happen in America, and no-one would get oppressed.
    With America remaining one of the most religious of the ‘western’ countries (in other countries religion became less and less important, in America it was part of the country’s raison etre) eroding this dyke could lead to dire circumstances, especially considering how seriously Americans take it.

  51. 10000li says

    The question I have is how one can construe “under God” and “iGwt” into a full-blown Constitutional issue. The Court keeps handing down the interpretation that it isn’t.

    I continue to point out that the use of those words in those places is trivial. You haven’t explained why it isn’t.

    The idea of the wall of separation of church and state is important, words on paper money barely make a chip in that wall.

    Show me differently.

  52. abb3w says

    I suspect a more practicable goal would be to try and turn the clock back, and insist that “In God We Trust” be replaced with the original (more discreetly arrogant) Annuit cœptis, as “that’s how the Founding Fathers wanted it”. Contrariwise, that might itself present a more difficult obstacle to further secularization down the road.

    10000li:

    I continue to point out that the use of those words in those places is trivial. You haven’t explained why it isn’t.

    It’s trivial, in so far as it does not signify religious establishment; the words of the motto are protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content (dissent in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668). Contrariwise, the frequent and non-trivial fraction of fundamentalists constantly pointing to it as significant might be argued as showing the religious content empirically does have significance attached to it, and thereby removing the protecting justification. (It might be elegantly ironic to call David Barton and company as exemplars to show that such significance has been attached; probably not the best legal strategy, however.)

    Of course, though IAmNotALawyer, I suspect that would be an uphill fight under any circumstances, and I suspect we need at least another decade of the trend to increasing blatant whackaloonery (and replacing Scalia or Thomas) before mounting a court challenge would be seriously viable.

    I’d also agree there are other battles that should be fought first.

  53. says

    I have to go out and be semi-productive for a few hours, so I haven’t got time to read all the comments at the moment.

    I will say this.

    I keep hearing about the fact that kids are not aware that they don’t have to say the “Pledge of Allegiance” or that they may omit phrasing within the pledge that they find offensive or simply untrue.

    So, howzabout some of you people that don’t have to go out and be semi-productive today put together an open letter to the kids and see about getting it viral on the internetz toobz. Chapter and verse as to why they don’t have to recite the pledge, including the applicable statutes and the ALCU’s phone numbers?

  54. fastlane says

    For those of you saying that fighting these and noting that the religious in the US continue to use these as examples of the US supporting )xian) religion is a slippery slope, I would also note the fallacy that is being employed by you. Namely, ‘this XX is a bigger issue, therefore, you shouldn’t bother arguing against YY’. I don’t know if that fallacy has a name, but it’s still a fallacy.

    And although it may be a slippery slope, these arguments aren’t just occurring on the sidewalks and in the blogosphere. They are occurring in our congress and in the courts. So it is only a fallacy so long as we get court justices who are cognizant of the history of the phrases and maintain the ceremonial deism aspect of it. I hope you are all aware that in many states, judges are elected by popular vote, and the fact that Roy Moore was a judge at one time should at least give you pause.

  55. 10000li says

    John Hinkle,

    You’re welcome.

    dingojack,

    Please read this:
    “Contrariwise, the frequent and non-trivial fraction of fundamentalists constantly pointing to it as significant might be argued as showing the religious content empirically does have significance attached to it, and thereby removing the protecting justification.”

    There’s another reference to fundies.

    abb3w,

    The response to fundies is, “You mean your god is so weak that if we remove 4 words from our money, he’ll disappear?” or additional forms of Socratic irony.

    fastlane,

    Actually, that’s true. You wrote: “‘this XX is a bigger issue, therefore, you shouldn’t bother arguing against YY’. I don’t know if that fallacy has a name, but it’s still a fallacy.” I think that fallacy is considered a form of misdirection.

    So you can take my last comment to dingojack in a previous post as being direct, where I wrote:

    “The idea of the wall of separation of church and state is important, words on paper money barely make a chip in that wall.

    Show me differently.”

    I think our tactic with “iGwt” should be to show how frigging trivial it is, that if people are relying on it as proof of xtian nationalism, they have a very weak notion of what a xtian nation should look like. We should use sarcasm and satire against the idea that those four words are magic incantations that keep America from going to hell. (Mostly, we should just quit using FRNs – all of you who can use a computer can do so.)

    And we can quit using the pledge in schools. Don’t make a big deal out of it, just quit. Or, at a minimum, quit saying the “under God” part. As I said, my kids don’t have to do it, so I don’t know what to do for those of you with kids in schools where it is required other than to tell them just to stop talking when the “under God” part comes up. If, however, your kids get a ration of shite for it, then point to the JW’s and say, “Look, if they don’t have to, why should we?”

    For me, the bigger issue is the forced recitation of the pledge, not just the “under God” part. That goes to free expression, which includes the right to not express what you don’t believe about a particular way of showing loyalty to the Republic. In fact, civilians don’t need to show loyalty to the Republic in any way, shape or form. So to advocate removing “under God” from the pladge, while keeping the pledge in place as something school kids are required to recite is actually quite un-American.

  56. dingojack says

    Oh I see. ‘It’s only the tip of the shark’s tail so I shouldn’t worry about it until the shark is biting me in half’. Good plan.
    If the 1st amendment doesn’t matter, how about the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th…
    Dingo

    Americans scold others for not living up to ‘American rules’, and can’t even be bothered following them themselves.
    Ever wonder why everyone thinks they’re hypocrites?

  57. 10000li says

    Huh?

    I keep asking, but for some reason you keep avoiding it:

    Show me how those words on mostly worthless paper will lead to theocracy and the downfall of Western Civilzation.

  58. dingojack says

    Where did I say that it would? Direct quotes please.
    Now answer the questions posed. If your happy to dump the first which is next? – Dingo

Leave a Reply