Our own Greta Christina has an article at AlterNet about the concept of “ceremonial deism,” which is the rather absurd term of art used by the Supreme Court to justify a whole range of public displays of religious piety, from “in God we trust” on the money to “under God” in the pledge of allegiance.
Yet what often gets called “ceremonial deism” is all over our government. Now, when this “ceremonial deism” get challenged in court, it typically gets defended — and is often even upheld by judges — on the grounds that it isn’t really religious. In court, its defenders argue that all this God talk is obviously just tradition, without any actual religious meaning. (How could you silly people think that “God” means something religious?) But when you look at the ideas and motivations driving this “ceremonial deism,” it becomes clear that it’s anything but secular. Passionate religious belief is driving every one of these battles. It wouldn’t be defended so fiercely if real religious fervor weren’t behind it. And every one of these “ceremonial” incursions of religion into government gets used — on the ground, in tangible, real-world ways — to marginalize non-believers, and to treat them as second-class citizens.
She examines the history of four examples of this sort of thing, some of which you probably know and some of which you don’t. Well worth reading.