Thursday, June 27, 2002

I was going to respond to the comments on this earlier post, but instead I'll make the point here. I'm finding I'm spending too much time in my own comments threads, and while I'm glad that my columns provoke such spirited responses, it's distracting from my real blog entries.

The point of freedom of religion is not to enshrine atheism (if anything, the position of most would be agnosticism, not atheism), but the problem of the imposition of a state religion, which lead to unbelievable amounts of pain and suffering all across Europe. The founders were wise to attempt to ensure that while they were a certain kind of believers, they would allow believers of other traditions to survive and prosper as well; they anticipated the growth of governmental agnosticism in the West by what were centuries.

Nobody is arguing that the United States should force atheism or even agnosticism on the people ... the point is that the United States should not force any beliefs at all on anybody; that the power of the state and the power of religion are incompatible and dangerous if mixed, as the historical record shows is incontrovertibly true. It's even more important to recognize that whether the majority of the citizenry holds a position or not is absolute immaterial (Jane Galt is not just wrong on this, but absolutely and dangerously wrong), because no other issue better illustrates the dangers of the "tyranny of the majority" as this one.

The problem is in the definition of what "forcing something on someone" is. Having it on the money is fairly innocuous, and I honestly doubt that it's really that objectionable. Forcing children to follow the Ten Commandments is, which is why I believe absolutely that any attempt to do so by a governmental institution is wrong. Writing it into the Constitution is a little less clear, because any constitution is supposed to be the basic rules and beliefs of the nation which it represents, although it does depend on where the language is and what it means. In the case of the pledge, though, it's really murky; partially because of the history involved (the addition of "under God" was a cold war propaganda tactic) and partially because it's really not that big an imposition (for the most part). Of course, politically there's no way that anybody can justify any move away from religiosity, but it should be painfully obvious that there is a difference between what is politically expedient and what is constitutionally valid. That's what the courts are there for- to ensure that politics does not trump those basic national rules.

I do support the ruling of the court... the history is suspect, it does raise the spectre of Numa, and it's disturbing that any pledge of allegiance would include what appears to be a pledge of allegiance to God (which doesn't just eliminate atheists but pretty much every polytheistic religion, animistic religion, and Islamic variant). There's no way that Congress could ever alleviate that, so I think that the decision was necessary. I won't heavily oppose the S.C. if it says "no big deal", though, because that is, after all, the job of the courts. And I don't feel any animus or distaste towards the congressional Democrats, because they need to keep their religious supporters and I don't begrudge them that; liberals who ignore political reality in a quest for Bennet-style "moral clarity" are foolish and extremely so. At the same time, however, I have to repeat: mixing state and religion is a bad, bad idea.

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