Robert Meyer
Freedom from religion: deconstructing the First Amendment
By Robert Meyer
August 20, 2009

When my local newspaper published the an article related to the latest folly of the Madison Wisconsin based Freedom From Religion Foundation, under the heading "Anti-Religious group...," somebody finally got the characterization correct. For the FFRF to bill themselves as "defenders of religious liberty," is comparable to John Dillinger calling himself a bank examiner. Read FFRF literature and you will discover their avid hatred of religion, particularly Christianity. Their latest lawsuit is aimed at scrubbing the national motto "In God We Trust" off a federal government building.

The very name of the organization itself presumes an objective that is antithetical to The First Amendment of The U.S. Constitution. In the fashion of Lewis Carol's imaginary literary figure Humpty Dumpty, they conceptually deconstruct freedom of religion, to imply an absolute right to freedom from religion. In serving the public interests of a few they would diminish the public interests of many.

In instances where people complain about the vulgar content of T.V. programming, they are hastily instructed to turn off the television set or change the channel. When the citizens of Wisconsin voted against changing the definition of marriage in a 2006 state-wide referendum, the mantra of the opposition was "How will it harm you" (by redefining marriage to include same-sex arrangements).

One might now effectively turn the tables and ask the zealots from the FFRF and their apologists the same question: "How will it harm you?" After all, they would have to travel to Washington, even to view the "offensive" engraving. But somehow, I suspect, when the shoe is placed on the other foot, it won't have the same emotional or rational appeal. Not enough people see the obvious double standard of this kind of activism.

One individual asked why I think governmental acknowledgement of the phrase "In God We Trust'" is so important. Here is part of what I said in answering.

["In God We Trust" does not endorse any religion, but is rather a statement of our philosophical underpinnings and heritage.

Our Founders in The Declaration say we are endowed by rights from our Creator. As recently as 1961, in his inaugural address, JFK reiterated that the rights of man don't come from the state, but from the hand of God. If there actually were no God, our rights would be merely a fiat from the state that could be called at any time. If the state acknowledges God, they are reminded that there is an ultimate sovereignty above them to whom they are accountable, thus no license permits them to be tyrants.

That's my first reason.

Theologically I believe that the foremost duty of the state is to punish the evil doer. The state and not the church is given the authority for this purpose. If the state does not know good from bad, they could wind up punishing the good and rewarding the bad.

The philosopher G.K. Chesterton mused that when people don't believe in God the problem is not that they will believe in nothing, but that they will believe anything.

Moral relativism is an inevitable seduction for those who forget God. As a youth, I recall a record album entitled "What were once vices are now habits." We have gone way past that to where the things that were once vices are practically civil rights.

Finally, Alexander Solzjenitsyn recounted a story of an old man when he was in the gulag, who lamented about what had happened to both himself and Russia. The old man told Solzjenitsynthat these things happened because we forgot about God.

I would hate to see America go the way of tyranny and destruction that has followed state endorsed atheistic regimes. True neutrality is an ethereal concept. You can't serve two masters, and there is no ideological neutrality.

Teddy Roosevelt may have been right about inscriptions being sacrilegious. So is the answer to forget about acknowledging God, or a national renewal and rededication to remembering him? I believe that's what happened during the cold war. When we saw our backs potentially up against the wall, we suddenly remembered our heritage.]

"In God we Trust" is a historic phrase representing our national heritage, and is protected under the Constitution. Notice a suggestion of the phrase as national motto in a derivative form, dates back to 1814, in the final stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner below.

    Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved homes and the war's desolation,
    Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n — rescued land
    Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserved us a nation.
    Then conquer we must, for our cause is just,
    And this be our motto — "In God is our trust." (my emphasis)
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
    O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Religious inscriptions on government buildings are hardly the latter day practices of the religious right, or an hysterical vestige of the 1950's "red scare," but date back to our country's infancy. The motto on coinage dates back to the Civil War era.

In the 1970 Aronow v. U.S. case, The Ninth Circuit Court ruled: "It is quite obvious that the national motto and the slogan on coinage and currency 'In God We Trust' has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion. Its use is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious exercise."

If the argument is about the principle of using taxpayer money, then the government should not be allowed to tax persons of faith to fund abortion either.

In recent years, atheists have put a greater emphasis on redefining atheism toward the negative definition: "Atheism is the lack of belief in a god," rather than "Atheism claims there is no God." This is to establish atheism as a default position, since positive declarations (God exists) usually assume the burden of proof.

All this revision and historical scrubbing comes with unintended consequences. If atheism is really just lack of belief in God, then do we establish atheism by lack of acknowledging God? Remember, it's the atheists who have said acknowledging God is establishing a religion.

© Robert Meyer


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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)


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