One Nation, under no god in particular?

Leon Wieseltier argues that the argument that “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t actually refer to the God of Moses ought to outrage lots of people: Jews and Christians, for example.

Leon Wieseltier makes a religious person’s argument against having “under God” in the Pledge to the Flag — and, more tellingly, against the silly arguments that have to be used to try to keep “under God” in the Pledge in the face of the Establishment Clause. (I was struck by analogy to the affirmative-action cases, where the advocates for racial preferences — of whom I am one — have to try to pretend in court that the programs they support serve “diversity” rather than equality.)

I argued in this space a couple of days ago that Christian believers ought to sympathize with the offense “ceremonial deism” gives to non-believers. Wieseltier argues that they ought to be even more offended on their own account.

Wieseltier quotes an absolutely lovely and devastating argument from the amicus brief (see pp. 4ff) signed by Douglas Laycock on behalf of 32 Christian and Jewish clergy: if the words “under God” in the Pledge don’t actually refer to the Holy One of the Bible, then Christians and Jews who recite the Pledge are violating the Commandment not to take the Name of the Lord in vain. “Remember, those are not the Ten Suggestions,” Wieseltier remarks, quoting one of the Christian Right’s favorite soundbites back at it.

Of course, that’s not what that Commandment means; “taking the Name of the Lord in vain” means making a vow in the Name of God and then not keeping it (for example, swearing to tell the truth “so help me God” and then perjuring oneself), not using the word “God” casually or disrespectfully. It would, I think, have been more accurate to say that if the Pledge doesn’t mean HaShem when it says “God,” then by agreeing that the nation is “under God” Jewish and Christian pledgers are violating the Commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”

But I’m quibbling. The whole brief is well worth reading. Laycock argues, convincingly, that the phrase “under God” has profound religious significance: each student in effect affirms that “there is a God, there is only one God, this is the one true God, and this nation is under the one true God.”

The brief, and Wieseltier’s essay, ought to make the supporters of “under God” ashamed, if not of their position, of the silly argument the precedents forced them to make in favor of it.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

One thought on “One Nation, under no god in particular?”

  1. Which God?

    The unpleasant part IS that the case has finally made it to the US Supreme Court, after 50 years, and of course it had to be raised by an 'atheist', rather than by the members of the 'vast rightwing religious konspirakii'.

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