As GeekMom mentioned in a post to an earlier thread, atheist Michael Newdow’s day in the Supreme Court yesterday went better than many, myself included, had expected. Not only was a report at The Slate on Newdow’s performance very complimentary, but it left the reporter asking a question that I’m sure is crossing the minds of a lot of moderate minded believers who initially decried the 9th Circuit’s decision:
- “The case is a mess because, whatever you may think about God or the pledge, if you really apply the case law and really think “God” means “God,” then Newdow is right. But Newdow can’t be right. Can he?” – Dahlia Lithwick, Slate senior editor.
Yeah, actually, he could be right if past case history from the Supreme Court itself is any indication. Seems Newdow did so well he’s even earned the respect of the opposition arguing in defense of the Pledge:
“I think he surprised a lot of people. He was superb,” said Kenneth Starr, a veteran Supreme Court lawyer who opposes Newdow’s position.
“I’d give him an `A.’ He remained undeterred during intense questioning,” said Jay Sekulow, chief attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice, which also supports keeping the Pledge of Allegiance as is.
As an atheist, Newdow said, hearing the phrase one nation under God is like “getting slapped in the face.”
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist sought to clip Newdow’s argument that the words “under God” are divisive, noting that Congress unanimously added the phrase in 1954. Newdow was ready with a quick response.
“That’s only because no atheists can be elected to office,” Newdow said to laughter, then scattered applause in the courtroom. He cited state bans, which are not enforced, against atheists winning elections.
He’s quite right on that point as well. Seven states (Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas) have articles in their Constitutions that ban atheists from holding a public office. I meant to write about that one back when I first heard about it, but never got around to it.
I have written previously, however, about how a majority (52%) of Americans polled in 2002 said they would not vote for a well-qualified candidate for President if he’s an atheist. Compare that to the fact that the same poll indicated an increase in the belief that Islam promotes violence (from 25% to 44%) and yet only 38% of people wouldn’t vote for a well-qualified Muslim for President. Hell, for that matter results from another poll indicate than an openly-gay candidate stands a better chance of being elected President than an atheist does. So even where it isn’t technically against the law to hold public office if you’re an atheist the chances of actually getting elected are small unless you hide your religious affiliation, or lie about it.
CNN.com has some more coverage of the case including this interesting blurb on new polling data showing support for the Pledge as it currently stands and how opinions on it vary dependent on education level and political affiliation:
A new poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support the reference to God. Almost nine in 10 people said the reference to God belongs in the pledge despite constitutional questions about the separation of church and state, according to an Associated Press poll.
The AP poll, conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs, found college graduates were more likely than those who did not have a college degree to say the phrase “under God” should be removed. Democrats and independents were more likely than Republicans to think the phrase should be taken out.
No big surprises there I suppose, though it is somewhat disheartening to think so many people are willing to breach the wall of separation.