Wednesday, February 27, 2002
In the Opinions & Commentary section of Feb. 27, the piece “Despite new law, not every good citizen in commonwealth has to trust in God” is erroneous in several regards.
The first is the author’s assertion that notifying the court that the oath is unconscionable to them will automatically identify the person as an atheist and “not like you.” However, atheists are not alone in this. Many people of religious faith also decline the oath, in that they believe such an oath to by proscribed by God. Furthermore, your right to a fair trial is not abridged by this, as you are simply exercising a legal right. If the court were to unfairly discriminate against you, then you would have grounds to appeal the decision. Thus, you are protected.
The next grievance listed by the author is that he will have to pay for something that “proclaims a belief to which I do not adhere,” and implies that his rights are being violated. This is not the case. Many individuals have ideas different from those the government supports. One example would be the pacifist Quakers, whose tax money nonetheless goes to support the military. One reason we have legislative bodies is to decide where our tax dollars should go, since some necessary programs would surely go unfunded if every citizen was to allocate his own tax dollars.
Next, it is claimed that the Fourteenth Amendment causes states to have to obey the Bill of Rights. However, this only applies to laws which would “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Virginia House Bills 107, 108, and 161 do not fit this description, and thus fall under the Tenth Amendment’s statement that these laws are powers reserved to the state government.
It is stated that Jefferson favored a “wall of separation between Church and State.” However, in an 1809 letter to then-President Madison, Jefferson informs his successor that he has set aside a portion of the Northwest Territory for a religious school, and allocated funds for its development. This was met with no protest by Madison, the author of the Constitution. Furthermore, the same session of Congress that ratified the First Amendment also voted to hire chaplains for Congress. Thus, it is obvious that the majority of those who voted for the so-called separation of church and state did not intend to ban religion in public places, but to prevent one denomination from securing control.
“In God We Trust” was established as the national motto by an Act of Congress in 1956. In Aronow v. United States (1970), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this phrase “is of patriotic or ceremonial character and bears no true resemblance to a governmental sponsorship of a religious enterprise.” In 1994, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals stated that “...we find that a reasonable observer, aware of the purpose, context, and history of the phrase ‘In God We Trust’ would not consider its use...to be an establishment of religion.” On appeal to the Supreme Court, the lower court’s decision was sustained as “consistent with the proposition that government may not communicate an endorsement of religious belief.”
It can be seen that at no time was this phrase considered to breach Jefferson’s “wall of separation.” Those who oppose these bills do not have history and the facts on their side.
UPDATE: They actually did end up printing it, though in slightly abridged format, and with each sentence as its own paragraph. C'est la vie.