Mars Hill Forum #124: “Should God Be Removed from the Pledge of Allegiance?” Concerned Women for America Internet Debate, April 17, 2007, Guest: Michael Newdow, M.D., J.D, Atheist and Supreme Court Petitioner

Prepared Comments by John C. Rankin

Michael Newdow would like to see the words “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

This is his freedom to pursue through the consent of the governed, just as these two words were added to the Pledge in 1954. But Dr. Newdow’s deeper interest is Court fiat, where the liberty for students in public schools to recite these words is removed.

My deeper concern is a matter of the history and Source for unalienable rights, the definitive basis on which our indivisible nation is rooted, as it pursues liberty and justice for all. The Declaration of Independence declares: “WE hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed…”

By definition, “unalienable rights” are those rights which human government cannot define, give or take away. They can only be acknowledged as prior to and greater than the existence of human government, and which human government must serve.

No pagan religion or secular construct has ever conceived of unalienable rights. In pagan religions, the gods and goddesses beat up on each other and on us. In the Epicurean swerve which is rooted in a philosophical materialism, and also presaged Darwinian macroevolution, the universe does not know we exist, spits us forth and swallows us up with no concept of unalienable rights. The deism of the Enlightenment is likewise impotent – being a philosophical idea of an ahistorical deity who theoretically makes the universe and life, sets it in motion like a watchmaker, then disappears – being uninterested in our welfare.

The only written source in history for unalienable rights is the Creator, the God of the Bible, as set forth in Genesis 1-2. And only based on unalienable rights is “the consent of the governed” possible. Nadine Strossen, President of the ACLU, and Barry Lynn, Director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, are good friends of mine. They agree with my historical assessment here – despite our other deep differences on theological and political matters. Unalienable rights belong to all people regardless of their religion or irreligion, and a biblical worldview celebrates these rights for all people equally.

Flowing out of unalienable rights is the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment only restricts the federal government, not religious liberty. When there is no government established church, all people are free to believe as they choose within the rule of law, and thus to participate in civic life based on their explicit beliefs, theological, secular or otherwise. But if religious liberty is restricted, so too are its cognate First Amendment liberties. Religious liberty is the first freedom; and only when we are free to believe what we choose, do we then have the freedom to speak those beliefs, publish those beliefs, assemble on the basis of those beliefs, and critically, to redress and challenge government policies based on those beliefs.

I do not want anyone forced to say “under God” in the Pledge; nor do I want the majority of parents and students who want that liberty to be denied it. So what do we do? The simple answer is school vouchers where a free public education is available equally to all. Parents and students can chose the education they want, imposing on no one, and being imposed on by no one.

This would take a huge political shift. In the meantime, public schools are also free to allow the Declaration of Independence to be recited, as it references unalienable rights and the consent of the governed; and likewise to recite the First Amendment. And this would be great pedagogy as well.

Here are five salient questions for Dr. Newdow:

  1. Do you believe in unalienable rights and the consent of the governed?
  2. If so, do you know of another written historical source for unalienable rights apart from the God of the Bible described in Genesis 1-2?
  3. If not, would you jettison the language of unalienable rights, and propose an alternative secular language, along with historical antecedents?
  4. Is there any alternative between unalienable rights on the one hand, and “might makes right” on the other?
  5. If you succeed in removing “under God” from the Pledge, and thus vitiate a historical acknowledgement, what is your next goal? And then, what next? And ultimately, do you believe religious liberty is a part of “liberty and justice for all?

Thank you.

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Michael Newdow is a physician and attorney who challenged the presence of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was denied a review for lack of standing.

There are three realities to the forum:

  1. Dr. Newdow was fast off the mark in interrupting me, and often, with emotional jeremiads (e.g., immediately classifying my position as seeking to impose my “religion” on him — for which he had no substance to claim). One great difficulty I had was a poor phone connection where I could not hear him very well. At some points I was tentative because I wasn’t sure if he was talking or not. At other points I deliberately kept talking while he was interrupting me, so as to complete my train of thought. Dr. Newdow contacted Concerned Women for America to set up such a debate, and I was then invited by CWFA accordingly. So I did not have my usual communications as before a regular Mars Hill Forum. Dr. Newdow proved to be more interested in making accusations than engaging in intelligent dialogue.
  2. Dr. Newdow would not acknowledge the history of the Declaration of Independence to the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and did his best not to admit the language of unalienable rights from the Creator, while agreeing with their content and being unable to name any other historical source.
  3. Dr. Newdow made a remarkable claim that the Declaration of Independence and the First Amendment both are self-contradictory documents in order to make them comport with his presuppositions.

In the regular Mars Hill Forum series I am always seeking honest communication across the debated topics of the day. It is sad when I run into someone who has such deep axes to grind. Do keep Dr. Newdow in prayer, that the good grace of God might yet surprise him.

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