Should Nonbelievers Challenge Inaugural Oath and Invocation?

December 31, 2008

Should atheists and nonbelievers sue to prevent the inaugural benediction and the use of the words "so help me God" when Barack Obama takes the oath of office on January 20th?    According to Michael Newdow’s website , more than two-dozen individuals and organizations – including the American Humanist Association and the Freedom From Religion Foundation – have done precisely that.  On Monday, December 29 Newdow, who previously gained notoriety by suing to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, joined these plaintiffs in filing a complaint in Washington, DC federal district court.  (The Center for Inquiry did not join the lawsuit.)

  The complaint in     Newdow v. Roberts   seeks to enjoin Chief Justice John Roberts, who will administer the oath of office, from adding "so help me God" to the presidential oath prescribed in the constitution.  It also asks the court to declare unconstitutional the use of religious clergy to deliver an invocation and benediction.  The plaintiffs allege that these practices violate the Establishment Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Although CFI has taken no official stance on the issue, I believe this lawsuit is a mistake.  The community of nonbelievers can and should initiate a public debate about whether religious symbolism is proper in government ceremonies.  That debate should be spirited, unconstrained, and freewheeling.  When it comes to filing lawsuits, however, intelligent strategy is paramount. 

For reasons I will not go into here, the merits of the case are not especially compelling.  In addition, any victory in district court would face appeals before an appellate court – and possibly a Supreme Court –   that have been packed with conservative judges and justices .  Many of the sitting judges and justices have a   less-than-robust view of church-state separation .  They could use this case to hand down opinions that harm church-state separation.  Perhaps the best result nonbelievers can expect is for the court to reject the case on procedural grounds.  This could happen if the plaintiffs fail to establish their legal standing to bring the suit.

By setting in motion a lawsuit that may yield bad legal precedent, could the plaintiffs have unwittingly helped to erode the ailing wall of separation between church and state?

 

Comments:

#1 diogenes99 on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 8:00am

The presidential oath does not have “so help me god” in it so it is up to the president-elect to request it.  So I don’t see a compelling reason to file a suit over this.

I am slightly more concerned about state-sponsored prayer.  However, no one is being forced to pray—only to pay for someone to pray.

However, school prayer and the flag-pledge are very serious issues.  If you are a child who opts of of these activities, then the bus rides to and from school can be very lonely, or worse. We know this from personal experience.

There are numerous instances of oaths with “so help me god” written into state statutes. Many are holdovers from when atheists could not serve in office or in any government capacity.  These policies are coercive, since to challenge them or even question them can reduce the chances of holding appointed office, elected office, or even serving on a jury or policy committee. 

I believe lawsuits should first target those instances where coercion comes into play, especially with children.  These issues primarily arise as a result of state policy and state statutes.  The psychological coercion of these policies is often understated in the press and in lawsuits, and CFI and others need to produce and support research into the nature and effects of coercion as a basis for further argument and legal action.

#2 joe fiorino (Guest) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 9:48am

It is good to see D. Araujo’s reasoned reasons for not filing.  It is clear that in some instances petitions must be started, but I think Araujo explains why this could cause more trouble than can now be handled, given the reality of the current S. court justices. 
This brings up, how do we start a conversation about increasing the number on the court from 9 to 11 or 13.  Apart from a new deal tactic, it can be argued that the nation with its increased population, new ethnic and sexual diversity, and the time needed to review the law and cases needs to have more judges. There is more work to be done.

#3 John de Waal (Guest) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 10:08am

Mr. Araujo, I believe, is correct in his observation that a law suit prohibiting the use of the words: “So help me god” at the presidential inauguration can be harmful to our cause. At the very least, it is akin to a whining child who cannot get its way.
Better to continue to have a reasoned educational effort to convince people, not that they are wrong, but that other view points should also be respected. This will take all our energies (and money) for we have about 2000 years to make up. Happy 2009 everyone!

#4 Jeff P (Guest) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 10:12am

Derek, I think you are correct sir.

Several more prominent, in-the-spotlight atheists have seemed to relay that they are less pleased to be used as props in some political battle than to be used as vehicles for dialogue and opportunists for reasonable debate.

I agree with others that when we come to see Christianist language as hollow, used more and more for political and economic and divisive rhetoric, then it’s relevance in society becomes less influential.

When “so help me God” becomes a useless, meaningless euphemism that everyone recognizes as political posturing to “please the crowd,” it becomes weakened, recognized as the suck-up that it is, and ultimately degrading and insulting to people who really believe a god is advocating a call to be needed.

Lawsuits that don’t really protect a civil right or liberty just fuel the “you will be persecuted in my name” fallacy that true-believers would think confirms their overall “mission” for theocracy.  When they’re taken to task regarding some public-square challenge many seem to believe it’s fulfillment of prophecy.  That’s the problem with rational dialogue when supernaturalism is in the play.

I would echo diogenes99’s post above regarding where non-believers and CFI and AU types might focus their attention—coercive policies that really affect the life-situtions of Americans.

#5 Teamonger on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 11:32am

I agree, pursuing a lawsuit in this case is misguided, not least because it would add fuel to the anti-atheist hysteria being whipped up by so many pundits.  Quiet education is our best option.

I am curious though why Derek says “the merits of the case are not especially compelling”.  Is it because the “so help me God” line is being requested by Obama, and to deny him would violate the “free exercise” clause?
t

#6 diogenes99 on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 1:15pm

The case against the inaugural oath rests on the Establishment Clause.  Marsh v. Chambers (1983) protects state-sponsored prayer and probably voluntary religious oaths at government functions.

#7 r strle (Guest) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 1:41pm

I think any protest or legal complaint that can be picked up and broadcast by the media should be pursued.  There needs to be a long, loud and constant media driven case to make it obvious to all U.S. citizens that the U.S. is not and was not founded as a christian nation.

#8 joshualipana on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 2:03pm

Brilliant blog. Your right here it will have the unintended consequence of actually helping the other side if they lose this in a devastating way.

#9 r strle (Guest) on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 3:00pm

“Brilliant blog. Your right here it will have the unintended consequence of actually helping the other side if they lose this in a devastating way.”

I am a little slow so if you could spell this out in a little more detail I and maybe others would be most grateful.

#10 diogenes99 on Wednesday December 31, 2008 at 3:12pm

“I am a little slow so if you could spell this out in a little more detail I and maybe others would be most grateful.”

(1) If you lose a lawsuit with a weak case about something marginal, then the case can serve as a legal precedent which might be used to diminish church-state separation in the future.  The justices can write opinions that have a wider application against church-state separation.

(2) Unlike other advocacy groups for naturalism, CFI is primarily a think tank and not a source for lawsuits or press soundbites.  CFI wants to direct disagreements to fora outside the courtroom where reason is more likely to prevail.  Lawyers in battle are not intellectual truth seekers.  Nor is reason and truth produced by feeding the press soundbites about marginal truth-state conflicts.

#11 Lucretius on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 10:48am

I agree, Derek. IMO, Center for Inquiry is a better organization than those others, anyway. And slightly off-topic, I’m not sure if anyone here has ever listened to Freethought Radio from FFRF. No offense to Dan and Annie, but they’re nowhere near DJ’s level.

#12 r strle (Guest) on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 11:58am

“If you lose a lawsuit with a weak case about something marginal, then the case can serve as a legal precedent which might be used to diminish church-state separation in the future. The justices can write opinions that have a wider application against church-state separation.”

1.  What at are the determining factors for declaring something marginal or a weak case?  This “marginal” issue is a constant refrain of non-believing apologists.  Other refrains?  “Oh let’s not be rude”  or “everyone’s beliefs need to be respected”  or “It would lead to needless conflict.”  Where does it end?  How is it ever resolved?  It seems to me it never ends and it is never resolved and it never will be until a constant consciousness raising takes place that highlights the issue at every opportunity.

2. There is no reason to pursue a lawsuit.  Why not just threaten to pursue one?  Why not file a lawsuit and then withdraw it after the publicity but before it comes up for a decision?  My point is that the pot needs to be stirred and stirred often.  I am interested only in raising consciousness and affecting public opinion because I think the constitution, as written, is already on “our” side and the only thing preventing full realization of our full constitutional rights is lack of the public support that would influence congressional and judicial decisions, not to mention presidential orders.

#13 r strle (Guest) on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 3:24pm

Here is something I found on page 44 of The God Delusion.

*Tom Flynn, Editor of Free Inquiry, makes the point (about what atheists might achieve with an organized voice) forcefully (secularism’s breakthrough moment, Free Inquiry 26: 3, 2006, 16-17): “If atheists are lonely and downtrodden, we only have ourselves to blame.  Numerically, we are strong.  Let’s start punching our weight.”

Secularists need to fight back against the dominance and bullying of believers.  I say let’s stop finding excuses to remain quiet in the corners and get out there and start punching our weight!!”

#14 diogenes99 on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 3:39pm

If “punching” is the metaphor used by CFI to describe its strategy, then I cannot support them.  Sadly, it would mean there is no naturalist advocacy group in the USA dedicated to reason BOTH as a means and an end.

#15 r strle (Guest) on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 4:31pm

“If “punching” is the metaphor used by CFI to describe its strategy”

If the AMA were to use “stabbing”  in a metaphor to describe the strategy of using injections to prevent say measles in children would you not support them?

#16 diogenes99 on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 6:00pm

The AMA does not provide direct medical care.

If the AMA changed the nature of their journal to merely a PR vehicle, and they made their primary mission to sue the government, then I am sure doctors would form another group to fill the its previous role. 

Similarly, if the CFI starts acting like AA or FFRF, then there would be a need for another group that acts with careful rationality in the defense of rationality.

#17 r strle (Guest) on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 7:34pm

“The AMA does not provide direct medical care.”

I don’t think this is relevant to the issue you raised that I responded to. 

“If the AMA changed the nature of their journal to merely a PR vehicle, and they made their primary mission to sue the government, then I am sure doctors would form another group to fill the its previous role.”

The AMA is not just a “group.”  It is a professional organization of doctors and as such it does not need to change the nature of its journal to promote the benefits of vaccination in the control and spread of disease.  In fact the AMA currently does promote the benefits of vaccination for all types of disease not only in its journal but also in other media outlets.  And how do you come to the conclusion that I or Tom Flynn are proposing that CFI make suing the government its primary mission?  Again I would say that I don’t think this is relevant to the issue you raised that I responded to.

“Similarly, if the CFI starts acting like AA or FFRF, then there would be a need for another group that acts with careful rationality in the defense of rationality.”

Acts with careful rationality in defense of rationality?  What does this actually mean?  How would one go about deciding if a given act were “carefully rational” or an actor was acting with careful rationality?  Does this mean that AA and FFRF(?sorry?) are not rational in promoting their cause and that if CFI used words like punching or the AMA used like stabbing in metaphors promoting their views they would be acting irrationally?

Confused?  I sure am so I will try again :

Are you saying that
If CFI encourages secularists, using a metaphor with the word punching, to organize and speak with the full weight of their numbers to promote rights granted them in the U.S. constitution, it (CFI) would not be acting “with careful rationality in the defense of rationality” and this will create a need for another group who would? 

This seems to me to be what you are trying to say and all I can say is I don’t think you are communicating with careful rationality in defense of whatever it is you are trying to communicate.

#18 diogenes99 on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 7:51pm

>>If CFI encourages secularists, using a metaphor with the word punching, to organize and speak with the full weight of their numbers to promote rights granted them in the U.S. constitution, it (CFI) would not be acting “with careful rationality in the defense of rationality” and this will create a need for another group who would?

Yes, that is what I am saying.

#19 r strle (Guest) on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 8:13pm

WOW!!

And so I go off into the night repeating to myself over and over:

To Blog or Not to Blog…That is the question.

#20 diogenes99 on Thursday January 01, 2009 at 8:33pm

>>To Blog or Not to Blog…That is the question.

We don’t need to win the constitutional fight. The constitition, especially the First Amendment, is indeterminate in meaning.

We need to help people think, to help people be open to a philosophical foundation for a naturalistic ethic. And to convince others to enter gently into the conversation, with the permission to doubt, backtrack, think quietly, retract, and question.

Punching, demanding, suing, shouting, marching, chanting, and the rest has its place. There are emergencies like war that demand that.  But CFI makes that its mode of persuasion with respect to philosophical debate, then another group needs to carry the more circumspect torch.

The challenge is not to get our way.  The challenge is not to make people obey the First Amendment because the numbers apply their weight. 

The challenge is to articulate the reasons (if there are good ones) for holding ethical naturalism to be true, and why the secular state follows as a moral obligation. Otherwise, all gains will be short lived.

#21 Jeff P (Guest) on Friday January 02, 2009 at 8:19am

I was thinking that the best way to take relevance away from some official public invocation is simply to not be a part of it.

The best way for me to take away relevance from Rick Warren is not to listen to him.

I receive mailings from the Obama campaign pretty regularly (now) and if asked, I will respond with a “no thanks” to any efforts to include me in some grass-roots efforts to promote a Rick Warren-friendly agenda.

And perhaps if/when things go badly for government leaders who invoke the public-sector help of the gods in the future, why not hold them accountable to that divine intervention request? “Didn’t you ask your god’s direction on this?”  “Should we trust the public invocation of your god in the future?”

Sorry this sounds silly but the whole invoking-the-gods-issue is silly.  If it’s in the public square, let’s make it a public issue, not by lawsuits, but with dialogue, reason, evidence.

#22 r strle (Guest) on Friday January 02, 2009 at 8:50am

“We don’t need to win the constitutional fight.”

Who said we did?  I said “There needs to be a long, loud and constant media driven case to make it obvious to all U.S. citizens that the U.S. is not and was not founded as a Christian nation.”  I also said “My point is that the pot needs to be stirred and stirred often.  I am interested only in raising consciousness and affecting public opinion because I think the constitution, as written, is already on “our” side and the only thing preventing full realization of our full constitutional rights is lack of the public support that would influence congressional and judicial decisions, not to mention presidential orders.”


“The constitition, especially the First Amendment, is indeterminate in meaning.”

I don’t agree.  Indeterminate means “not known exactly or, impossible to work out.”  I think the authors of the First Amendment knew exactly what they meant and it is the job of the Supreme Court to “work it out and see to it that congress and the president adheres to that meaning.

“We need to help people think, to help people be open to a philosophical foundation for a naturalistic ethic.”

I think this is pure sophistry!  No one can help anyone to think or be open to anything.  People must help themselves to think and be open to ideas.  All “WE” can do is point out where their thinking or ideas have gone wrong.


“And to convince others to enter gently into the conversation, with the permission to doubt, backtrack, think quietly, retract, and question.”

More mamby pamby pasty faced sophistry.  You need to go to a few web sites.  There are many not so “gentle” Christians out there, (like Newt Gingrich, Bill O’Riley and Ann Coulter), that think that the U.S. is a Christian nation and because the First Amendment “is indeterminate in meaning” all atheists should go to jail on their way to hell.  Good luck trying to convince this trio and their supporters “to enter gently into the conversation, with the permission to doubt, backtrack, think quietly, retract, and question.”

“Punching, demanding, suing, shouting, marching, chanting, and the rest has its place.”

Yes it is the “fair and balanced” Fox News Channel, the sidewalks in front of abortion clinics and court houses in Alabama that display the ten commandments.
It seems obvious to me but you obviously still do not get my point so I will say it LOUD AND CLEAR!  Tom Flynn used “PUNCHING” AS A METAPHOR!!  He was NOT actually advocating any kind of actual physical punching.

“ But CFI makes that its mode of persuasion with respect to philosophical debate, then another group needs to carry the more circumspect torch.”

Are you on the board of CFI or in any authoritative position to hold CFI and its members to this, I think, needlessly restrictive standard?  I think not.

“The challenge is not to get our way. The challenge is not to make people obey the First Amendment because the numbers apply their weight.”

Who said it was?  Again I said “My point is that the pot needs to be stirred and stirred often.  I am interested only in raising consciousness and affecting public opinion because I think the constitution, as written, is already on “our” side and the only thing preventing full realization of our full constitutional rights is lack of the public support that would influence congressional and judicial decisions, not to mention presidential orders.”

“The challenge is to articulate the reasons (if there are good ones) for holding ethical naturalism to be true, and why the secular state follows as a moral obligation.”

Well finally we agree (except for “if there are good ones”??—You’re not sure there are?) because I said, and will say again “My point is that the pot needs to be stirred and stirred often.  I am interested only in raising consciousness and affecting public opinion because I think the constitution, as written, is already on “our” side and the only thing preventing full realization of our full constitutional rights is lack of the public support that would influence congressional and judicial decisions, not to mention presidential orders.”

#23 r strle (Guest) on Friday January 02, 2009 at 9:20am

“Sorry this sounds silly but the whole invoking-the-gods-issue is silly.  If it’s in the public square, let’s make it a public issue, not by lawsuits, but with dialogue, reason, evidence.”

Well said but I see no need to restrict the “making of a public issue” to dialogue, reason and evidence.  Let’s face it this is war! (I am only speaking metaphorically diogenes99) and we cannot afford to unilaterally abandon any weapon (more metaphor) at our disposal when fielding the full strength (another metaphor) of our numbers in the fight (another metaphor) for our constitutional rights.

#24 Fred Slocombe (Guest) on Friday January 02, 2009 at 10:51am

What is the purpose of oath and invocation? What would make someone too fearful to take the oath? What would be the consequences of violating the oath? Why would it be necessary for such a ritual? Was not the election enough to qualify for the position?

The point is that the oath and invocation serves only the purpose of validating religion by juxtaposing a popular person with a religious icon or idea.

When an elected official touches a book, it is not the elected official who is being validated, it is the book.

#25 r strle (Guest) on Friday January 02, 2009 at 11:04am

“What is the purpose of oath and invocation? ..... Why would it be necessary for such a ritual?”

According to the Constitution “There is no religious test required for the holding of any public office” so the answer to your question is, no an oath, invocation or ritual is necessary (it can’t be necessary if it is not required).”

“The point is that the oath and invocation serves only the purpose of validating religion by juxtaposing a popular person with a religious icon or idea.”

This is right on the mark and the reason for all secularist to speak out!!

#26 Bill Archer (Guest) on Saturday January 03, 2009 at 5:15pm

Give me an example of at least one Secularist movement that could be seen as an equivalent of the Christian Crusades; one that’s exacted a similarly miserable toll on non-believers. If you can’t, then that’s all the more reason to vigorously react to that which has the potential to repeat the tyranny of past Theocracies.

Requiring a religious sanctification process or an invocation of some divinity’s approval before the president elect can perform his duties shows the deep ignorance most have of this ritual that has the potential for disaster.

Over the last eight years the outgoing administration quietly trained its own private mercenaries for use in Iraq and paid for the training with our tax dollars. It could have used the same “soldiers” to direct at targets within our nation’s borders.

Had this administration won this recent election it could have directed the services of its Black Water “crusaders” to smote the unbelievers among us, those of us who reject the notion that our government, contrary to Constitutional law, promotes a “state religion.” 

Behind any government prescribed religious oath, that is a requirement for holding public office, looms the risk of a state sanctioned reaction against those who protest it. That potential was anticipated by the founding fathers.

The consciousness raising that “r strle” references is the only way that secularists can effectively demonstrate the seriousness of their intention to depose any government’s alliance with religion. An alliance that has shown its potential for mayhem throughout history is only taken lightly by those who don’t see its potential for disaster.

Consciousness raising is far different from “a violent overthrowing of a form of government.” In reality, a government that believes it is “above the rule of law” does not hesitate to use violence to subdue dissent that might undermine its position.

Shouldn’t the victimized be allowed to defend themselves by at least publicly calling attention to the nature of the toxic alliance being used against them? I Believe so! People who are unaware are also potential victims.

#27 r strle (Guest) on Saturday January 03, 2009 at 8:48pm

“Shouldn’t the victimized be allowed to defend themselves by at least publicly calling attention to the nature of the toxic alliance being used against them? I Believe so! People who are unaware are also potential victims.”

This is so obvious and yet many of my (our) fellow victims seem to be so uncomfortable with it that they would rather go with the flow than make waves for change.

#28 r strle (Guest) on Sunday January 04, 2009 at 8:15am

“If you can’t, then that’s all the more reason to vigorously react to that which has the potential to repeat the tyranny of past Theocracies.”

To theocracies I would add any of the “secularisms” promoted and functioning as dogmatic belief.  Examples communism, capitalism, socialism,….name you own ism.  The key here would be faith or belief in the “ism’s” claim to truth without regard to credible evidentiary support.

#29 Teamonger on Monday January 05, 2009 at 11:08am

“Indeterminate means “not known exactly or, impossible to work out.”  I think the authors of the First Amendment knew exactly what they meant.. “

If you think the authors of the First Amendment wanted to block presidents from having inaugural religious invocations, you’re living in a dream world.

The Constitution is VERY indeterminate on this issue; in fact, blocking the invocation could be seen as violating the First Amendment’s clause against “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.
t

#30 r strle (Guest) on Monday January 05, 2009 at 5:18pm

“If you think the authors of the First Amendment wanted to block presidents from having inaugural religious invocations, you’re living in a dreamworld.”

No I do not think that the authors of the First Amendment wanted to block presidents from having inaugural religious invocations.  However, I do think sometimes that I am living in a dream world and I am having a nightmare.  My comment, that you reference, was only meant as a reply to the proposition that the First Amendment was “indeterminate.”  I do think however that the authors of the First Amendment wanted to block the government from establishing or sanctioning any form of religion and therefore would be concerned that having inaugural religious invocations as an “official” part of the swearing in ceremony for president could be interpreted as governmental sanction (establishment) of religion. It is for this reason that I think that some sort of legal challenge would be appropriate and I think the authors of the First Amendment would agree.  There seems to be some timidity on the part of secularists to forcefully press this issue because they are afraid that if the Supreme Court were to accept and hear the case a decision could be written that would be so broad as to allow prayer in other governmental (for lack of a better word) venues.  I think this fear is unfounded.  Let’s face it; religion (and god) is already ubiquitous in government.  It is on the money (in god we trust), in the pledge (one nation under god) and there is an office of Congressional and Senate chaplain, paid for by our tax dollars and each day starts with a prayer, something not even allowed in public schools thanks to the Supreme Court’s interpretation and enforcement of the First Amendment.  So how could it get worse?  I think that if a court challenge were filed the following would/could happen:

A big (hopefully) public media uproar, controversy and discussion. (Very good for consciousness raising —the U.S. was founded as a secular nation that allows religious freedom)

The Supreme Court would probably refuse to hear the case. (No harm no foul but we still get consciousness raising)

The Supreme Court most improbably hears the case and decides that religious invocations are ok at inaugurals and other public government functions.  (The status quo is preserved and again we still get consciousness raising—the U.S. was founded as a secular nation that allows religious freedom)

Finally in the end after many legal skirmishes, many public uproars, many controversies the consciousness of the American People might be raised to the level that it is understood that the U.S. was not founded as and is not a Christian Nation and maybe there will come a president who will forsake a religious invocation at his inaugural because it might possible offend secular Americans.

I won’t hold my breath—especially after reading some of the comments on this blog.

#31 diogenes99 on Monday January 05, 2009 at 8:16pm

>>Finally in the end after many legal skirmishes,
>> many public uproars, many controversies the
>> consciousness of the American People might
>> be raised

A quick response via analogy.  Suppose one was convinced that factory farming was morally horrid and that vegetarianism was morally obligatory.  I happen to support this view, and disagree, following Peter Singer, that Humanism has NOT evolved to avoid implicit speciesism.

Now there are two approaches.  One is to bang pans together to raise consciousness, and PETA does a good job with this using graphic photos and celebrities.  Another is to construct arguments for and against the moral claims and to engage the public in dialogue about the arguments.  Many individuals do this through their their writings in the popular press.

My only point is that CFI seems to be the kind of organization that avoids pan banging but seeks to be the conduit for public discussion of the moral arguments.  Thus, when a pan-banging opportunity arose, such as the inauguration lawsuit, they let the pan-bangers have at it.  That’s a pan-banger’s job.  But CFI has a slightly different mission.

#32 Teamonger on Monday January 05, 2009 at 10:08pm

“There seems to be some timidity on the part of secularists to forcefully press this issue because they are afraid that if the Supreme Court were to accept and hear the case a decision could be written that would be so broad as to allow prayer in other governmental (for lack of a better word) venues.”

That’s only part of the problem.  There is also the question you didn’t address: the First Amendment is doubled edged, and if Obama claimed that blocking his invocation was “prohibiting the free exercise” of his religion, this secularist would have to agree.

“A big (hopefully) public media uproar, controversy and discussion. (Very good for consciousness raising… “

The problem with your approach is, it plays into the hands of religionists who love to portray us as intolerant, as wanting to quash religion at every opportunity.  This does nothing for secularism but give it a black eye. 

Have patience and look at Europe.  Secularism slowly grew through quiet education.  That’s the path with the best chance here as well.
t

#33 Corey Mondello (Guest) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 1:45am

If you want any attention on any issue, you need to act as extreme as the “other side”.

Christians try to change laws on almost a daily basis, to give them special privileges and recognition and if no one is willing to go out on a limb, the fundamentalist Religious Right, WILL take over the political power in America.

I suggest you all support the organizations that are fighting for our rights.

Fear and lies put “God” in the Pledge, on our money, only the Truth will take them off.

Time for the Truth, no more lies!

Please support the following organizations to assure America does not become a theocracy, by keeping religion and politics separate, which will help end hatred, racism, oppression and stop the destruction of this great country.

American Humanist Association –

#34 r strle (Guest) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 7:04am

“My only point is that CFI seems to be the kind of organization that avoids pan banging but seeks to be the conduit for public discussion of the moral arguments.  Thus, when a pan-banging opportunity arose, such as the inauguration lawsuit, they let the pan-bangers have at it.  That’s a pan-banger’s job.  But CFI has a slightly different mission.”

I think this is an excellent point but just because CFI might have a “slightly different mission”, (a point I think might be argued) I do not see that CFI should not lend its voice and support of pot banging where there is no moral objection. (As an aside: I hold PETA’s overall mission to be based on a flawed understanding of the natural world but I do think that there are areas and degrees, in the way humans use and treat animals, that PETA makes a valid conscious raising point.  Still, I find some of PETA’s pot banging strategies (like defacing the mink coats of people wearing them) morally objectionable.)

#35 diogenes99 on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 7:13am

>> I do not see that CFI should not lend its
>> voice and support of pot banging where there
>> is no moral objection.

They do.  Did you not read their statement about Warren?

>> Still, I find some of PETA’s pot banging
>> strategies (like defacing the mink coats of
>> people wearing them) morally objectionable.

To complete the analogy, you think PETA should pull back sometimes from activities that undercut their moral high ground and future gains (the Humane Society would not deface mink coats).  Similarly, CFI thinks that THEY need to avoid lawsuits that have no chance of winning because it undercuts the legal high ground and future gains.

Let’s just agree that activists groups can be different.  If they spoke and acted with one voice, there would not be a need for different groups.

#36 Jeff P (Guest) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 7:35am

Corey,
thanks for posting above.
I agree.  AU and CFI receive my financial support, for two very different reasons.  AU:  staffed with professionals who have the means, resources, and time for secular advocacy in ways that stretch way beyond what I can do as an individual.  CFI: the academics, the awareness-enhancing publications, the dialogue, the statements that cause people to think, reason and debate—which I find at least as important as rubber-hits-the-road lawsuits.

The Religious Right fights a battle of ideology at least as much as sneak-in legislation. 

Secularism in all its forms must be won as a winning idea—

#37 r strle (Guest) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 7:51am

“There is also the question you didn’t address: the First Amendment is doubled edged, and if Obama claimed that blocking his invocation was “prohibiting the free exercise” of his religion, this secularist would have to agree.”

I did address this:

“I think this fear is unfounded.  Let’s face it; religion (and god) is already ubiquitous in government.  It is on the money (in god we trust), in the pledge (one nation under god) and there is an office of Congressional and Senate chaplain, paid for by our tax dollars and each day starts with a prayer, something not even allowed in public schools thanks to the Supreme Court’s interpretation and enforcement of the First Amendment.  So how could it get worse?”

“The Supreme Court would probably refuse to hear the case. (No harm no foul but we still get consciousness raising)
or
The Supreme Court most improbably hears the case and decides that religious invocations are ok at inaugurals and other public government functions.  (The status quo is preserved and again we still get consciousness raising—the U.S. was founded as a secular nation that allows religious freedom)”

“Have patience and look at Europe.  Secularism slowly grew through quiet education.  That’s the path with the best chance here as well.”

The dynamic and history of Europe is completely different from the U.S.  and in Europe there is state sponsored religion (The Church of England).  I don’t know about you but I am very appreciative of the fact that the framers of the U.S. constitution were products of the European enlightenment and as such were fully aware of the historical problems caused by religion in Europe.  Because of this understanding they framed the U.S. Constitution, with the First Amendment, so that the U.S. would be a secular state that, would allow religious freedom, but have no “officially” established church or religion.  The problem for secularists in the U.S. is that as we have sat quietly and waited the religious have been slowly eroding the wall of separation between church and state erected by the framers of the Constitution.
Examples of erosion ?
Our money proclaims; “In god we trust.”
The pledge proclaims we are; “One nation under god”
There are inaugural prayers and invocations.
There are courtrooms with the Ten Commandments posted on the walls.
And on and on it goes;  when it will stop, nobody knows.

#38 r strle (Guest) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 8:23am

“I do not see that CFI should not lend its _>> voice and support of pot banging where there_>> is no moral objection.
They do.  Did you not read their statement about Warren?

Here is what I read from what Derek Araujo wrote.

“Although CFI has taken no official stance on the issue, I believe this lawsuit is a mistake.” 
Their (CFI’s?) statement about Warren?  No I haven’t.

“To complete the analogy, you think PETA should pull back sometimes from activities that undercut their moral high ground and future gains (the Humane Society would not deface mink coats).”

I do not accept “your” completion of “the analogy.”(?)
Because that while I do think that PETA should “pull back” from encouraging or supporting some specified activities (because I find them morally repugnant) I do not grant PETA “their high moral ground” on the issue of animal rights because as I said in my previous post; “I hold PETA’s overall mission to be based on a flawed understanding of the natural world.”

#39 diogenes99 on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 8:34am

>> “I hold PETA’s overall mission to be based
>> on a flawed understanding of the natural world.”

Again, this only supports my point.  There is a need for activists who do not merely assume a particular understanding, but explore the presuppositions in others’ and their own understandings and promote discussion.  They serve as a bridge between academic study and the public.

Example.  Suppose you assume reductive naturalism.  But what if this is false?  What if a version of nonreductive naturalism better supports other branches of the sciences and moral discourse?  Would religious discourse fit into such a scheme?

That is why there should be a group that does not merely pot bang.

#40 r strle (Guest) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 9:26am

“Again, this only supports my point.  There is a need for activists who do not merely assume a particular understanding, but explore the presuppositions in others’ and their own understandings and promote discussion.  They serve as a bridge between academic study and the public.”

It does? I don’t see how my personal (or anyone’s) conclusion that PETA’s overall mission is based on a flawed understanding of the natural world supports the point of view that “There is a need for activists who do not merely assume a particular understanding, but explore the presuppositions in others’ and their own understandings and promote discussion.

I thought your point was:

“If CFI encourages secularists, using a metaphor with the word punching, to organize and speak with the full weight of their numbers to promote rights granted them in the U.S. constitution, it (CFI) would not be acting “with careful rationality in the defense of rationality” and this will create a need for another group who would?
Yes, that is what I am saying.”

And

“My only point is that CFI seems to be the kind of organization that avoids pan banging but seeks to be the conduit for public discussion of the moral arguments.”


Frankly diogenes99, I do not see any “need for activists who do not merely assume a particular understanding, but explore the presuppositions in others’ and their own understandings and promote discussion.”  What you are calling “activists”, I think most people would call philosophers.  Activist, as defined in most dictionaries is someone whose actions are vigorous and sometimes aggressive in pursuing a political or social end.  While I am sure that many activists can and do “explore the presuppositions in others’ and their own understandings and promote discussion”  I do not see any reason that they (CFI, The Humane Society, PETA, or Activists of any stripe)  would or should limit their activism in this way.

#41 diogenes99 on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 12:05pm

>> I do not see any reason that they (CFI,
>> The Humane Society, PETA, or Activists of
>> any stripe)  would or should limit their
>> activism in this way.

Your point seems to be that CFI should be more aggressive in pursuing church-state separation.  You are disappointed they did not join others in the lawsuit which is the subject of this article.  If you do not see that the academic nature of a think tank places functional limitations on the degree of aggressive activism, then perhaps we are done here.

#42 r strle (Guest) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 1:34pm

“Your point seems to be that CFI should be more aggressive in pursuing church-state separation.  You are disappointed they did not join others in the lawsuit which is the subject of this article.  If you do not see that the academic nature of a think tank places functional limitations on the degree of aggressive activism, then perhaps we are done here.”


The CFI is a “think tank??”  It has “functional limitations on the degree of aggressive activism?”
If you go to the very top of this page and click on “Advocacy” you will find the following:


“The Center for Inquiry is an active agent for social and cultural change in the courts, in the U.S. capital, at the United Nations, and at the grassroots level.  1.  Fringe science and extraordinary claims 2. Medical and mental health 3. Religion, ethics and society

Note; CFI considers itself an “active agent” for social and cultural change.  “Its ADVOCACY work centers on three broad areas.”  This statement sounds fairly aggressive to me.  And it certainly doesn’t say anything about CFI’s academic nature of a think tank nor does it even hint at its functional limitations.

Key words here are “ACTIVE agent for…. change IN THE COURTS”

If you can not see from this “official” CFI statement that the CFI does not see itself as merely a “think tank” whose “academic nature” places “functional limitations” on the degree of its activism then there is no doubt that we are done here.

#43 r strle (Guest) on Tuesday January 06, 2009 at 1:44pm

Here is some more found by clicking on “Legal Department” on the right side of the advocacy page.

Legal Department Introduction

The Legal Department promotes the mission of the Center for Inquiry and its affiliates by filing amicus briefs in cases involving First Amendment rights, reproductive freedom, assistance in dying and other issues of importance to the Center and its supporters. Where appropriate, the Center or its affiliates, such as the Council for Secular Humanism, may file their own lawsuit.

“In addition, the Legal Department of the Center for Inquiry will consider offering free legal assistance to individuals who believe that their constitutional rights are in jeopardy or that they have experienced discrimination because they are not religious. If you believe there is an issue that should be brought to the attention of the Legal Department, please email us and include “Refer a Case” as your subject heading. Please be aware that submission of this information to the Legal Department does not guarantee that we can assist you. Although careful consideration will be given to all requests, we are limited in our resources. Therefore, our inability to offer representation should not be interpreted as judgment on the merits of your claim. If you believe you have a claim and we are unable to provide assistance, please contact a private attorney. Be aware that we do not handle any type of criminal proceeding.

Sounds pretty aggressive to me.

#44 Edd Doerr (Guest) on Friday January 09, 2009 at 12:24pm

As a past president of the American Humanist Association (which is involved in this suit) I concur with Derek Araujo’s judgment that the suit is ill-advised and could well have deleterious unintended consequences. There are strategically more important church-state issues for humanists to be involved in, such as keeping public schools religiously neutral, stopping tax aid to faith-based schools, and defending reproductive choice.

#45 r strle (Guest) on Friday January 09, 2009 at 1:14pm

“As a past president of the American Humanist Association (which is involved in this suit) I concur with Derek Araujo’s judgment that the suit is ill-advised and could well have deleterious unintended consequences.”

Mr.  Doerr,

Could you please spell out in some greater detail what deleterious unintended consequences you see resulting from the suit?  Also I would be most interested if you could give your view as to the speculations I made in a previous post (especially #3):

I think that if a court challenge were filed the following would/could happen:
1.  A big (hopefully) public media uproar, controversy and
    discussion. (Very good for consciousness   raising —the U.S. was
    founded as a secular nation that allows religious freedom)
2.  The Supreme Court would probably refuse to hear the case. (No
    harm no foul but we still get consciousness raising)
3.  The Supreme Court most improbably hears the case and decides
    that religious invocations are ok at inaugurals and other public
    government functions.  (The status quo is preserved and again
    we still get consciousness raising—the U.S. was founded as a
    secular nation that allows religious freedom)

#46 Edd Doerr (Guest) on Friday January 09, 2009 at 2:54pm

In response to #43 —1. Please read Greg Paul’s article in the Dec/Jan Free Inquiry; it points to a much more effective way to deal with such problems; 2. Having been involved in 80 or so major churvh-state cases over the last 40 years, I have learned that strategy and timing are more important than merely rushing into court on a kamikazi mission; 3. Church-state cases should be selected by assessing the probability of success and the possibility of bringing the house down on one’s head; the main architect of this suit is Michael Newdow, who has no sense of strategy whatever; his suit against “under God” in the pledge was doomed to fail but if it had succeeded, Congress and the states would have amended the Constitution and probably wrecked the First Amendment; 4. Araujo and others above pretty well spelled out the numerous reasons why the suit is ill-advised; 5. By the way, an earlier responder listed several organizations active in supporting church-state separation but omitted reference to Americans for Religious Liberty [www.arlinc.org], which was founded in 1982 by humanist leaders Ed Ericson and Sherwin Wine and which has been involved in over 60 major church-state cases.

#47 r strle (Guest) on Friday January 09, 2009 at 10:19pm

“In response to #43 —1. Please read Greg Paul’s article in the Dec/Jan Free Inquiry; it points to a much more effective way to deal with such problems;”

I will read Greg Paul’s article as you suggest but if you review this post (#43) you will see that I was basically pointing out to diogenes99 that CFI does not consider itself merely a “think tank” and describes its role as a legal activist, when legal action is appropriate.  The question then becomes when is legal action appropriate (the subject of this blog).

“Having been involved in 80 or so major churvh-state cases over the last 40 years, I have learned that strategy and timing are more important than merely rushing into court on a kamikazi mission;”

Depends I guess on how you define your mission.  I think a valid mission would be to stir the pot and stir it often.  I think a valid mission would be raising consciousness and affecting public opinion because I think the constitution, as written, is already on “our” side and the only thing preventing full realization of our full constitutional rights is the lack of the public support that would influence congressional and judicial decisions, not to mention presidential orders.

“Araujo and others above pretty well spelled out the numerous reasons why the suit is ill-advised”

This is all I could find in Mr. Araujo’s piece.

“For reasons I will not go into here, the merits of the case are not especially compelling.”
“They could use this case to hand down opinions that harm church-state separation”.
“By setting in motion a lawsuit that may yield bad legal precedent, could the plaintiffs have unwittingly helped to erode the ailing wall of separation between church and state?”

And from other bloggers:

“At the very least, it is akin to a whining child who cannot get its way”.
“ If you lose a lawsuit with a weak case about something marginal, then the case can serve as a legal precedent which might be used to diminish church-state separation in the future.  The justices can write opinions that have a wider application against church-state separation.”

I am sorry but these all seem like very vague excuses for avoiding the responsibility for speaking out.
What kind of precedents?  What kind of opinions? Could come out of this case that could have wider applications, diminish church-state separation in the future or eroding the ailing wall of separation between church and state?

Could you please more specifically spell out the precedents and opinions you think could lead to deleterious unintended consequences in some greater detail?  Also I would be most interested if you could give your view as to the speculations I made in a previous post (especially #3 below):

“I think that if a court challenge were filed the following would/could happen:

1. A big (hopefully) public media uproar, controversy and discussion.  (Very good for consciousness raising —the U.S. was founded as a secular nation that allows religious freedom)_

2. The Supreme Court would probably refuse to hear the case. (No harm no foul but we still get consciousness raising)_

3.  The Supreme Court most improbably hears the case and decides that religious invocations are ok at inaugurals and other public government functions.  (The status quo is preserved and again we still get consciousness raising—the U.S. was founded as a secular nation that allows religious freedom)”

#48 r strle (Guest) on Saturday January 10, 2009 at 8:57am

I posted last night, went to bed, slept and dreamed as I usually do and awoke this morning and found, as I often do, a solution/understanding to a problem I was working on waiting in the “In Box” of my conscious experience.  I have found this to happen so often over my many years that I have come to rely on it.  Whether this is a real or imagined product of human brain evolution is a question for another blog so on to my new found understanding.

Could it be Mr. Doerr, that you are saying that in your 40 or so years of experience, legal challenges of the First Amendment kind, are time consuming drains of resources that usually result in very little gain for “the cause”, even when successful, and “sometimes” have unforeseen, and even, unforeseeable deleterious consequences many years down the road.  Kind of like spinning your wheels in the mud, you get nowhere and can create a big mess while getting nowhere.  Further, I think you are also saying that there are better more efficient and effective ways of getting out the message that the U.S. was founded as a secular nation that respects and guarantees the right to religious belief and expression. (Sorry for all the commas and quotes I am just not Mr. English Grammar.) 

If this is what you are saying then there is no need to respond to my previous post because I get your point.  But then I think other questions that could be raised that you are uniquely experienced to address and these are, what are these “better and more efficient” ways of getting out the message and why after these many years (at least 100) do we still have a significant plurality of U.S. citizens who think like this:

  Christianity our established religion

  A recent article correctly said that we should recognize
  the rights of all.  The Declaration of Independence stated
  that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by
  their creator with certain unalienable rights.”  The article
  was wrong about all values being equal.  Laws against
  murder, stealing and lying correspond to the 5th, 7th and 8th
  of the Ten Commandments, and opposite values are not equal.
  Our founding fathers did not set up a government divorced
  from religion.  The U.S. Supreme Court in 1799 found “by
  our former government that Christian religion is the established
  religion.”  The school textbook for 240 years was the New
      England Primer, containing Bible verses, the Lord’s Prayer, the
      Apostles’ Creed and catechism.
        Bob Lemke
          Joliet

Note that Mr. Lemke is convinced that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation because he has the evidence.  The laws against murder, stealing and lying correspond to the 5th, 7th and 8th commandments. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1799 found “by our former government that Christian religion is the established religion.” The school textbook for 240 years was the New England Primer, containing Bible verses, the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostles’ Creed and catechism.  Do you think that the Mr. Lemkes of the U.S., hearing no protest or counter message, will see their view that “our founding fathers did not set up a government divorced from religion” as justified and confirmed when they hear Mr. Obama say “so help me god” at the end of his oath of office?  Do you think that maybe when the Mr. Lemkes of the U.S., hearing no protest or counter message, see and hear the religious invocation they will view it as more evidence that the U.S. was founded as and is a Christian nation.  I do, because I read and have read things like this little piece above in the paper almost every day for many years.  This opinion is ubiquitously held up as fact on TV and radio programs by politicians and media celebrities like Newt Gingrich, Bill O’Riley, Ann Coulter, Shawn Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and many others.  I hear it in my dentist’s office where I must endure it silently because I am unable to speak with my mouth full of fingers and dental equipment.  I hear it from my neighbors, I hear it from my friends and I hear it from my relatives and when I speak out against this view I am usually considered annoyingly argumentative and blindly ignorant of the “evidence” (like that listed by Mr. Lemke above) everywhere to be seen with little or little or no visible evidence or “pot banging” supporting my point of view to be found . 

It seems to me that Secularism, Humanism, Atheism and the separation of church and state do not have many high profile supporters and the few we do have often do not get the full weight of support (“punch our weight”) from entities like CFI. 

Ok so if lawsuits are not the pan banging answer that would get people like, Newt Gingrich, Bill O’Riley, Ann Coulter, Shawn Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, all steamed up forcing a loud national debate on separation of church and state, that would highlight the constitutional problems with oaths and invocations referencing god,  what is?  What is the leadership at all those organizations in Corey Mondello’s post proposing or doing to get the word out loudly and forcefully to the Mr. Lemkes of the world that the U.S. is really a secular nation and that allowing Mr. Obama to have a religious invocation as part of his inaugural ceremony and to end his oath of office with “so help me god” is just granting him his right to freedom of religious as expression guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution?  In my little dark corner of the world, I and Mr. Lemke are not seeing or hearing it.

#49 Edd Doerr (Guest) on Saturday January 10, 2009 at 12:31pm

In response to #s 47 & 48, let me report that all 50 state State Attorneys General have filed a brief opposing the AHA/Newdow brief, thus ensuring that the suit will go nowhere. Also, Obama has now asked the CJ to add the SHMG words to the oath, which he would not have done if AHA and the atheist groups had not sued in the first place. So the net result of this suit will be bad PR, a waste of money and resources, and the plaintiffs will end up looking silly. Further, a historian of my acquaintance has examined Newdow’s brief and found numerous errors.

Stirring pots may be good exercise,but effort should be exerted only when it will accomplish something good, as this suit will not.

As for deleterious effects, even the best lawsuits can have unfortunate results. With a Supreme Court delicately balanced as this one, it is foolish to risk getting a ruling that could well undo all the good SC church-state rulings. So suits have to be chosen carefully by the best professionals, not single-minded amateurs.

Most Americans could not care less about the inaug prayer, even secularists and humanists. The suit suggests that the plaintiffs have nothing better to do than nitpick.

As for #48, as I have been involved in 80 or so major cases (I helped get Lemon v Kurtzman started [1971], cooked up the idea for 72 Nobel laureate scientists to file a brief in the SC’s creationism suit, got 12 Nobels and 165 other scientists to do a brief on abortion rights 20 years ago, and won a case against US tax aid to sectarian schools abroad in the 2nd Ct, etc). I’m all in favor of litigation that has a good chance of winning a major point.

It is wrong to think that only humanists and atheists support separation. Vast numbers of Catholics, Protestants and Jews support separation and that is why we have won 25 state refereenda on tax aid to faith-based schools, why we have been able to protect reproductive choice as well as we have, why we have defeated every school prayer amendment ever brought before Congress. And that is why humanists and secularists need to outgrow mere negative atheism and cooperate with the large assortment of religious folk who share many of our humanist values.

Greg Paul’s piece in Free Inquiry suggests a better strategy than the “atheism first” mindset of the poorly thought out Secular Coalition.

#50 diogenes99 on Saturday January 10, 2009 at 1:23pm

strle: <<Ok so if lawsuits are not the pan banging answer… what is?>>

strle: <<CFI is a “think tank??”>>

Personally, I think all secular activist groups should think strategically about which method is the best to achieve a goal.  Sometimes the quiet approach is best, and one example is the recent effort to remove “so help me God” from Tennessee courtroom oaths.  CFI and a member petitioned the state’s judicial council.  No law suit was planned because a lawsuit’s publicity would would have prompted state legislators to pass an anti-secular oath law, setting back progress for decades.  See this link:

http://tinyurl.com/tnoath

Yes, CFI is a think tank.  That is why you are seeing strategic thinking.  They are looking at unintended consequences and decades into the future.  These links explain why being a think tank makes their approach different than reationary litigation.

http://tinyurl.com/cfithinktank
http://www.cfidc.org/opp/

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