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FIRST-PERSON: A ‘thankful’ Michael Newdow

GROVE CITY, Pa. (BP–Upon learning that a federal judge issued an order against the Elk Grove (Calif.) United School District forbidding even the voluntary recitation of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, lawsuit instigator Michael Newdow said this: “A federal judge did as he was supposed to do and upheld the Constitution. We should be thankful that we have a judiciary that will do that.”

Coming from an atheist, as Mr. Newdow avows to be, the use of the word, ‘thankful’ was surprising. I had to ask myself, “thankful to whom?”

Ordinarily, when people say they are thankful, it is understood that they mean gratitude to someone who has done something good for them. In this case, I suppose Mr. Newdow could mean he is thankful to the federal judge involved, but this lone judge would not be the proper target of thanksgiving. As Mr. Newdow noted, this judge was playing a role within a larger judiciary that is in place for reasons having nothing to do with anyone alive at present. Rather, the judiciary for which Mr. Newdow is thankful is in place because of the work of people who are no longer with us and a document constructed by men who were profoundly religious. Is Mr. Newdow, I wonder, thankful to them? They are of course, in his worldview, currently nothing but dust.

What about this judiciary for which he is thankful? Why is it in place at all? As one of the three branches of government, the judiciary is part of our system of checks and balances. Many historians, religious and non-religious, have concluded that the political doctrine of separation of powers in government is founded upon a Christian view of human nature.

James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 55, “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.” Man’s dual nature as being created in God’s Image — yet tainted by sin — profoundly influenced the Founders to craft the Constitutional system we enjoy.

So arguably, Mr. Newdow should be thankful to Christianity that he can make a name for himself in his attempt to do away with Christianity’s God.

In Mr. Newdow’s quest to rid school children of all references to God, will the Declaration of Independence be his next target?

The Declaration provided the rationale for the American experiment with these words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” Closing the document, the signers pledged their common support for the Declaration “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”

Perhaps if the Pledge goes the way of prayer in schools, school personnel desiring to communicate the philosophical basis of our republic might want to make sure students are exposed to the Declaration of Independence on a regular basis. Perhaps too, the words of Abraham Lincoln could be studied. Concerning freedom, Lincoln stated, “Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.” And regarding peace after the Civil War, Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.”

Attempts to eliminate all references to God in school activities will eventually target classroom practices. I predict this attack on the Pledge is only one more step in the desire of secularists among us to rid public discussion of all mention of God. The religious and non-religious alike should resist such efforts. A look around the world will reveal what happens to personal freedom in nations that either eliminate religion or establish one religion by mandate. The voluntary recitation of the Pledge in its invocation of God is no establishment of a religion or even religion in a general sense. The entire exercise is a tribute to our religious pluralism. Even the voluntary nature of the pledge allows for those who dissent to exercise their freedom of expression.

Such freedom is indeed something for which to be thankful.
Warren Throckmorton is associate professor of psychology and fellow for psychology and public policy in the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City (PA) College, a Christian college in Pennsylvania.

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  • Warren Throckmorton