Monday, February 1, 2010

God Bless the USA.

The first president to utter the now standard refrain, "God bless America" was none other than Nixon. In 1973.

And our money never said "In God we Trust" until 1956.

Got that?

Religion is a political power tool, wielded to garner votes and appeal to our unquestioning acceptance of faith as a positive force in society. Claim God's on your side and you've got an advantage. I don't mean to doubt the sincerity of the claimers - who but God knows the nature and quality of one's faith? - but we're in an age where we claim that our country believes in religious tolerance but requires our politicians (and laws and judges) to ascribe to a particular faith.

From Yehuda Berg at Huffpo:

In the State of the Union, Obama invoked Kennedy and Regan in the same sentence in reference to their vision of a world without nuclear weapons. This got me thinking about what other things both parties have in common.


Obama ended his speech saying "God Bless You, God Bless the United States of America." This has recently become the standard presidential way to sign off. But the use of "God Bless America" was first uttered in a presidential speech by -- are you ready -- Nixon, in 1973, while trying to manage the Watergate scandal.

According to David Domke and Kevin Coe, authors of The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America, Presidents from Roosevelt to Carter did sometimes make requests for God's blessing, such as "May God give us wisdom" or "With God's help," but it was the galloping Regan who popularized God with invocations in 90 percent of his speeches. Clinton and George W. Bush followed respectively, with the high and mid eighty percentages.

Is our modern world so much more complicated that we now need God more? Are our current leaders more strongly religious than their predecessors; or is placing the noun God in a speech, as Domke and Coe suggest, a savvy way to "pass the God and Country test? "

According to a 2008 poll taken by The Washington Post, 92 percent of Americans believe in God. And despite the separation of Church and State, first traced in a letter of Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to Danbury Baptists, we can't take God out of government. Separation of Church and State in America was originally intended to protect each individual's religious conscious, allow freedom of thought, and religious tolerance. Fortunately, the law also protects the State from being powered by one official religious authority, such as the Church of England.

God is not separate from anything, or anyone. So it's impossible to prevent God from being visible in our government.

Our current pledge of allegiance contains the phrase, "One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."The words under God were added to the original sentence of 1892, in response to a Communist threat perceived by President Eisenhower in 1954. But was the sentence altered to mean it's our nation that's indivisible, or God that's indivisible -- with liberty and justice for all?

The presence of God is everywhere, even on our money. On almost every coin and dollar the same line is printed: In God We Trust. (Take note, if you possess currency that does not include this line, you have a collector's item.) What many people don't know is that In God We Trust became the official motto of the United States in 1956. It replaced E Pluribus Unum which appears on the Great Seal of the United States, because that phrase was never officially legislated.

The way I see it, E Pluribus Unum remains important, because we are One. Not just individual states that comprise our nation, but as individuals who comprise our world. And it's time to trust in our individual selves to create the world we want to see.

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That Judicial Activism.

EJ Dionne takes on judicial activism in his column today at Washington Post.

What is judicial activism? The answer is akin to the one I just posed to a friend on twitter who asked what religion doesn't have superstition built into it: mine. In other words, court opinions (or faiths) that support my viewpoint aren't activist, or at least that's how the ranting goes. Dionne says Alito's mouthing dissent during the State of the Union speech is good; it shows that the court opposes dissenting views, even from the president.

That our judicial branch is established to interpret the constitution means they are to serve a non-biased role, a balance to the executive and legislative branches of government. Yet judges are members of society and are appointed for their politics. We've got a dangerous right-leaning court at the moment, there's no doubt. How to counter their biased decisions with public sentiment is the real issue.

As I said elsewhere recently, laws are only constitutional because they have not been proven unconstitutional. The courts are the keepers of that standard and we're fools to think that the SCOTUS is an objective branch of government.

Alito's inability to restrain himself during the State of the Union address brought to wide attention a truth that too many have tried to ignore: The Supreme Court is now dominated by a highly politicized conservative majority intent on working its will, even if that means ignoring precedents and the wishes of the elected branches of government.

Obama called the court on this, and Alito shook his head and apparently mouthed "not true." His was the honest reaction of a judicial activist who believes he has the obligation to impose his version of right reason on the rest of us.

The controversy also exposed the impressive capacity of the conservative judicial revolutionaries to live by double standards without apology.

The movement's legal theorists and politicians have spent more than four decades attacking alleged judicial abuses by liberals, cheering on the presidents who joined them in their assaults. But now, they are terribly offended that Obama has straightforwardly challenged the handiwork of their judicial comrades.

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Expanding the "Pro-Life" Tent.

Some in the "pro-life" camp are realizing that their greatest vulnerability is to be seen as a conservative, Christian movement. If the strong case could be made that opposition to abortion and other reproductive rights is religious in nature, they fear that the courts could use Establishment Clause and "separation of church and state" reasoning to liberate women from traditional ideas that sex must be tied to reproduction.

At The American Catholic, contributor Eric Brown, an athiest homosexual turned chaste Catholic who works for Texas Right to Life, wrote a post yesterday that argues that the pro-life movement has got to welcome non-religious "pro-life" groups into the Republican "pro-life" tent. He recommends extending the flaps to include "pro-life" Democrats and others who base their opposition to reproductive freedom on "non-relgious" reasoning. Brown writes:

This misconception [that opposition to abortion is primarily religious and Republican], a barrier to progress, in my view, can and must be eradicated. The pro-life movement is not as monolithic as people assume or even as much as its visible leaders state that it is. Feminists for Life is a non-sectarian, non-partisan organization of Americans who believe that abortion is a symptom of a social failure to meet the needs of women (“Refuse to Choose: Women Deserve Better Than Abortion” and “Peace Begins In The Womb” are their principal slogans). The pro-life feminist perspective is contrary to that of the stereotypical assumption that the pro-life position is pit against women’s rights.

He goes on to list a number of organizations that have been founded outside the "monolithic" movement, including ProLife Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, Secular Pro-Life, Pro-Life League of Athiests and Agnostics, and Not Dead Yet, a disability group that opposes aid in dying. That these groups perplex the public as much as they do the traditional opponents of women's rights is no surprise. (And comments on the site show that these organizations lack acceptance among traditional "pro-lifers.")

From the other side of the fence - and as a woman who has always understood that my independence and equality are reliant on my autonomous decision of when to have children - I find that Brown's argument is disingenuous (beware of a Catholic trying to make a secular argument!) and that his fear of the "pro-life" movement being seen solely as religious is apt but underutilized by women's groups.

Though Roe v Wade was decided on issues of privacy, women have repeatedly called for their rights of conscience and autonomy to be honored without religious discrimination. Opposition to abortion, they say, is primarily religious: a desire to prevent women from choosing when they have children because that's God's job. But they have never done so successfully.

The courts have shied away from using the Establishment clause and "separation of church and state" in their rulings on reproductive freedom and have failed to establish precedent that rightly assigns ideas of "traditional" family, sex, and reproduction to religious influence. In other words, the court has decided to make decisions about women's autonomy on the wrong grounds.

Nor has the case been strongly made to the public that "pro-life" groups are working to legislatively impose their doctrine on all of our pluralistic society. I write all the time about doctrinal medicine, yet readers often take me to task for not giving the good that church organizations do appropriate reverence. My position is often decried as anti-religion - which is not true.

As a society, we respect our traditional churches. And we look to them for moral guidance, even when their answers are archaic and discriminatory. This public sentiment has allowed the courts to avoid Establishment issues when addressing women's reproductive rights - or patients' rights on the whole. And it has shielded "pro-life" groups from owning up to their true intentions.

Chris Brown should relax. Conservative think-tanks, the Medical Right and the Legal Right have his back. They are cranking out papers that work to prove opposition to abortion is not religious, they are lobbying to assert "traditional" values on all of society, they are well-funded and organized. And when they eschew God talk and stick to fear-mongering about the downfall of society, they keep the public and the courts on their side.

However Brown wants to couch his arguments, the Right has successfully framed the fight for abortion and patients' rights as one of shameful greed, selfishness and immorality. He should enjoy the fact that abortion is still shamed, that young women have been abandoned, that elders are denied their last wishes at hospitals across the country, that health care delivery is biased and discriminatory, that poor women can't access birth control and are forced into pregnancy. For 37 years, society and the courts have allowed such injustice.

Chris Brown and the "pro-life" movement are highly motivated by their desire to end all reproductive choice for women and they will continue to evolve and adapt their strategies. Women and patients, however, have settled for taking whatever compromises they can get.

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