Good Cheer Signs

for All Times


    It seems that what the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal's June 26, 2002 ruling that declared the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional is objecting to, is history and truth symbolized by a name: God.

    After all, the opinion (Newdow v. U.S. Congress) states: "The text of the official Pledge, codified in federal law, impermissibly takes a position with respect to the purely religious question of the existence and identity of God." Therefore, it is the fact "of the existence and identity of God"--and whether government can acknowledge that fact--that is the underlying issue here.

    But, if government can't be allowed to acknowledge an absolute truth about ultimate reality (the greatest truth), can it be allowed to acknowledge absolute truth about anything at all?

    Really, what is at stake here is the acknowledgment of truth, and whether schoolchildren may have the liberty (that they are guaranteed by the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, by the way) to say out loud such an acknowledgment of truth, if they so wish. (What is a teacher to do if he/she doesn't say the words "under God", but one child insists on saying them--in conformity with their right to free speech? Are teachers expected to act as "thought police" and say to the child, "No, you can't say that?" Such actions, ironically, would involve the very "entanglement of government with religion" that the Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) test prohibited. Furthermore, such actions would be the start of a very slippery slope of denial of free speech and free exercise of religion rights--which are just as protected by the First Amendment as non-establishment of religion. In other words, the Establishment Clause can't be turned into a tool for overriding the other two clauses--the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment. Such a result would have the First Amendment fight against itself, judicially speaking.

    Interestingly, in his dissent, 9th Circuit Judge Fernandez seems to recognize the danger of that trend:

[...] such phrases as "In God We Trust" or "under God" have no tendency to establish a religion in this country or to suppress anyone's exercise, nor non-exercise, of religion, except in the fevered eye of persons who most fervently would like to drive all tincture of religion out of the public life of our polity. Those expressions have not caused any real harm of that sort over the years since 1791, and are not likely to do so in the future. [* * *] As I see it, that is not because they are drained of meaning. [* * *] Rather, as I have already indicated, it is because their tendency to establish religion (or affect its exercise) is exiguous. I recognize that some people may not feel good about hearing the phrases recited in their presence, but, then, others might not feel good if they are omitted. At any rate, the Constitution is a practical and balanced charter for the just governance of a free people in a vast territory. Thus, although we do feel good when we contemplate the effects of its inspiring phrasing and majestic promises, it is not primarily a feel-good prescription. [* * *] In West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 630, 642, 63 S. Ct. 1178, 1181, 1187, 87 L. Ed. 1628 (1943), for example, the Supreme Court did not say that the Pledge could not be recited in the presence of Jehovah's Witness children; it merely said that they did not have to recite it. [* * *] That fully protected their constitutional rights by precluding the government from trenching upon "the sphere of intellect and spirit." Id. at 642, 63 S. Ct. at 1187. As the Court pointed out, their religiously based refusal "to participate in the ceremony [would] not interfere with or deny rights of others to do so." Id. at 630, 63 S. Ct. at 1181. We should not permit Newdow's feel-good concept to change that balance.

    My reading of the stelliscript suggests that upon Newdow's theory of our Constitution, accepted by my colleagues today, we will soon find ourselves prohibited from using our album of patriotic songs in many public settings. "God Bless America" and "America The Beautiful" will be gone for sure, and while use of the first and second stanzas of the Star Spangled Banner will still be permissible, we will be precluded from straying into the third. [fn. 8]

[fn. 8:] Nor will we be able to stray into the fourth stanza of "My Country 'Tis of Thee" for that matter.

And currency beware! Judges can accept those results if they limit themselves to elements and tests, while failing to look at the good sense and principles that animated those tests in the first place. But they do so at the price of removing a vestige of the awe we all must feel at the immenseness of the universe and our own small place within it, as well as the wonder we must feel at the good fortune of our country. That will cool the febrile nerves of a few at the cost of removing the healthy glow conferred upon many citizens when the forbidden verses, or phrases, are uttered, read, or seen.

Newdow v. U.S. Congress, No. 00-16423 (9th Cir., June 26, 2002) (FERNANDEZ, Circuit Judge, concurring and dissenting) (all footnotes except footnote 8 are omitted).

    The same, incidentally, can be said for any acknowledgment of truth: Though some people may not feel good upon hearing or seeing it, that doesn't mean that such a truth should be removed or suppressed; there are many others who don't feel good when truth is taken away. It is not injustice to say right is right and truth is truth--to say that something is backed up by historical facts--even though history or truth makes someone feel bad or makes them disagree. One can't give something to protestors just because they protest, when their cause isn't right or true. This takes away the rights of others--those who want to acknowledge the truth--as well as suppresses that truth itself.

How a Few Suppress Knowledge of Anything They Don't Like

    Sadly, such suppression of truth and re-writing of history seems to be the nationwide trend these days. For instance, consider these examples: After "God Bless America" signs cheered up the American people, Ridgewood Elementary School in Illinois has decided to remove the words "God Bless America" from a school yearbook, according to a 2002 news report. The words were included as part of a student's yearbook cover design, and that student objected to the denial of her free speech rights. However, a judge declared her cover design with the words included to be unconstitutional.

    Also, according to a 2002 news report, a California concert to honor 9-11 workers was canceled because the planned repertoire included several patriotic songs that mentioned the name of God--including "America the Beautiful," one of the songs declared to be endangered in Judge Fernandez's Newdow dissent. So, already his prediction had come to pass--even before his dissent was written.

    And, according to another 2002 news report, a Board of Education objects to a high school's sign because it gives this message to the people of the Rockaways in Queens, New York City: "God bless you".

    Before, the objection to "God Bless America" was that the phrase connected American government or the American nation to the name of God. But, ironically, the phrase "God bless you" contains no mention of any nation or government at all. It is a statement that has existed throughout many regions of the world for centuries--an expression of a wish for God's blessing. As such, it is a message for all times--and a much-needed sign for our times. "God bless you", like Jesus' statement "Be of good cheer", is an encouragement, an inspiration. The sign is so beneficial that it makes one wonder what the real issue is regarding this objection to the "God bless you" sign in New York City.

    "God bless you", standing on its own, conveys the idea that God blesses individuals--and that He indeed has such a power to bless them. And apparently, that's the heart of the issue. As the title of a recent Gospel song says, "It's Who You Know". The message "God bless you" expresses the idea that God has the power to bless people, or in other words, it's an acknowledgment of God's power which is an attribute of God Himself. It's public school acknowledgment of the Who--the Person of the matter--that is the real issue. Objections that link a sign's message ("God bless you") to a specific Person (God), and object to it on the basis of the inclusion of His name, apparently see His name as a symbol for His power--a symbol representing the acknowledgment of the truth of His "existence and identity", as was mentioned in the Newdow opinion.

Historical Signs of Good Cheer:

"Under God"; "In God We Trust"; "With God All Things Are Possible"

    The United States' motto ("In God We Trust") is probably the most famous statement of the idea that God has the power to keep, bless, or save people (why else would we trust in God--not a powerless God, surely; else there would be no need to trust in Someone who couldn't deliver). As related by United States District Judge GRAHAM (S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division), the history of such acknowledgments of God's power, or petitions to Him to use His power for our help or blessing, extends all the way back to the founding of our nation:

    The [United States Supreme] Court has also held [...] that certain forms of official acknowledgment of religion which are regarded as part of the "fabric of our society" are permitted by the Constitution. Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783, 792, 103 S.Ct. 3330, 77 L.Ed.2d 1019 (1983). [***]

    In Marsh, the Court upheld the practice of the Nebraska legislature to begin each of its sessions with a prayer offered by a chaplain chosen by the executive board of the legislative council and paid out of public funds. The Court noted that:

The opening of sessions of legislative and other deliberative public bodies with prayer is deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.

463 U.S. at 786, 103 S.Ct. 3330.


    Like the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayers, official mottoes, oaths, and inscriptions which acknowledge the religious heritage of our nation are also deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country. Thus, the Court in School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 213, 83 S.Ct. 1560, 10 L.Ed.2d 844 (1963), referring to that tradition, said:

This background is evidenced today in our public life through the continuance in our oaths of office from the Presidency to the Alderman of the final supplication, "So help me God."


    Justice Stewart noted in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421, 446, 82 S.Ct. 1261, 8 L.Ed.2d 601 (1962):

At the opening of each day's Session of this Court, we stand, while one of our officials invokes the protection of God. Since the days of John Marshall our Crier has said, "God save the United States and this Honorable Court."

    In Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 674-675, 104 S.Ct. 1355, 79 L.Ed.2d 604 (1984), Chief Justice Burger, writing for the Court, said:

There is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789....

Our history is replete with official references to the value and invocation of Divine guidance in deliberations and pronouncements of the Founding Fathers and contemporary leaders.

The Chief Justice noted, "The day after the First Amendment was proposed, Congress urged President Washington to proclaim 'a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God.'" Lynch, 465 U.S. at 675 n. 2, 104 S.Ct. 1355 (Citation omitted). Almost all presidents since Washington have issued thanksgiving proclamations specifically invoking the deity. Id.

    In Lynch and in other cases, the Court has made specific reference to the national motto, "In God We Trust" and the language "One Nation Under God," which is part of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. [***] [Citations omitted.] Title 31, U.S.C. [sections] 324 and 324(a) require the imprinting of the national motto "In God We Trust" on the coin and currency of the United States.


    The national motto "In God we trust" is prominently engraved on the wall above the speaker's dias in the chamber of the House of Representatives. [***] It is also engraved over the entrance to the Senate chambers. [***]

    Congress has set aside a special prayer room in the Capitol for use by members of the House and Senate. This room is decorated with a large stained glass panel that depicts President Washington kneeling in prayer. Around him is etched the first verse of the Sixteenth Psalm: "Preserve me, O God, for in Thee do I put my trust." [***]

    Congress has directed the president to proclaim a National Day of Prayer each year "on which [day] the people of the United States may turn to God in prayer and meditation at churches, in groups, and as individuals." 36 U.S.C. [sec.] 169h. Our presidents have repeatedly issued such proclamations. See Lynch, 465 U.S. at 677, 104 S.Ct. 1355.

    The National Anthem, adopted by an official act of Congress, concludes with the following verse:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved home and the war's desolation!

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.

Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio v. Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, 20 F.Supp.2d 1176, 1180-1181 (S.D.Ohio 1998) (GRAHAM, District Judge) (Some citations omitted).

    ("The Star-Spangled Banner", which suggested the idea that the United States motto should be "In God We Trust", was written by a Georgetown (D.C.) lawyer named Francis Scott Key in 1812 and was later adopted as the United States' national anthem in 1931.)

"There's Something about that Name"

    The reason Judge Graham in the Capitol Square case wrote about the history of the United States motto "In God We Trust" was because:

    The issue presented in this case is whether the official motto of the state of Ohio "With God All Things Are Possible" is an endorsement of religion forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, 20 F.Supp.2d at 1177 (footnote 1 omitted).

    Like "One Nation under God", "God Bless America", "In God We Trust", and "God bless you", the statement "With God All Things Are Possible" is an acknowledgment of God's power or attribute to bless or to exercise His sovereignty. 

    And government may acknowledge God's sovereignty without such an acknowledgment constituting an establishment of religion, as was recognized by the U.S. Congress that passed the resolution authorizing the addition of the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance. As one Capitol Square decision stated:

    The Pledge of Allegiance was initially given official recognition in June 1942 by a joint resolution of Congress. It was amended to include the words "one nation under God" by a joint resolution approved June 14, 1954.

[* * * * *].

It [the legislative history of the joint resolution] goes on to say:

It should be pointed out that the adoption of this legislation in no way runs contrary to the provisions of the first amendment to the Constitution. This is not an act establishing a religion or one interfering with the "free exercise" of religion. A distinction must be made between the existence of a religion as an institution and a belief in the sovereignty of God. The phrase "under God" recognizes only the guidance of God in our national affairs. The Supreme Court has clearly indicated that the references to the Almighty which run through our laws, our public rituals, and our ceremonies in no way flout the provisions of the first amendment.

H.R. No. 83-1693, 1954 U.S.C.C.A. 2339.

    In Sherman v. Community Consolidated School District 21 of Wheeling Township, 980 F.2d 437 (7th Cir.1992), the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, setting aside the voluntary nature of the exercise, turned back a challenge to the pledge of allegiance by the father of a minor child that the inclusion of the reference to God was a violation of the Establishment Clause. The essence of the Seventh Circuit decision is best expressed in the concurring opinion which says:

The Pledge of Allegiance with all of its intended meaning does not effectuate an establishment of religion. If legislative prayer based upon the Judeo-Christian tradition is permissible...and a Christmas nativity scene erected by a city government is permissible..., then certainly the less specific reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance cannot amount to an establishment of religion. We need not drain the meaning from the reference to reach this conclusion.

980 F.2d at 448 (internal citations omitted).

American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio v. Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, 210 F.3d 703, 722 (6th Cir.2000) (Judge COHN).

    "With God All Things Are Possible" is a direct statement of God's power. But the objection to it tried to make Jesus the issue--or rather, the fact that the words "with God all things are possible" were His words. Even though the motto was not saying "one state under Jesus", the objection was sensitive to the fact that the words on the motto were in fact, Jesus' words.

    The objection was to the speaker. But can that reasonably be called "an establishment of religion"?

    Said Judge Graham:

[...] plaintiffs assert that Ohio's motto endorses the Christian religion over other religions and must be invalidated unless it is justified by a compelling government interest. [***] Plaintiffs assert that the motto is sectarian because it is taken from the Christian New Testament, specifically, from a saying attributed to Jesus. The Court finds this argument unpersuasive.

Capitol Square, 20 F.Supp.2d at 1178 (internal citation omitted).

    That the objection was to the speaker was evident in the April 25, 2000 decision of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (COHN, District Judge, speaking for the court):

    The words of the motto, "With God All Things Are Possible," are a direct quotation from Chapter 19, Verse 26 of the Gospel According to Matthew of the New Testament.


    Essentially, what is being described is a dialogue between Jesus, a rich young man, and Jesus' disciples in which Jesus concludes by saying that the salvation of a rich man is a miracle that only God can accomplish. A similar account is found in Mark 10:14-27 and Luke 18:15-27.

American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio v. Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, 210 F.3d 703, 705 (6th Cir.2000) (Judge COHN).

    After giving dictionary definitions of the terms "Jesus", "Christ", "Christianity", "Christian", "Matthew", "Apostle", "Gospel", and "Salvation", this court went on to say:

In Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 708, 104 S.Ct. 1355, 79 L.Ed.2d 604 (1984), Justice Brennan, in describing the nativity scene (the place of Jesus' birth), a scene "rooted in a biblical account of Christ's birth," said in his dissenting opinion:

It is the chief symbol of this characteristically Christian belief that a divine Savior was brought into the world and that the purpose of this miraculous birth was to illuminate a path towards salvation and redemption.

In a footnote Justice Brennan further explained:

For Christians, of course, the essential message of the nativity is that God became incarnate in the person of Christ. [*****]



As such, Jesus is unique among all figures of the Christian bible.

Capitol Square, 210 F.3d at 706 (part of internal quotation, and the citation, is omitted).

    Judge Cohn quoted an earlier Sixth Circuit decision whose reasoning was later echoed by Judge Fernandez in his Newdow dissent when he mentioned "the fevered eye of persons who most fervently would like to drive all tincture of religion out of the public life of our polity":

    Any prayer has a religious component, obviously, but a single-minded focus on the religious aspects of challenged activities--which activities, in an Establishment Clause case, are religiously-oriented by definition--would extirpate from public ceremonies all vestiges of the religious acknowledgments that have been customary at civic affairs in this country since well before the founding of the Republic. The Establishment Clause does not require--and our constitutional tradition does not permit--such hostility toward religion. The people of the United States did not adopt the Bill of Rights in order [to] strip the public square of every last shred of public piety.


Capitol Square, 210 F.3d at 718 (quoting Chaudhuri v. State of Tennessee, 130 F.3d 232, 236 (6th Cir. 1997)).

    Though the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the constitutionality of the Ohio motto in 2000, yet it turned around and later reversed its ruling on March 16, 2001, upon reconsideration following petition for rehearing en banc:

    Upon reconsideration we have concluded that the Ohio motto does not violate the Establishment Clause. The judgment entered by the district court will therefore be affirmed.

American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio v. Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, 243 F.3d 289, 291 (6th Cir.2001) (DAVID A. NELSON, Circuit Judge, writing for the court).

    This final ruling by the Circuit Court affirmed District Judge Graham's previous ruling. The words "With God All Things Are Possible" can remain the official motto of the state of Ohio.

    (The same result in possible in Newdow v. U.S. Congress, by the way, which was decided by a three-judge panel. The latest word is that the Newdow ruling has been put on hold pending a possible reconsideration by the whole 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which may well overturn the June 26 ruling, similar to the situation in Capitol Square where the 6th Circuit Court of Appeal's 2000 ruling by a three-judge panel was reversed by the court sitting en banc in 2001.)

Signposts to History

    Noting that "[a]t least five other states have mottoes which have some religious content," Judge Graham proceeded to list the mottoes of those states:

Arizona -- Ditat Deus (God enriches)

Colorado -- Nil Sine Numine (Nothing without Providence)

Connecticut -- Qui Transtulit Sustinet (He Who Transplanted, Still Sustains)

Florida -- In God We Trust

South Dakota -- Under God the People Rule.


Capitol Square, 20 F.Supp.2d at 1182 and 1182 n.10 (internal citation within footnote is omitted).

    All these mottoes have this in common: They convey the idea that God has the power to bless, benefit, enrich, protect, and sustain. In other words, they parallel the phrases "With God All Things Are Possible", "One Nation Under God", and "God bless you".

    "With God All Things Are Possible" are words of good cheer (the same is true for these other phrases). As Judge Graham wrote:

In Hunt v. McNair, 413 U.S. 734, 741, 93 S.Ct. 2868, 37 L.Ed.2d 923 (1973), the Court said that the three prongs of the Lemon test "are no more than helpful signposts,..." But even if Lemon were applicable here, the result would not change. The motto has a valid secular purpose. "It inculcates hope, makes Ohio unique, solemnizes occasions, and acknowledges the humility that government leaders frequently feel in grappling with difficult public policy issues." [****]

Capitol Square, 20 F.Supp.2d at 1182 (internal citation is omitted).

    It inculcates hope. Is one to quibble about such "good cheer" messages simply because of the name of the speaker (in the case of "With God All Things Are Possible", it is Jesus) or because the name of God is included in the pledge or the sign?

    History is still history, no matter who says it--and the historical use of phrases such as "One Nation under God" and "With God All Things Are Possible" (which is equivalent to "In God We Trust"), should not be objected to, simply because of Who said them or because they mention the name of God. To do so would be as silly as Americans objecting to the name of New York City because it was named for the British Duke of York.

As District Judge Graham said in the Capitol Square case:

In Lynch, 465 U.S. at 693, 104 S.Ct. 1355, Justice O'Connor said that governmental "acknowledgments" of religion, such as legislative prayers, government declaration of Thanksgiving as a public holiday, printing "In God We Trust" on coins, and opening court sessions with "God save the United States and this honorable court" serve

in the only ways reasonably possible in our culture, the legitimate secular purposes of solemnizing public occasions, expressing confidence in the future, and encouraging the recognition of what is worthy of appreciation in society. For that reason, and because of their history and ubiquity, those practices are not understood as conveying government approval of particular religious beliefs.

American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio v. Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board, 20 F.Supp.2d 1176, 1183 (S.D.Ohio 1998).

    Judge Graham continued:

    If the various actions of the federal government reviewed above do not offend the Establishment Clause, there can be little doubt that Ohio's motto "With God All Things Are Possible" does not. It is entirely proper for the state to inscribe the motto with the state seal on a granite pavement at the entrance to its state capitol building and to use it in like manner on official documents.


Re-writing History

    Objections to the use of God's name in the public forum usually invoke Thomas Jefferson's words "separation of church and state". Elsewhere in the Belcher Foundation Archives (e.g., our commentary on William Cooper's The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate (1740) and Elias Boudinot's The Age of Revelation (1801)), we have explained how Jefferson's words have been taken out of their historical context and misapplied in recent times.

    The man largely responsible for the drafting of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment religion clauses was James Madison, and contemporary debates at that time demonstrated that the Establishment Clause was not intended to evince hostility toward a religious figure or to remove the name of God or Jesus from the public forum. (For an accurate history of the drafting of the religion clauses, see Chief Justice William Rehnquist's dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985).)

    United States District Judge Graham (S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division) commented on that history during his rendering of the Capitol Square judicial opinion in 1998, where the words of the Ohio state motto ("With God All Things Are Possible") was objected to because they were words spoken by Jesus.

    The following quote are the words of Judge Graham:

    History has played a significant role in the Court's interpretation of the Establishment Clause. The average citizen, as well as the constitutional scholar, understands that the history surrounding the writing of the Constitution sheds light on what it meant to the men who wrote it, and to the people of the United States who ratified it through their duly elected representatives. Those who oppose government acknowledgment of religion invariably invoke the now famous words of Thomas Jefferson who said that the Establishment Clause was intended to erect "a wall of separation" between church and state. [...] Many Americans assume that Jefferson played an instrumental role in the adoption of the First Amendment and that his metaphor is an authoritative comment on its meaning. This belief, which has reached the status of a civic myth, has contributed to public confusion about the history and meaning of the First Amendment. In fact, Jefferson had no role in the drafting of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Indeed, he was not even in the country; he was in France, where he served as United States minister to the French government from 1785 to 1789. Jefferson's comment about a wall of separation was contained in a letter he wrote more than a decade after the Bill of Rights was ratified by the states. [footnote 14]

[footnote 14:] Jefferson's famous comment was contained in a letter he penned on January 1, 1802 to a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut which had written to congratulate him on his election as the third president of the United States. [* * * *]

    Jefferson, who was the third president of the United States, was an advocate of the anti-religious philosophy of the European Enlightenment. [footnote 15]

[footnote 15:] [* * * *] The Enlightenment was an 18th century philosophical movement which advocated a rationalistic world view and the substitution of secularism for the prevailing Christian world view. [* * *]

His position on the role of religion in public life stands in stark contrast to that of the nation's first president. [footnote 16]

[footnote 16:] Nevertheless, Jefferson's wall of separation was not so high that it prevented him from supporting religion when it served secular purposes he considered important such as pacifying the Indians or encouraging moral behavior by students at his beloved University of Virginia. As President, he signed laws and treaties which provided public funding to support missionaries and churches in Indian territory and as Rector of the University of Virginia, a state institution, he promulgated regulations which included the admonition that students were "expected to attend religious worship." [* * *]

George Washington was not only the first Chief Executive but he was also the President of the Constitutional Convention and presided over that body's deliberations as it drafted the Constitution. He was the most highly respected public figure of the day. In his first inaugural address, Washington deliberately made prayer a part of his first official act as President:

[I]t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes.


[* * * * *]

    The most compelling evidence of the meaning of the Establishment Clause is to be found in the actions of the Congress which drafted it and submitted it to the states for their approval. The first Congress is "a Congress whose constitutional decisions have always been regarded, as they should be regarded, as of the greatest weight in the interpretation of that fundamental instrument." Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 52, 174-175, 47 S.Ct. 21, 71 L.Ed. 160 (1926). [* * *] On the same day it approved the language of the First Amendment, the first Congress urged the president to declare "a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favours of Almighty God." [* * *] On the very same day it approved the language of the Establishment Clause, the first Congress reenacted the Northwest Ordinance. Article 3 thereof states:

Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

Northwest Territory Ordinance, Art. III, 1 Stat. 51n, 52n (1787). Congress made adherence to the Northwest Ordinance a condition of statehood.

    The actions of the first Congress were a clear signal to the states that the members of that first Congress believed it was proper under the Establishment Clause for the federal government to acknowledge religion in various ways. The states ratified the First Amendment after the first Congress took these actions, and no records exist indicating that the states voiced any disagreement with Congress's interpretation of the Establishment Clause as evidenced by its actions. Thus, it is fair to assume that the Bill of Rights was ratified with the understanding that those actions were proper under the First Amendment.

    That this nation was founded on transcendent values which flow from a belief in a Supreme Being seems beyond dispute. The Declaration of Independence, which specifically invokes the deity on four occasions states:

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--...

Washington, in his farewell address said:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.... Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. [...]

John Adams, the nation's second president, said:

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other" [...]

In Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 313, 72 S.Ct. 679, 96 L.Ed. 954 (1952), the Supreme Court said, "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being."

    In School Dist. of Abington Tp., 374 U.S. at 213, 83 S.Ct. 1560, the Supreme Court said:


The fact that the Founding Fathers believed devotedly that there was a God and that the unalienable rights of man were rooted in Him is clearly evidenced in their writings, from the Mayflower Compact to the Constitution itself.

    Thirty-five years ago, Justice Goldberg warned that "untutored devotion to the concept of neutrality" can lead to "a brooding and pervasive devotion to the secular and a passive, or even active, hostility to the religious," a result "not only not compelled by the Constitution, but ... prohibited by it." [* * *] School Dist. of Abington Tp., 374 U.S. at 306, 83 S.Ct. 1560. I believe that striking down Ohio's motto "With God all things are possible" would evince the kind of brooding devotion to the secular which Justice Goldberg warned against.

Capitol Square, 20 F.Supp.2d at 1183-1185 (internal citations and some footnotes are omitted).


    This reasoning was echoed by Judge Fernandez in Newdow when he talked about "the fevered eye of persons who most fervently would like to drive all tincture of religion out of the public life of our polity." Fernandez went on to say that whereas removal of the phrases "will cool the febrile nerves of a few", it will be done "at the cost of removing the healthy glow conferred upon many citizens when the forbidden verses, or phrases, are uttered, read, or seen."

    In other words, it takes away other people's rights.


Belcher Foundation articles on similar topics:

Signs of Good Cheer

Ten Commandments Issue Unresolved

Jefferson's role as U.S. minister to France (mentioned in Judge Graham's opinion)--for the global implications of this ministry and the ministry that preceded it, see:

The Trilateral Center: Benjamin Franklin and the New World Order

Objections to signs of good cheer such as "under God" or "With God all things are possible" are expressions of a desire not to see God's name mentioned in a public place (as if that could somehow diminish His power or presence), and/or they are denials of the fact that such expressions were historically employed throughout America's past, from Colonial times to the present

    However, such objections to the mere mention of God's name demonstrate "hostility to the religious" (to use the words of Justice Goldberg)--specifically, hostility to the monotheistic God and His Son, Jesus Christ.

    Such objections are not tolerance--they are hostility.

    But, in counterpoint, is Jesus' statement: "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33, King James Version).

    Jesus' viewpoint is all about good cheer--taking heart, and being of good courage when confronted by hostility. The victory belongs to Jesus, because He overcame evil with good.

    And all the misguided objections to pledges of allegiance and signs of good cheer will never change that or take that away.



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