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The Separation of Church and State Debate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

On Thursday, March 11, 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the most liberal court in the history of the United States, upheld as constitutional the phrase, “One Nation Under God,” found in the Pledge of Allegiance, as well as the phrase, “In God We Trust” on our currency. The Ninth Circuit rejected two legal challenges by the rabid atheist, Michael Newdow.

Newdow is the same atheist that sued over the Pledge of Allegiance in 2002 and won his case at the 9th Circuit at that time, only to have the Supreme Court in 2004 tell him he lacked legal standing to file the suit, as he did not have custody of his daughter for whom he was filing the suit.

In this recent case, Newdow was making the claim that the phrase, “One Nation Under God,” disrespected his own religious beliefs. Yet, the 9th Circuit rejected his suit this time. The Pledge is constitutional," said Judge Carlos Bea, who wrote the majority decision. Bea said, "The Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded."

When the 9th Circuit of Appeals, which is the most frequently overturned circuit court in our nation’s history, a court that has been overturned by the US Supreme Court several times in one day, actually upholds references to God as constitutional, it gives more credence to the fact that our Constitution is not a living document.

You may recall that in November and December of 2008, I submitted two articles on the topic of the Separation of Church and State to Townhall for the purposes of clarifying just what that phrase truly means, and just what the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States truly states. In spite of the 9th Circuit’s recent ruling, the errors, falsehoods and misinterpretations of the First Amendment still continue.

Take for example the recent case of Poway United School District of San Diego, California. In January of 2007, math teacher Bradley Johnson was ordered by the school district to remove two patriotic banners from the walls of his classroom as the banners mentioned God. The school district claimed that Johnson’s banner violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Some of the phrases on the banners were actually the same phrases recently upheld by the 9th Circuit, like “In God We Trust,” and “One Nation Under God.”

I like how Bradley Johnson’s attorney put it: "Mr. Johnson doesn't proselytize to his students. These banners are patriotic expressions. None of them are from any religious text. None of them are from the Bible or the Koran. They're right out of historic significance. That's the reason why he put them up."

Some students claimed that Johnson’s banner made them feel uncomfortable. Maybe so, but that does not mean that the banners violated the Establishment Clause found in the First Amendment. The Constitution does not mention a right to not feel uncomfortable. Free speech often is uncomfortable; but in the name of the First Amendment we must sometimes tolerate what is uncomfortable.

Think about common everyday occurrences where we must endure feeling uncomfortable in the name of free speech. You may feel uncomfortable when you hear your neighbor swear or use colorful language to describe a situation. You may even feel uncomfortable when reading the newspaper and viewing an ad for a racy movie. Nevertheless, as long as we are not forced to engage in behavior we do not approve of, no law has been broken.

In America, liberty requires we tolerate feeling uncomfortable in order to allow the free expression of ideas to abound. This is precisely why Bradley Johnson won his court case after suing the Poway United School District of San Diego, California. Federal District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez ruled on February 26, 2010 that the Poway Unified School District violated Johnson's constitutional rights as found in the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, as well as Article I of the California Constitution.

According to the Thomas More Law Center, which represented Johnson in court, the school district tried to remove Johnson's banners but had no problem allowing the posting of a 35 to 40 foot string of Tibetan prayer flags with images of Buddha. The school district also had no problem with the posting of a banner of Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi's "7 Social Sins," or a poster of Muslim leader Malcolm X, along with a poster of Buddhist leader Dalai Lama. The double standard was more than obvious. Banners and posters of other religious leaders were tolerated, while the two banners posted by Bradley Johnson were censored.

Judge Benitez said in his ruling: “That God places prominently in our nation’s history does not create an Establishment Clause violation requiring curettage and disinfectant for Johnson’s public high school classroom walls. It is a matter of historical fact that our institutions and government actors have in past and present times given place to a supreme God."

Benitez went on to say: "Fostering diversity, however, does not mean bleaching out historical religious expression or mainstream morality. By squelching only Johnson’s patriotic and religious classroom banners, while permitting other diverse religious and anti-religious classroom displays, the school district does a disservice to the students of Westview High School and the federal and state constitutions do not permit this one-sided censorship."

One-sided censorship. Judge Benitez hit the nail on the head. The school district had no right to practice selective tolerance for one brand of ideas at the expense of another. Unfortunately, this selective tolerance has become a common occurrence in America today. I know this all too well having faced similar discrimination during my undergraduate and post-graduate studies.

It seems that some of the liberal elite, whether they are in the media or the academic arena, practice a form of “intolerance in the name of tolerance,” as I like to call it. By claiming that banners like Johnson’s were somehow intolerant, the school district demonstrated intolerance towards Johnson in the name of a selective tolerance towards others. It is a completely upside-down argument.

How can we truly practice tolerance if we single out those with whom we disagree? Tolerance was designed to allow people with whom we do not agree to coexist along side us. However, today’s politically correct version of tolerance is not really tolerance at all, as demonstrated by the Bradley Johnson case.

So just how is it that some on the political left get away with practicing intolerance in the name of tolerance? How does the meaning of intolerance get twisted to mean tolerance?

The practice of changing the common semantically understood meaning of words as a political tactic goes back to the Communist Party of the USA (CPUSA), which was formed in 1919. Not long after forming, the CPUSA soon began using a political tactic called psycho-politics, where the changing of the meaning of words, over time, can change the perception and the subsequent behavior of some people’s reactions to those words.

While it has taken many decades for our nation to get to the point where tolerance for references to God are viewed as intolerance, the San Diego school district where Johnson is employed proves that psycho-politics can be very powerful over time.

Think back to my first two articles on this topic. What we see is a clear case of psycho-politics put into practice when Justice Hugo Black, an FDR appointee and member of the Ku Klux Klan, changed the meaning and purpose of the First Amendment of the Constitution.

In Everson vs. Board of Education (1947), the Supreme Court took upon itself a presupposed right to redefine the meaning of the First Amendment. Justice Black and the other FDR appointees to the Supreme Court simply hijacked a phrase used by President Thomas Jefferson, “separation of church and state,” found in a letter he wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association (1802). The FDR stacked court ruled that the freedom of religious expression in the public square was actually a violation of the separation of church and state, even though this phrase is not found in the US Constitution.

In true psycho-politics style the freedom of religious expression was reinterpreted as a violation of the First Amendment. This upside down interpretation of Jefferson’s phrase, which, once again, does not even appear in the Constitution of the United States, is precisely why Bradley Johnson had to go to court to win back his First Amendment liberties.

Let’s not forget, Johnson’s banners did not coerce the worship of a deity or religious figure. The banners did not in any way ask the students to pray or read a Bible scripture. The banners simply showed time-held phrases we all see everyday like, “In God We Trust.” Yet, this was somehow looked upon by the Poway United School District of San Diego as a violation of the Establishment Clause found in the First Amendment. Meanwhile, religious statements such as Tibetan prayer flags with images of Buddha, a banner of Hindu leader Mahatma Gandhi's "7 Social Sins," a poster of Muslim leader Malcolm X, and a poster of Buddhist leader Dalai Lama were not seen as a violation of the Establishment Clause.

Another example of intolerance in the name of tolerance.

Thomas Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence that the American people are "…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...” That means our rights do not come from government; they come from God and cannot be changed. If our rights came from government, then the government could easily take them away. You know, that just might be the end game of those who practice intolerance in the name of tolerance.

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