A Letter to Dr. Michael Newdow

I wrote this as a sermonette for blogs4God. (It will be posted tomorrow morning.) For those of you who aren’t members of the portal or read the site frequently, feel free to let me know your thoughts here.

Dr. Newdow:

I have read your website, heard all your arguments, and read quite a bit on your drive to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Having grown up as a northern Californian in an atmosphere that was much more progressive than other parts of the country, I knew from an early age that I had the right not to recite the pledge — I could even name the Supreme Court ruling that gave me that right. I knew that I had the right to not say the words “under God” if I didn’t happen to believe it; but that didn’t stop me from saying it, even in the days before I actually believed in God. Even as an elementary school student, I understood that my saying of the words “under God” was not a tacit endorsement for any specific deity or even that one existed. Becoming a Christian in my teen years did not add or subtract from any feeling I had about those words in the Pledge of Allegiance. It was something con safos that we just didn’t question because we knew that we could just not say it if we had a problem with it.

As I learned more about my First Amendment right to freedom of religion, I started seeing why a lot of Christians were up in arms with the ACLU. Other faiths had the right to practice and have their symbols displayed, but my Christian holidays and symbols were banned. Prayer was not allowed in school because it might offend someone (something I did understand because I had friends of different faiths) but most people who prayer was supposed to offend were very gracious about those times when it did exist because they understood that it really meant something to some of us. I had teachers who decried the teaching of creationism in school and voraciously pursued the teaching of the theory of evolution instead. They still respected my right to believe in Genesis as long as I could understand their viewpoint and repeat it back to them on a test. In my government class, I sought to understand how the Bill of Rights affected me and how it could be used in legal decisions. I pondered a career in law but decided in favor of medicine with another switch to religious studies two years later. In Religious Studies, I looked at how religion is something that is intertwined in every aspect of our lives from our language to the way we interpret the world. One cannot merely separate themselves from religion — it is a part of our every day lives.

Having studied religion as it relates to politics and ideology, I cringed when I heard about the lunacy of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals when they sided 2-1 in your favor. It wasn’t surprising that they decided in your favor — they are overturned more frequently than any appeals court in the nation, but the decision sparked a debate over the place of those words in the Pledge of Allegiance. Democrats and Republicans were tripping over themselves to be the first to denounce the decision in a show of unity only seen before after the 9/11 attacks. That alone should have shown you the power of the change you wanted to make. Most thought that your case wouldn’t make it to the Supreme Court and would simply be overturned. I guess we underestimated your tenacity.

You have stated that “[you] have the right to be able to have my child in public school without her being indoctrinated with religious belief” and “this is supposed to be a public school and supposed to be religion-free.” I ask you then how you will handle your daughter reading the following works in her English classes:

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Billy Budd by Herman Melville
The Chronicles of Narina by C.S. Lewis (the series)
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Lord Alfred Tennyson
the poetry of Anne Bradstreet and Emily Dickinson

All of the above works of literature contain allusions to religion in some way/shape/form.

How will you handle your daughter’s world history classes as they discuss medieval Europe, a period heavily influenced by Catholicism? What about any Asian history which would cover Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Chinese religions? Are you going to request that she be excused from class as they discuss the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment? What about her government class as they discuss the bases for our laws: the Ten Commandments, Englightenment and Deist principles (as these Framers you so adore quoting were Deists)?

You seem to be fond of science. What do you plan to do when discussing the origins of the world and she asks what came before the Big Bang (if you subscribe to the theory)? How will you handle it when she asks about the naming of the planets and moons as those come from various ancient mythologies? As I stated earlier, religion is entwined in everything we do. The words “good bye” are an abbreviated form of “God be with you”. Our days of the week are named for Norse gods. There is nothing you can do to escape mention of religion or some type of deity.

Another issue that has arisen from your lawsuit is the demand that “[you] want [your] belief system to be given the same weight” as other belief systems that profess faith in a deity. Did you ever consider that doing so would limit the belief systems of others? I’m not going to claim that atheism isn’t a belief system because it is: you have to be resolute in the belief that there is no deity and no higher power, making it a religion of sorts. You believe that all references to God should be removed because you do not happen to believe in one. What about the other 265 million of us who do? Do we not have a right to include words regarding our deity in our public expressions of patriotism? You can exercise your freedom of religion by not saying the Pledge and by not participating in civic events where prayers are said. You have filed lawsuits alleging that the government will not hire atheist chaplains, but you have not managed to prove that such people could exist, let alone serve the needs of the other 90% of our population who are not atheists like yourself.

You have stated with a smug and arrogant certainty that this will be a 8-0 decision in your favor. Given the statements of the judges regarding the frivolty of your claim, I wouldn’t put money on you having a victory in this case. You might think the Bill of Rights grants you freedom from religion, but you obviously mixed up your prepositions there because your freedom of religion is guaranteed for all of us.

Above all Mr. Newdow, you have failed to see that our government’s non-endorsement of a religion is the only reason you can practice yours. If we had a state church as some would like, you would likely not be allowed to profess your atheist beliefs and would likely be required to say the Pledge of Allegiance with the added words. If you want to keep your right to your beliefs, please refrain from abusing the legal system to infringe on my right to my beliefs.


One thought on “A Letter to Dr. Michael Newdow

  1. 1. Atheism is NOT a religion. It is simply the absence of a belief. It is not denial of the existence of god (although some atheists do). Please understand this before claiming that an atheist is trying to force his/her ‘beliefs’ on you.
    2. The argument is that the state should not endorse any religious belief system, not whether learning about belief systems should be prevented. Religion is an important aspect of our human history, and the teaching of it (in a historical sense) will not be harmed by the court’s decision.

    Please also understand that I am not writing this to anger you. I feel that the term ‘atheism’ has recieved a very bad and undeserved reputation.

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