Stiff Right Jab: Why One Nation Under God Matters
Yesterday´s 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to strike down the Pledge of Allegiance as unconstitutional, because the clause, "one nation under God," offends an atheist, reminds me of the thoughtless comments of a group of public school teachers two years ago, at the height of the controversy over the possible reintroduction of the Ten Commandments into the public school system, who came to the one-sided consensus that teaching the Ten Commandments had little or no value in the classroom.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Numerous principles of Constitutional law rest on the foundation belief that in America, God presides - here are three: 1. Our rejection of kings. 2. Our belief in the preeminence of Higher Law, and thus, inalienable rights and a republican form of government to protect those rights. 3. Our belief in equality before the law.
America's Rejection of Kings
Of all the powerful arguments against a belief in kings, Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," tops the list. In it, Paine rejected king's and kingly prerogatives via an appeal to scripture, reason, and history, but primarily scripture. He noted, "The Almighty hath here (in the Bible) entered his protest against monarchical government."
"Near three thousand years passed away, from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. [Before] then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases) was a kind of republic, administered by a judge, and the elders of the tribes [who were freely elected, and a Seventy, who were the equivalent of a Senate]. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts."
"Government by kings," said Paine, was not the invention of God - as skeptics contend today - but "was first introduced into the world by the heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom."
Israel first dabbled with the idea of kings, he stated, when they solicited the great general Gideon for such a post. "Rule thou over us, thou and thy son, and thy son's son." But Gideon, a type and a shadow of another great general, Washington, rigorously refused this tempting offer; said he, "[only] the Lord shall rule over you." Gideon, not only "declined the offer," but he "denied their right to give it, " for absolute power in the hands of any man was an affront to God.
God must be the only King, and that was important. Paine continued: "But where, say some, is the king of America? I'll tell you, friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Great Britain.
"Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the Divine Law, the Word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve monarchy, that in America the law is king. For as in absolute government the king is law, so in free countries the law ought to be king; and there ought to be no other."
This belief that God and His law were Supreme, repudiated monarchy and inspired the colonists to believe that no man or group of men should ever be trusted with unchecked power. It taught the colonists a principle, students need know now, that even good men are corrupted by untrammeled centralized power and the results of such blind trust are catastrophic!
And so we have reason number one "one nation under God" is important - it means no Kings, and no state to be worshipped in America! What´s wrong with that?
Higher Law, the Foundation of a Republic
Monarchies tend to tyrannize the people, and strip them of their rights, so do democracies; this is so because pure democracies create rights and give governments power to give or take away civil and personal rights according to majority vote - plain and simple, or often, by way of a noisy minority. If the majority, or noisy minority want to strip away your rights, so be it in a democracy.
We forget it was not the king of England, only, but the freely elected Parliament that deprived the colonists of their rights. Jefferson wrote in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence: "They [the English] have by their free election, reestablished [the disturbers of our harmony] in power." The British commons (the freely elected branch) could have exercised their check, at a key moment, against a measure which pushed the colonists to complete unity and war against their mother country, but they didn´t. "The bill passed the commons by a vote of more than four to one," records Bancroft. The reason? "The British government inflamed the passions of the English people against America."
Jefferson rejected a repeat of that possibility with this Declaration:
"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 [especially Religious Liberty], and the Pursuit of Happiness [Private Property]."
Jefferson, therefore, appealed to a Higher Law, pronouncing the Biblical conviction that these rights are the pre-existent gifts of God to all his children; rights that no king, no House of Lords, no House of Commons can abridge, eradicate, or claim to create.
And so we have reason number two: In order for men´s rights to be preserved and protected from Kings or the Democratic Mob, there must be an acknowledgment of a Higher Law which declares these rights Inalienable. The kind of government which does this best, the Founder´s proclaim, was a Republic, for a Republic is ruled by law, not merely the whims of the one, the few, or the many. So what´s wrong with that?
Equality Before the Law
Yet, recognition of God as Our Father and the only King in the Universe roused another political leap for man - or as Jefferson believed - a political return to "ancient principles" - one of them being the conviction already noted, that "all men are created equal."
This was no inconsequential improvement, and Jefferson did not happen upon it alone. The principle was deeply rooted in the religious theology and history of a very religiously minded group of colonists.
1762 election sermon by Boston Reverend Abraham Williams spelled it out: "Men [are] naturally equal, [having] descended from a common parent (who is God)." Or as the apostle Peter put it: "God is no respecter of persons but hath made of one blood all nations under Heaven."
From this perspective, very important principles of law emerged. Children of God, endowed with agency, higher then the beasts, ought to be free, and ought to have an equal right to consent to the laws that govern them. It also meant as all men would one day stand before the bar of Heaven to be judged according to their works, regardless of who they were, rich or poor, president or pauper, so should it be on Earth.
This meant equality before the law, or: no special immunities, no privileged political or religious classes.
And so we have reason number three: "One nation under God" means, we are all equally his children, equally free, and equally accountable - and thus earthly governments ought to honor this equality. So what´s wrong with that?
Absolutely Nothing. "One nation under God" is the chief cornerstone of our liberty." If we expect to remain a people without Kings or a State to worship; and a people ruled by fixed laws which protect inalienable rights; and a people who are, each of us, equal before that law - we had better make up our minds that "one nation under God" is not offensive, not unconstitutional, and not unnecessary, but essential for believers and unbelievers alike.
Steve Farrell Archive (with a few co-written by Steven Montgomery. Not in chronological order.) >