Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Fisking Phyllis

The only two sure things in life are death and taxes, the old saying goes. I think by now we can safely add a third certainty – reading a Phyllis Schlafly column will leave you baffled that someone could write such nonsense with a straight face. Her latest column, about the Supreme Court’s current pledge of allegiance case, is a potpourri of stupidity from beginning to end. To wit:

A lower federal court threw out Newdow’s suit because he does not have custody of his daughter. The Supreme Court could follow suit, or the justices could decide, once and for all, if the words “under God” are enough to change the meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance from a patriotic oath into a prayer.

Wrong, Phyllis. The case has nothing to do with whether the pledge is transformed into a “prayer” by the addition of the words “under God”. The question is whether it constitutes an endorsement of religion. There are lots of things that the government could mandate that would violate the establishment clause without being prayers.

Before going insane, Friedrich Nietzsche declared, “God is dead.” Atheists want the Supreme Court to make it official.

Wrong again, Phyllis. The absence of government endorsement for the existence of God does not equate to a positive statement that “God is dead”. Prior to Congress adding the words “under God” to the pledge in 1954, was the pledge declaring God to be dead? Of course not. And removing those words now wouldn’t make that declaration either. This is a statement that could be made only by an idiot or a demagogue. Take your pick which I think Phyllis is.

The Supreme Court in 1962 banned prayer from public schools, and now schools are awash in drugs, sex, and violence.


Ah, I love this argument. It’s moronic both in premise and conclusion. The premise is flatly false. The Supreme Court did not ban prayer from public schools in 1962. The Supreme Court banned mandatory, government-sponsored prayers in public schools in 1962. Every teacher and every student is entirely free to pray in school so long as they don’t disrupt class time to do so. Millions of teachers and students pray in school every day. It is also entirely legal for student bible studies and prayer clubs to use school facilities before and after school to pray to their heart’s content, and there are thousands of such clubs around the country. If Phyllis really thinks that the Supreme Court banned prayer from public schools in 1962, I imagine she has a hard time explaining why so many people DO pray in schools on a daily basis.

It’s equally stupid to claim that taking mandatory, government-sponsored prayer out of schools led to the schools being “awash in drugs, sex and violence”. There is no correlation between violent societies and mandatory religious rituals performed in schools. In fact, the only correlation there is in the western world between religious belief and violent societies is a negative one for Schlafly’s purposes. The US is a far more religious nation than any nation in Europe with the exception of Ireland – a far higher percentage believe in God, believe in heaven and hell, and attend church, according to every survey ever done – yet the US has 2-3 times as much violence as any European nation. If you’re going to make these quick easy causal statements, you’d be more justified in claiming that religious belief leads to violence (a claim I would also say is false, by the way).

The courageous Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore was even removed from office for displaying the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama State Courthouse.

Wrong again, Phyllis. Are you going for some kind of world record for making false statements? Roy Moore was not removed from office for displaying the ten commandments. Roy Moore was removed from office for publicly refusing to comply with a federal court order in a case that he knew he was going to lose – he’d already lost the same case over a much smaller display when he was a lowly district court judge. Public officials that refuse to follow legal court orders get removed from office, regardless of whether you think he was right or not.

But wait! She actually gets one thing right in this screed! She is correct to point out that the Solicitor General’s defense of the pledge as currently written is fundamentally wrong:

Or maybe the court will duck the dilemma by declaring that “under God” has no religious meaning, a ruling that would outrage Americans who are quite sure that God is alive and well.

Of course, she’s not smart enough to see that by admitting that the phrase “under God” is an explicitly religious statement, she is making Newdow’s case for him. The government has no business, under the first amendment, endorsing specifically religious statements like that. And she’s also wrong that this will outrage Americans who support the pledge. I don’t think the religious right rank and file cares what the court says about it, as long as the words stay there. Whatever basis is offered for the decision, as long as the decision is viewed as a defeat for atheists (never mind that briefs on behalf of Newdow have been filed by numerous religious organizations, that interrupts a perfectly inspiring good-vs-evil story), Schlafly’s followers will cheer it. She ends with this bizarre statement:

God is not so easily defeated in America.

Ah, yes. You see, this case isn’t about belief in God, or beliefs about God, or the right to have government endorsement of belief in God, a defeat would be a defeat for God himself! That strikes me as rather odd, though, since logically that would mean that all those other decisions that Phyllis so gleefully rants against were also defeats for God. For an omnipotent being, he sure does get his butt kicked in court a lot.

Comments

  1. #1 raj
    April 13, 2004

    This is nice, but recognize that Schlafly is already preaching to the brainwashed. And making a pretty penny while doing so. She was washed up as an entertainer before she hooked onto the culture wars thing. She’s been laughing all the way to the bank after she did so.

  2. #2 Reed A. Cartwright
    April 13, 2004

    A lower federal court did not throw out Newdow’s suit because of custody. Custody was only raised after Newdow won in the Ninth Circuit’s court of appeals. In its appealed the school district argued that the case should be sent back to lower courts to consider the custody case, but the Ninth Circuit declined the appeal [i]en banc[/i].

    Her first sentance is lie, I don’t have much hope for the rest of it.

  3. #3 Aaron Baker
    April 14, 2004

    This is fine so far as it goes. But remember that Schlafly (if I correctly understand her views) rejects most of the Supreme Court’s precedents on the Establishment Clause. It’s not clear then to me that it’s stupid or inconsistent for her to insist that “under God” has religious meaning, because (if she’s a fairly typical originalist) she doesn’t think the First Amendment prohibits such endorsements of religion. Again, I’m not an expert on her views, but she might believe that the Establishment Clause merely bans governmental (state as well as federal?) establishment of a church. Incidentally, there’s good reason to think that the Clause had just such a narrow meaning for its author and his original audience. I for one have no problem with a much broader prohibition on government endorsement of religion, but I’m not an originalist.

    You could have commented further on the coercive elements of our charming national pseudo-oath. My child and I may be atheists (or Buddhists for that matter), and every Goddamned day she has to line up with her little friends to recite a pledge endorsing a figment of Near Eastern mythology. She’s not told she can sit it out; and if she does, she’s opening herself up to embarrassment or even harassment. (And don’t get me started on “justice for all”; even a lot of children know that’s a crock.)

    I don’t usually care for evangelizing atheists; but Mr. Newdow’s crusade has reminded me just how creepy the Pledge is. I hated it as a 13-year old leftwing firebrand; and I hate it now, as a much more conservative adult.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    April 14, 2004

    Aaron writes:

    This is fine so far as it goes. But remember that Schlafly (if I correctly understand her views) rejects most of the Supreme Court’s precedents on the Establishment Clause. It’s not clear then to me that it’s stupid or inconsistent for her to insist that “under God” has religious meaning, because (if she’s a fairly typical originalist) she doesn’t think the First Amendment prohibits such endorsements of religion. Again, I’m not an expert on her views, but she might believe that the Establishment Clause merely bans governmental (state as well as federal?) establishment of a church. Incidentally, there’s good reason to think that the Clause had just such a narrow meaning for its author and his original audience. I for one have no problem with a much broader prohibition on government endorsement of religion, but I’m not an originalist.

    I think it’s a mistake to attribute that to originalists, in general. There are different types of originalists. This would likely be the position of someone from the Bork/Scalia type of originalism, but not a more consistent originalist like Randy Barnett.

    I also think it’s a mistake to claim that its “author and his original audience” had one view on it. Madison was the author, and his view on separation was pretty much exactly how it is conceived today. He even opposed congressional and military chaplains as a violation of the first amendment, which is more staunchly separationist than even the staunchest separationist today, and certainly that goes far beyond the notion that the first amendment only banned a de jure establishment of a specific church. And Madison famously wrote in his Detached Memoranda that it was designed to ban “everything like” an establishment of religion. His audience and fellow founders were divided, some agreeing with that strong a stand against establishment, while others felt that it was okay for government to make general declarations as long as they were not coercive, such as thanksgiving proclamations.

    I don’t usually care for evangelizing atheists; but Mr. Newdow’s crusade has reminded me just how creepy the Pledge is. I hated it as a 13-year old leftwing firebrand; and I hate it now, as a much more conservative adult.

    I’m opposed to any and all such loyalty oaths. I find the whole concept creepy and totalitarian in nature. As far as Newdow is concerned, I think he’s pretty much a publicity whore and a guy who is using his child as a conduit for the chips on his shoulder (as is her mother, of course). I find him fairly unsavory. But as William Safire said a couple weeks ago, the only thing he has going for him is that he’s right. As a matter of constitutional law, he’s dead right.

  5. #5 Aaron Baker
    April 14, 2004

    Well, my education is continuing, I see. I didn’t know abt the Detached Memoranda and had a quick look at them. I’m not sure I’d conclude from them that Madison’s view on establishment was “pretty much exactly how it’s conceived today”; he is, after all, closely (and plausibly) analogizing the appointment of chaplains by Congress to establishment of a church by Congress. But obviously his view was broader than I thought.

    As to varieties of originalists, I over-generalized. No doubt there are lots of disagreements among them. Do you have much doubt, tho’, of how Shafly’s aligned? I remain unconvinced that she’s contradicting herself. (I’d prefer it if she WERE stupid, frankly.)

    Newdow a publicity whore? Maybe, but there was smthg very stirring abt his rejoinder to Justice Rehnquist, abt atheists not being able to get into Congress. Given the widespread prejudice SHOULD make obnoxious pains in the ass of themselves. Why just sit there and put up with it?

  6. #6 Aaron Baker
    April 14, 2004

    I garbled the next to last sentence: “given the widespread prejudice against them, unbelievers SHOULD etc.”

  7. #7 Ed Brayton
    April 14, 2004

    Well, my education is continuing, I see. I didn’t know abt the Detached Memoranda and had a quick look at them. I’m not sure I’d conclude from them that Madison’s view on establishment was “pretty much exactly how it’s conceived today”; he is, after all, closely (and plausibly) analogizing the appointment of chaplains by Congress to establishment of a church by Congress. But obviously his view was broader than I thought.

    Madison’s position was pretty much identical to mine, and to most modern separationists. He issued one thanksgiving proclamation when he was in office, which he later said was his biggest mistake. He clearly was the staunchest of the separationists, including even Jefferson, who was not as consistent as Madison in this regard.

    As to varieties of originalists, I over-generalized. No doubt there are lots of disagreements among them. Do you have much doubt, tho’, of how Shafly’s aligned? I remain unconvinced that she’s contradicting herself. (I’d prefer it if she WERE stupid, frankly.)

    Oh, I have no doubt of where Schlafly stands. But I don’t for a moment believe she is a genuine “originalist”, just like I don’t believe that either Bork or Scalia is. I think they use originalism when it leads to the result they want, and they ignore it when it doesn’t. I’ve addressed this numerous times in previous postings, especially regarding the 9th amendment. And by the way, I don’t think she’s stupid because she’s contradicting herself. I made the point of saying that she often writes stupid things, things that would be said only by either an idiot or a demagogue. I don’t know which she is, but I tend to go with demagogue.

    Newdow a publicity whore? Maybe, but there was smthg very stirring abt his rejoinder to Justice Rehnquist, abt atheists not being able to get into Congress. Given the widespread prejudice SHOULD make obnoxious pains in the ass of themselves. Why just sit there and put up with it?

    Atheists can’t get into Congress because of the prejudices of Americans, most of whom are so dull-minded that, despite the fact that they don’t even understand their own religion very well, anyone who doesn’t believe like them just must be someone horrible. Unfortunately, atheists making obnoxious pains in the ass of themselves only makes it even less likely that they would get elected. I don’t have a solution to how they could get elected, as it doesn’t particularly matter to me whether they are. Give me smart people who understand the proper role of government, regardless of their religious beliefs.

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