But we know there’s always going to be a trickle-down effect [from his tweets about NFL players refusing to stand for the National Anthem] with Trump – and indeed, now students are paying the price. Within the last two weeks, a high school football coach in Tennessee told his players they have to stand for the national anthem, a Louisiana principal threatened to remove student athletes from their teams if they didn’t stand during the national anthem and the superintendent of the entire parish, who supervises almost three dozen schools, then said he supported this policy and suggested it would apply to all of his schools.
Before more students’ rights are threatened, this needs to stop. Not only does it go against basic American principles to threaten students about speaking up – it’s also blatantly unconstitutional for a public school to do this. The Supreme Court made this clear in 1943 when it decided the landmark case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. In that case, school children who were Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to salute the flag because it was against their religion to do so, and as a result they were expelled or threatened with expulsion.
The Supreme Court very forcefully declared that punishing students for not participating in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional. The decision had nothing to do with the students’ religion and everything to do with their constitutional right to freedom of speech. As the Court wrote, in language that has become one of the most important principles of modern free speech law:
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”
Whether for students in homeroom being forced to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, or student athletes being forced to stand for the national anthem, the principle remains the same: Public schools cannot force them to participate. As is clear at the end of the above quote, there are no exceptions. (Private schools are different, as the Constitution doesn’t apply to them.)
Other parts of the opinion are worth noting as well. The Court did not ignore the fact that the pledge incites deep emotions, especially during wartime (when the case was decided). To the justices, that just meant that the students’ free speech rights mattered even more: “Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”
The Court also explained that true patriots welcome dissent and protest, even when it touches the flag. To the Court, true patriots recognize that the U.S. is strong enough to appeal to people on its own, without mandates from above: “To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.”
Often in the law, especially constitutional law, rules are unclear and there is a lot of wiggle room. That’s what makes my day job teaching these issues interesting. But here, the answer is stunningly simple. Public schools cannot force students to participate in the flag salute or national anthem. Schools doing so in the wake of the current national conversation about NFL players are inviting an expensive lawsuit, a lawsuit they will lose.
— David S. Cohen, Rolling Stone, What the Supreme Court Says About Sitting Out the National Anthem, October 6, 2017
Earlier today, I stumbled upon the Facebook wall of a Fundamentalist Christian woman my wife and I attended church with in the late 1970s. After reading her loved-filled words about liberals, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama, I took a few screen clips to share with readers of this blog. Enjoy.
I am someone who is committed to social and economic progress for all Americans. I oppose racism, bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia wherever they are found, including in the groups and political parties I support. Recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia have left me increasingly feeling as if I am a stranger in this blessed land of ours. Nazis, KKK members, and white supremacists — some of whom were armed with assault rifles — marched in the streets as if we still lived in the 1950s. Counter-protesters pushed back at this vile and ugly display of Donald Trump/Steve Bannon-inspired white nationalism, but I was dismayed to see photographs of people who supposedly have much in common Martin Luther King, Jr. carrying firearms and resorting to violence to get their message across. During President Obama’s eight years in office, great strides were made in areas such as gays serving in the military and same-sex marriage. As a liberal, I thought, better days lie ahead. Thanks to Bernie Sanders and others who hold Democratic Socialist values, the plight of American workers will be improved, health care will be reformed and expanded, and the economic stranglehold the rich and corporations have on the working class will be broken. I naïvely thought that the influence of lobbyists and corporate donations on our political process would finally be ended. Instead, white and Evangelical America rose up and voted Donald Trump into office — the most inept, unqualified man to ever be elected president. Overnight, President Trump has rolled back decades of social progress, dumped billions of dollars of new money into the military-industrial complex, attacked minorities, and used the power of the Federal government to persecute and deport people who are in the United States illegally. Worse yet, President Trump has increased troop levels in the Middle East, threatened to attack Iran and Venezuela, and has us on the cusp of nuclear war with North Korea. And now it is increasingly likely that the President and/or people closely associated with him colluded with Russia to subvert our democratic process.
I find the current state of affairs to be quite depressing, so I try to do things that distract my mind from Trumpmania. Last Saturday, Polly and I, along with our oldest daughter, drove to Napoleon, Ohio to attend the Henry County Fair. We met our two oldest sons and their families at the fair. My sons love tractor pulls, and since Polly and I had never attended such an event, I thought attending the NTPA — (National Tractor Pullers Association) sanctioned tractor pull would be a delightful distraction. Little did I know that Christian nationalism would be front and center at the pull.
It comes as no surprise that the crowd was white. During the four-plus hours I sat in the stands, I saw all of one black person. An Asian family sat in back of us for a short while, but after having their fill of high-horsepowered machines, they got up and left. Prior to the start of the event, I expected the announcer would ask everyone to stand, remove their hats, place their right hands over their hearts, and face the flag as someone screeched out the Star Spangled Banner. While I personally despise the singing of the National Anthem (and God Bless America) at sporting events — a tradition dating back to the World Wars — I acquiesce, removing my hat and placing it over my heart. Unfortunately, minutes — long, painful minutes — before the singing of the National Anthem, the announcer launched into a diatribe better suited for the brown shirts In Charlottesville who were, at the same time, showing their support for nationalism, militarism, and Christianity.
First, the announcer had everyone stand, remove their hats, and place their right hands over their hearts, not for the singing of the National Anthem, but for the saying of a sectarian prayer to the Christian God. He demanded everyone conform, and then launched into a full-blown — are we at an Evangelical church? — masturbatory prayer to Jesus. The prayer was completed with the announcer saying, and all God’s people said AMEN. The stands reverberated with an orgasmic AMEN! with virtually everyone around me lending their vocal approval. No shock here. This is rural Northwest Ohio, the land of Christian God, guns, American militarism, and overt displays of nationalism.
Having attended countless sporting events over the years, I have had to listen to innumerable inane, stupid — and at times hilarious — Christian prayers. I was not, however, ready for what happened next. Once the prayer was finished, the announcer asked everyone to remain standing for the next ritual, the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance. Before leading the crowd in a profession of fealty to the United States and to the Christian God, the announcer went on a several minute-long harangue about how great America was, how awesome our military was, and how parents need to teach their children the importance of blind, nationalistic patriotism.
Once the Pledge of Allegiance was duly uttered, it was time for the singing of the National Anthem. I thought, finally escape looms near. Unfortunately, everyone in attendance was forced to listen to part three of the announcer’s Ain’t ‘merica Great sermon first, and then the appointed singer sang the National Anthem. Thinking my hell on earth was finally over, I started to sit down, only to find out that the announcer wasn’t done. Since there were Canadians in attendance at the tractor pull, it was deemed appropriate to play the Canadian National Anthem. Thankfully, no one was called on to sing O Canada.
As I always do when attending sporting events, I refused to remove my hat for the praying of the prayer to the Christian God. This God is not my God, and I find such displays of sectarianism at events open to the public offensive. As far as I could see in front of me and to the left and right, I was the only man who refused to uncover his head. The saying of the Pledge of Allegiance elicited the same response from me. I refuse to pledge my allegiance to America, its flag, or the Christian God. I know the saying of the Pledge has its roots in the anti-communist McCarthyism of the 1950s. As a Christian, I refused to say the pledge because my only allegiance was to Jesus. These days, I refuse because of the connection of the Pledge to nationalism and militarism.
I am sure some readers might wonder how, constitutionally, the announcer could get by with the sectarian prayer and sermonizing. Ohio county fairs are actually private events. Agricultural boards rent the fairgrounds from their respective counties and are free to do whatever they want. I learned this years ago when I got into a skirmish in Southeast Ohio with the Perry County sheriff and county fair officials. I had gone, along with a group of people from the church I pastored at the time, to the fairgrounds to hand out tracts and preach. The local sheriff, with whom I had a running battle, threatened to arrest me if I didn’t immediately stop what I was doing and leave the fairgrounds. I refused, threatening both him and the fair board with a lawsuit for violating my first amendment rights. They backed down, but a few weeks later I received a letter from the Ohio Attorney General informing me the Ohio fairs were private events and as such I could be arrested for trespassing if I continued to hand out tracts and preach. Ironically, Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) was permitted to have on fair property a train caboose-like vehicle they used to trap children into watching movies or other forms of entertainment so they then could be evangelized. (At the Henry County Fair, there was a man preaching and handing out tracts. He was allowed to do so unmolested.)
The tractor pull itself was quite entertaining, and both Polly and I enjoyed watching the loud, thunderous machines pull a weighted sled down the track. My sons informed me that this Saturday’s NTPA national event at the Wood County fairgrounds in Bowling Green, Ohio will even be worse when it comes to worship of the Christian God and the promotion of American exceptionalism and nationalism. Not only will there be a prayer and a pledge, there will also be the playing of numerous patriotic country songs. The songs of flag-wavers such as Toby Keith and Lee Greenwood will blare across the pull grounds, as men and women who proudly wear the redneck label thank God for horsepower and the smell of racing fuel. I’ll pass, thank you.
In the 1950s, thanks to men such as there’s-a-red-under-every-bed Catholic Congressman Joseph McCarthy, American Christianity’s God found a home in the Pledge of Allegiance and on the back of our paper money. Under God was added to the Pledge (1954) and In God we Trust was added to American paper currency (1957). In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill into law that stated the national motto was In God we Trust. These blatantly unconstitutional acts are still with us today. In 1954, then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson proposed an amendment to U.S. tax code that would forbid churches and other non-profit, tax exempt institutions (501(c)(3)) from endorsing and campaigning for political candidates. This amendment is currently part of the tax code.
Under the Internal Revenue Code, all section 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Contributions to political campaign funds or public statements of position (verbal or written) made on behalf of the organization in favor of or in opposition to any candidate for public office clearly violate the prohibition against political campaign activity. Violating this prohibition may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status and the imposition of certain taxes.
Certain activities or expenditures may not be prohibited depending on the facts and circumstances. For example, certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.
On the other hand, voter education or registration activities with evidence of bias that (a) would favor one candidate over another; (b) oppose a candidate in some manner; or (c) have the effect of favoring a candidate or group of candidates, will constitute prohibited participation or intervention.
The Internal Revenue Service provides resources to exempt organizations and the public to help them understand the prohibition. As part of its examination program, the IRS also monitors whether organizations are complying with the prohibition.
Churches and their pastors KNOW that U.S. law forbids directly endorsing or campaigning for political candidates. They also know that they are free to ignore the law because the IRS has shown that it has no appetite for going after churches and pastors who spend time and money whoring for political candidates. Evangelicals, sensing that the Obama Administration will not revoke their tax exemption, now want Congress to overturn the Johnson Amendment, giving churches and pastors the right to keep their blanket tax exemption AND endorse, work for, and financially support political candidates.
In recent days, Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump has said that, if elected, he would work to repeal the Johnson Amendment. I agree. I hope Congress will remove this amendment from the U.S. Tax Code. I also hope they will strip from the tax code the clergy housing allowance and any/all preferences churches and religious institutions currently receive. It is time for poor, helpless churches and their pastors to be cast out into the world to live by the same rules and laws that govern other businesses. Yes, other businesses, because churches are, above all else, profit-driven businesses. The charitable, public service parts of what churches do is minuscule. Churches exist, for the most part, to serve their customers — members and prospective members. If churches wish to remain tax-exempt, then the bulk of their income should be spent on charitable works. As it stands now, churches spend most of their money on buildings, salaries, benefits, and programs that only serve congregants.
If, as Donald Trump and many Evangelicals/Catholics want, the Johnson Amendment is overturned, churches and religious institutions should then be required to file business income tax returns and govern themselves according to current business law. This means churches and religious groups should also be required to pay sales tax, real estate tax, and every other tax businesses pay. Imagine the trillions of dollars that will make its way into local, state, and federal government coffers.
Churches and pastors should be careful about what they wish for. If churches are required to play by the same rules as businesses, I suspect that there would be a lot of church bankruptcies and mergers. Good news, to be sure, for those of us who are tired of churches receiving unconstitutional favoritism and financial support via tax exemptions, tuition payments, reduced postage charges, and other tax benefits that are only available to churches and religious institutions. But, bad news for those few churches and pastors who really do care about the social welfare of others.
Churches have always been permitted to support ballot initiatives and issues.
Pastors, outside of their official capacity, are free to endorse candidates. Unfortunately, this line has become blurred, and an increasing number of pastors and parachurch leaders now think they can endorse candidates without restriction. Realizing that they are breaking the law, these so-called men of God often add to their pronouncements, I say this as an individual, not in my official capacity as a pastor. And then they smile and wink.
Churches, by the way, do not have to file for 501(c)(3) tax status. They are, by default, considered tax exempt. Churches do not have to file any documents in order to be exempt.
Evangelicals are quite specific when it comes to God. There is ONE God, their God, the triune God revealed in the Christian Bible. All other gods are false gods. While it is increasingly common for Evangelicals to embrace Catholics as fellow Christians, it was not that long ago that most Evangelical churches and pastors believed the Roman Catholic church was the harlot of Revelation 17 and worshipers of a false God. While it is encouraging to see some Evangelicals consider the thought that Catholics and Mormons might worship the same God as they do, the overwhelmingly majority of Evangelicals believe their God is the one, true God. No other gods need apply.
What I find interesting is how duplicitous Evangelicals can be when it comes to the mentioning of God in the founding documents of the United States, on our money, and in the Pledge of Allegiance. Evangelicals, knowing that the constitution forbids the establishment of a state church, argue before congress and the courts that the founding fathers spoke of a generic god, that the God mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance is no god in particular. And since the documents, laws, and the like use the word god in a generic sense, they do not violate the establishment clause or run afoul of the separation of church and state.
Yet, they turn right around, once they are away from the halls of congress and the courthouse, and say the use of the word God in our founding documents is in reference to the Christian God. They preach sermons and write books about America being a Christian nation. Evangelical pastors remind parishioners that the Pledge of Allegiance’s God is the Christian God. And to some degree they are right.
Did the founding fathers have a generic god in mind when they spoke and wrote of God? The simple answer is No. Now, they most certainly did not have the modern Evangelical God in mind when they used the word, but they didn’t have Islam, Judaism, or any of the other religions of the world in mind either. Their God was the Christian God. Some of them were orthodox Christians, others were deists, but no one, as far as I know, meant anything other than the Christian God.
Why is it that Evangelicals run from this fact when they speak before congress or the courts? Why do they argue that these mentions of God are generic and not a reference to any specific god? Again, the answer is quite simple. They know admitting that these documents use the word God is a specific sense weakens their argument for their continued use. If the Pledge of Allegiance or In God We Trust on our money reference a non-specific God, then it makes it harder for atheists and secularists to argue that these things are unconstitutional (harder, not impossible)
It’s time for Evangelicals to start telling the truth when they testify before congress or appear before state and federal courts. It’s time they admit that the God of our founding documents and much of America’s history is the Christian God. Once they do this, we can then have a legislative and legal discussion about In God We Trust on our money, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the countless other places the use of the word God implies the Christian God.
As the citizens of the United States increasingly embrace secularism and pluralism, perhaps it is time to throw the Christian God into the dust bin of human history. Whatever we might have been in 1620 or 1776, we are not that now and our government should reflect this. Certainly, Christians are free to be legislators and judges, but their religious beliefs should not play a part when they act on behalf of the people of the United States. It’s time we return to the pre-1954 Pledge of Allegiance:
Pre-1954 Card with the Pledge of Allegiance
A separate issue is whether there should be ANY pledge at all? Personally, I am against any pledge that requires me to swear fidelity to the state.