Michael Newdow just won’t quit. And I for one am damn glad. An avowed atheist doctor and lawyer, Newdow first became public enemy number one when he sued to remove “one nation under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. He won in his second attempt; his first was rejected because he filed on behalf of a daughter he didn’t have custody of. That second decision is, of course, being appealed.
Now, Newdow wants to get rid of the words “in God we trust” from our currency. His lawsuit in federal court in Sacramento was recently condemned by a bunch of congress members who filed an amicus brief on the side of keeping God in the paper and coinage we use to pay for everything from toilet paper to guns.
“While the First Amendment affords atheists complete freedom to disbelieve,” the brief from the legislators says, “it does not compel the federal judiciary to redact religious references in every area of public life in order to suit atheistic sensibilities.”
Separation of church and state is hardly an “atheistic sensibility.” It’s a cornerstone of our “democracy.” The very word “God” is a product of a particular brand of church, in this case Christianity. To place it on money or within the words of a “Pledge of Allegiance” implies an endorsement. Just like putting “In Coke-a-Cola we trust.” Replace the word “God” with “Allah” or “Buddha” or “Ra” and you get what I’m talking about. “God” is not a neutral term for a belief in some higher power. If it is, then we should make it clearer by stating: “In a higher power we trust.” Or, to be more PC, “In a god or goddess, whatever or whoever he, she or it is, we trust.” Of course, we could simply list every deity from every culture on this planet. That shouldn’t be more than a few thousand. We could always print their names in point 2 type. We could issue magnifying glasses with each bill so that people can read them and be inspired by the fact that we are deity-fearing people.
As an atheist, I don’t want to see anybody’s supreme being listed on my money, mentioned in the Pledge or even displayed in swaddling clothes in some life-size manager on public property. Americans are addicted to religion. It’s everywhere. President George Bush mentions his deity in his public speeches. People discuss the god-man on TV all the time, arguing about who really knows what he says and whether he used Word or AppleWorks to type the Bible. Preachers blame Katrina, tsunamis and other natural disasters on this guy in the sky, saying that they are his wrath for gay marriage and abortion. Schools in some places are forced to teach “creationism” along with evolution. The Kansas State School Board even nixed the teaching of Darwin’s theories altogether. Next stop: the Earth is flat.
Michael Newdow is a breath of fresh air. Not that what he’s doing is so revolutionary. He’s merely reminding us of a fundamental of our Constitution: That when it comes to matters of the state, there is no God.
It can’t get simpler than that.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca is a radical atheist, southern Italian, working-class, queer performer, activist and writer.