April 24, 2013

Professor Isaac Kramnick Reflects on Ubiquity of Religion in Politics

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Religion is ubiquitous in U.S. politics and American public life, Prof. Isaac Kramnick, government, said at his talk, “America Under God?” Wednesday.

In his speech, Kramnick focused on the large role religion plays in most Americans’ daily lives from the moment they enter school as a child.

“Every morning in most public schools in America, the school day starts with most students standing and pledging allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,” Kramnick said.

The pledge and in particular the phrase, “one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” has faced great scrutiny and has had many changes since its composition after the Civil War in 1892, according to Kramnick.

The “under God” clause — added in 1954 following fear of atheist communism — has been met with both great opposition and support, he said.

According to Kramnick, the most recent controversy to meet the pledge was Michael Newdow’s 2000 lawsuit, which opposed the statement of the “under God” clause in public schools. This case, a “simple action by one parent and one eight-year-old child,” began a decade long legal battle, Kramnick said.

Immediately after a court decision was made in 2006 to remove the phrase from the Pledge of Allegience, politicians from both sides of the aisle raced to denounce it, Kramnick said.

In 2010, the case made it to the Supreme Court, which decided that the two words were “not state sponsorship of religion” and ultimately overturned the 2006 ruling, Kramnick said.

The lack of outcry to the 2:1 vote upholding the constitutionality of the “under God” phrase was a direct result of the “ordinary and normal” American ties to belief in religion, Kramnick said.

Kramnick cited the ubiquity of religion in American life as an important key to people’s acceptance of the phrase “under God.”

“Public commitment to church-state separation has declined,” Kramnick said.

According to Kramnick, USA Today recently reported that only half of Americans believe maintaining separation between church and state is necessary, and 55 percent of Americans believe that America has a Christian government.

“This is, of course, factually wrong,” Kramnick said. “The American constitution is a Godless document. God may be in the pledge of allegiance, God may be in our pocketbooks, but nowhere is God in the Constitution.”

Unlike all of the founding documents written before the Constitution, there is no reference to God or God’s strength anywhere in the Constitution. According to Kramnick, this ushered in “a new historical era where a person’s religious standing had no bearing on their ability to hold public office.”

“Opponents of the Constitution were appalled at its secularism,” Kramnick said.

Regardless, Kramnick said he believes American discourse about religion has changed dramatically in the last two generations, with the Christian right playing a key role in politicizing religion.

According to Kramnick, certain anti-abortion activists who recite the pledge augment the established line “with liberty and justice for all” with the phrase “born and unborn.”

Additionally, Tea Party members cite the Constitution as being a religious Christian document.

Catholics such as John F. Kennedy who ran for office had to separate religion from state — never associating prayer or belief with their power — in order to appease fearful Protestants, Kramnick said.

Even today, seven American state constitutions still state that one must believe in God to become a state official, according to Kramnick.

People have officially tried to add “God” and “Christ” to the Constitution and preamble six times, Kramnick said, but all of these efforts, including similar efforts in the 19th and 20th century, have failed.

From the viewpoint of many Americans today, “Believing in god is central to being an American — a litmus test for citizenship,” Kramnick said. “America under God for many Americans today means under a Christian god.”

Original Author: Rachel Weber