Friday, November 18, 2005


Katye said...

One day the government issues a publich acknolwedgement of fairies. "These mythical creatures have been seen intervening in small but significant ways in all aspects of Americans' lives", it says, "and we wish to acknowledge them". Fairie festival days will now join the realms of Veterans day and MLK Jr Day and Christmas as days off. Images of fairies above courthouse doors acknowledge how fairies have always fought for justice. Words of praise for fairies appear on the dollar bill. No law impacting the environment can pass without senators and the public arguing over the impact this might have on fairies. Children begin to wear "what would fairies do?" bracelets to school proudly.


One day the government announces that the new established religion of hte United States will be Faerie. In addition to everything above, a mandatory publich school religious eduction class will be devoted to the tenents of Faerie. All other churches and service organizations are removed from tax-exempt status, so more money can be granted to Faerie churches. Anyone wishing to practice a religion other than Faerie does so in secrecy for fear of the "unofficial" side effects. People who can demonstrate that they attend Faerie services get a greater stipend in welfare or federal loans.

Acknowledging religion is the religious people of the government expressing their inidivdual views. A few judges scattered across the country displaying the ten commandments. Establishment is the government istelf having religious overtures. Every courthouse everywhere must display the ten commandments.

Acknowledgment of God has been around since the government was founded, and it's not going away. You might get Under God out of the pledge, but you won't get In God We Trust off the currency. Survey says most Americans believe in God; they aren't making me believe in it, so why should I care?.

Establishment of religion was prohibited at the same time as acknolwedgment began, and it's never going to happen. The point was that government can't force you to believe or worship anything, or deny you anything because you do believe or worship something. People do; the laws say that's illegal.

Establishment would be giving the same force to religious persecution that "separate but equal" gave to racism, and then I'll be worried. Until then, I'm rather more concerned with crime, poverty and war.

Cyrus said...

Well sure, I think crime, poverty and war are more important too, but that doesn't mean all other issues are irrelevant and always will be.

But in your comparison there, the difference between the two is only one of degree, not type. "No law impacting the environment can pass without senators and the public arguing over the impact this might have on fairies" - fairies or their self-appointed protectors have veto power and even guidance over government actions... and that's not establishment of fairyocracy? Looks like it to me, just a less restrictive form than in your second example.

I had read the phrase in the quote as "there is a difference between public acknowledgement of [the existence of] God, which is legal..." If you think that's unfair of me, say so, but in my eyes it's the only way the sentence makes sense. Because if he really meant "acknowledgement of [the idea of] God, which is legal..." or "acknowledgement of [the belief in] God, which is legal...", then that wouldn't be establishment, but it's also trivial, maybe even tautologous. And I'm also assuming that "public" is being used basically like "government." (And that "public" means the same thing in both parts of the sentence.) I realize that's a much stronger assumption, but again, it's the only way it makes sense. If "public" just means any group of citizens acting together, then it certainly is legal to have "public establishment of religion."

So "government acknowledgement of the existence of God" seems the only way that phrase is meaningful and consistent with the rest of the sentence. And that sure looks like establishment of religion to me.

(As it happens, maybe this post should have been expanded. I wasn't complaining about oppressive theocracy, it was a post about spin and doublespeak. I'm not saying that Staver there is our own version of a mullah, I'm saying his position is inconsistent. Your guess is as good as mine about whether he and his clients are being dishonest, not thinking it through, or something else.)

Katye said...

The first isn't a fairyocracy, because everyone everytime has some degree of guidance over government actions. I pulled that example out of people arguing for or against drilling in Alaska (we don't exactly have an environmentocracy here). Congress is based on a lot of people saying "but what impact will that have on *my* constituents?"

I still think my distinction between acknowledgment and establishment holds. Acknowledging religion is something people do on their own; establishing religion is something the government mandates.

Meanwhile, in terms of the two not being different, legality, etc. One site phrased the Supreme Court as willing to deny anything that seemed like an *endorsement* of religion. I don't know if anyone can really win a distinction between acknowledgment and endorsement; it seems to be the difference between "out there" and "coercive".

I still think the establishment clause was designed to prevent there from being an official funded church, as an additional protection for free exercise. As long as the government doesn't force you to do anything, it's not establishment.

I've always been taking this as a debate on more or less spin and doublespeak. Semantics is the only thing that could make one legal and hte other not, so does acknowledgment have establishment embedded in it? It'd help if there had been a better guidebook to the Constitution.

Cyrus said...

It'd help if there had been a better guidebook to the Constitution.

Ahhh, but where's the fun in that? :)