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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The State of the Union


By Dennis Prager

Tonight, when you see President Obama give his State of the Union address, you will see four things: the president entering the hall, the president ascending the rostrum to be greeted by the vice president and the speaker of the House, the president giving his speech and the reactions of members of the Congress and others in the hall.

Here is the one thing you will not see and probably have never seen. You won't see what is behind the president and above the vice president and the speaker of the House. And because you won't see it, you won't know that you are missing something of surpassing importance.

Think about it for a moment. Why do television cameras never pull back and give a wide-angle view of the president delivering his speech? That is certainly routine for TV: It is considered uninteresting to TV viewers to have a fixed view of a subject.

Why, then, have almost no Americans ever seen what is located above the president, the vice president and the speaker of the House?

I discovered the answer when I attended President Obama's speech on health care to a joint session of Congress.

I saw chiseled in the marble wall behind the speaker and vice president, in giant letters, the words "In G0d We Trust."

My immediate reaction was to wonder: Why had I never seen that before? I have, after all, been watching presidential State of the Union addresses for about 40 years.

Here is my theory — and I say "theory" because I cannot prove it.

A generation of Americans has been raised to regard any mention of G0d outside the home or church as a violation of the deepest principles of our country. To the men and women of the left-leaning news media, in particular, "In G0d We Trust" is an anachronism at best, an impediment to moral progress at worst. The existence of those giant chiseled words so disturbs the media that, consciously or not, they do not want Americans to see them.

I do not for a moment believe that there is any conspiracy here. In some ways, I actually wish there were. I wish a handful of media executives had gotten together and conspired to instruct their various cameramen to avoid a wide-angle view of the president.

But, alas, no such conspiracy is necessary. The words "In G0d We Trust" emblazoned in giant letters behind the president of the United States just don't sit well with the secular media. So you won't see them.

We have been led to believe that America is supposed to be a secular country. But that was never the case. We were founded to be a G0d-centered, G0d-based country with a nondenominational government. And that is what those chiseled words affirm.

Yet millions of Americans — religious and secular alike — would be stunned to see what every member of the House sees almost every working day.

When I mentioned this to some congressman after I addressed the Republican members of the House two weeks ago, they told me that just as remarkable is the fact that when the president is speaking in the House chamber, he is facing a giant sculpted image of Moses holding the Ten Commandments.

Imagine how this scene would go over in American homes — behind the president of the United States are the words "In G0d We Trust," and in front of him is Moses carrying the Ten Commandments.

This would astound and even confuse an America raised to believe that the words "separation of church and state" are in the Constitution, that those words prohibit the government from acknowledging even a nondenominational G0d and that no speaker at any public high school graduation ceremony may say "G0d bless this graduating class."

That is why, I am convinced, no camera tonight will give you a long or wide view of the president. It might change more than Americans' views of the presidential rostrum. It might change Americans' views of America.

2 comments:

Doug Indeap said...

Praeger is profoundly wrong in so much of what he says.

He says: "A generation of Americans has been raised to regard any mention of God outside the home or church as a violation of the deepest principles of our country." Nonsense! The principle of separation of church and state merely prohibits the government from promoting or opposing religion. It does not remotely restrict any individuals from mentioning god(s) outside of home or church.

He says: "We have been led to believe that America is supposed to be a secular country. But that was never the case. We were founded to be a God-centered, God-based country with a nondenominational government." More nonsense.

While many founders were Christian of one sort or another, care should be taken not to make too much of the founders’ individual religious beliefs. Whatever their religions, they drafted a Constitution that plainly establishes a secular government on the power of the people (not a deity) and says nothing substantive of god(s) or religion except in the First Amendment where the point is to confirm that each person enjoys religious liberty and that the government is not to take steps to establish religion and another provision precluding any religious test for public office. This is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. That, indeed, is just what the founders did.

The phrase “separation of church and state” is but a metaphor to describe the underlying principle of the First Amendment and the no-religious-test clause of the Constitution. That the phrase does not appear in the text of the Constitution assumes much importance, it seems, only to those who may have once labored under the misimpression it was there and, upon learning they were mistaken, reckon they've discovered the smoking gun solving a Constitutional mystery. To those familiar with the Constitution, the absence of the metaphor commonly used to describe one of its principles is no more consequential than the absence of other phrases (e.g., Bill of Rights, separation of powers, checks and balances, fair trial, religious liberty) used to describe other undoubted Constitutional principles.

Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard[] . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”

Wake Forest University recently published a short, objective Q&A primer on the current law of separation of church and state–as applied by the courts rather than as caricatured in the blogosphere. I commend it to you. http://tiny.cc/6nnnx

Bob Qat said...

"A generation of Americans has been raised to regard any mention of God outside the home or church as a violation of the deepest principles of our country."

This first observation is basic to the rest of the article. I'm not sure that you understand what Prager meant. Most people in America seem to view religion through a Marxian lens; "religion is the opiate of the masses". I've noticed that people who constructively worship God, as opposed to those who have bent views of personal empowerment, are more likely to be treated as if they are somewhat slow.

The legal problem first: The exact wording from the Constitution is easy to understand; "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

The Constitutional principle is not quite a "fence of separation of church and state" but that of government not allowed to inject itself into religious exercise, (when that exercise doesn't harm anyone else).

I suspect the coolness the US government has shown to religion is based on how effective principled religions are in social service. Religious societies in the United States have always been effective in ministry to uplifting the poor and reducing the impact of poverty.

Government interventions in competition with those ministries have been seriously costly failures. The same can be said for drug rehab; the drug abuse problem has become more significant as religious influence has waned.

But the debate cannot centered not on government sponsorship or conflict with religion. Government in the US reflects the people. The people themselves have lost their religion. They are adrift without a moral anchor. It is a sad situation.