October 23, 2005November 20, 2005Meeting Report

November 4, 2005

Mike Newdow

Equality (not Toleration)

Mike NewdowMike Newdow captivated the 36 people in attendance with his brilliant presentation, humor and singing (of his latest song).

Mike is the physician-lawyer who challenged the addition of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance all the way to the United States Supreme Court, only to have the Court deny him standing because he did not have primary custody of his daughter, on whose behalf he brought the suit.

Mike had initially started to challenge the unconstitutional placement of "In God We Trust" on money, but decided to challenge "under God" in the pledge because he thought he had a clearer legal basis for that challenge. As we all know, he lost the case, at least temporarily, because of the "standing" issue. The concept of standing requires that you must be directly affected by a law or action of the government in order to be a plaintiff in a case against the government. Mike thinks that the Court used the standing issue to avoid making a decision. He is now bringing cases on behalf of others and, in September, Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled in his favor. Of course the government will appeal that decision.

Dr. Newdow also said that he will file a suit to remove "In God We Trust" from our coins. He also challenged the use of chaplains at presidential inaugurations as a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. However, he has no objection in principle to military chaplains. Persons who are moved away from their homes while on government service still have a right of religious expression and guidance if they desire it, and chaplains may be necessary for that purpose.

Mike then went into the early history of religious liberty in America and showed the inadequacy of the concept of toleration. The Maryland Toleration Act of 1619 is often cited as an example of early religious freedom in America. It is true that Roman Catholics were welcome in Maryland, unlike in most other colonies. However, that law prohibited criticism of Christian sectarian beliefs by other Christians, with severe penalties for repeat violations. It also outlawed non-Christians, including Jews. Atheists could be executed for their non-belief. It is noteworthy that John Locke, in 1689, advocated tolerance for all except atheists. By the time of the founding of the United States of America and the writing of the Constitution, the leaders of the country had become much more enlightened about religious minorities and freethinkers. Dr. Newdow mentioned George Mason and James Madison in particular as persons who believed in liberty of conscience for everyone. The result was a secular government with religious liberty guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

Mike also performed a song satirizing the Maryland "toleration" act.

Report prepared by Wayne Luney, Recorder


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