Saturday, July 21, 2007

Constitutional Principles Versus Conflicting Traditions

It took us 218 years (1789-2007) for an unambiguously non-Christian to be honored with the privilege of giving one of the daily invocations in the United States Senate. This hundreds of years overdue implementation of our original pluralistic ‘E Pluribus Unum' motto is incomplete since only one of our two major political parties appears to be willing to go even this far. Our government still favors Christian compatible monotheism not only in federal congressional invocations, but in state and local legislative invocations, in the text of laws, in the custodial rulings of divorce judges, in daily public school ritual, and more.

The establishment clause is intrinsically egalitarian, it restricts government from taking actions that exhibit bias between X, Y, or Z beliefs or between citizens with X, Y, or Z beliefs. When the difference between X, Y, and Z beliefs is whether or not multiple, one, or no gods exist, it is self-contradictory to assert that the non-establishment principle is for Y citizens but not for X and Z citizens or not for Z citizens. Non-establishment is for all citizens, but it is intended to assist minorities in defending themselves in a democracy against becoming politically emasculated by majority prejudice. The establishment clause is a form of equal protection of the laws for Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists; for polytheists and atheists.

Selecting which beliefs are represented in government sponsored invocations via a politically influenced process violates the non-establishment principle because it always has and always will produce the result that the principle itself opposes: Government favoritism for majoritarian beliefs over minority beliefs. Although well intentioned, judicially restricting the religious contents of the invocations to generic monotheism to make the invocations more inclusive is inadequate. Generic monotheism that today is about 90% inclusive may in the future become less than 50% inclusive. Even worse than its temporal variability, this judicially decreed incomplete inclusiveness still leaves some minorities, particularly atheists, disenfranchised from this first amendment protection. At some point we have to make a choice based on the recognition that our traditions have not always lived up to our constitutional principles. Which prevails, our non-egalitarian traditions or our self-avowed commitment to egalitarian principle? The answer to this question will be contested until our traditions and constitutional principles match.

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