Christian America Is an Invention: Big Business, Right-Wing Politics and the Religious Lie That Still Divides Us
Bush continued to advance his vision of a godly nation. Soon after 9/11, he made a special trip to the Islamic Center of Washington, the very same mosque that had opened its doors to celebrate the Eisenhower inauguration a half century earlier. No sitting president had ever visited an Islamic house of worship, but Bush made clear by his words and deeds there that he considered Muslims part of the nation’s diverse religious community. He denounced recent acts of violence against Muslims and Arab Americans in no uncertain terms. “Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America,” he said; “they represent the worst of humankind and they should be ashamed.” Referring to Islam as a “religion of peace” and citing the Koran, he closed his address with the same words of inclusion he would have used before any audience, religious or otherwise: “God bless us all.” The president was not alone in enlisting religious patriotism to demonstrate national unity after the attacks. On September 12, 2001, congressional representatives from both parties joined together on the Capitol steps to sing “God Bless America.”Meanwhile, several states that did not already require recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance in their schools introduced bills to do just that.
But the efforts to use the pledge as a source of unity were soon thrown into disarray. In June 2002, a federal court ruled that the phrase “one nation under God” violated the First Amendment prohibition against the establishment of a state religion. The case Newdow v. Elk Grove Unified School District had been filed in 2000 by Michael Newdow, an emergency room doctor who complained that his daughter’s rights were infringed because she was forced to “watch and listen as her state-employed teacher in her state-run school leads her classmates in a ritual proclaiming that there is a God, and that ours is ‘one nation under God.” In a 2-to-1 decision, the court agreed. It held that the phrase was just as objectionable as a statement that “we are a nation ‘under Jesus,’ a nation ‘under Vishnu,’ a nation ‘under Zeus,’ or a nation ‘under no god,’ because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion.” The reaction from political leaders was as swift as it was predictable. The Senate suspended debate on a pending military spending bill to draft a resolution condemning the ruling, while dozens of House members took to the Capitol steps to recite the pledge and sing “God Bless America” one more time. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer announced that the president thought the decision was “ridiculous” Democratic senator Tom Daschle called it “nuts.” The reaction was so pronounced, in fact, that the appeals court delayed implementation of its ruling until an appeal could be heard.