Lincoln and Under God

As readers of this blog know, History is quite important to me.  Nothing makes my blood boil quicker than the misuse of the historical record in order to fight current political and cultural battles.  The latest issue of the magazine First Things has an article by Robert George entitled God and Gettysburg which explores such a misuse.

George relates how a pamphlet has been issued by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a liberal group, which contains the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address.  Perusing the pamphlet, George noticed that the phrase “under God” was omitted from the Gettysburg Address.

When, from 2000 to 2004, the atheist Michael Newdow was challenging in court the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, he and his supporters pointed out that the words were not in the original pledge created in the 1920s. They were added by Congress in the 1950s in the midst of the Cold War, in response to a campaign led by the Catholic men’s organization the Knights of Columbus. The words were introduced into the pledge to highlight the profound difference between the United States, whose political system is founded on the theistic proposition that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and the atheistic premises of Soviet Marxism.

Newdow has cycled back into the news in recent months with a new case that was appealed to the Supreme Court in March 2010, but what he and his supporters have avoided mentioning is that the pledge’s words under God were not pulled from a sermon by Billy Graham or a papal encyclical. They were taken from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The pledge, as amended, simply quotes one of our nation’s founding texts.

This fact is more than a little inconvenient for those who hold that government must be neutral not only among competing traditions of religious faith, but between religion and atheism—or, as it is sometimes put, “between religion and irreligion.” The constitutional basis for their claim is the Religion Clause of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Their evidence for the claim that these words were intended to forbid such things as descriptions of America as a nation “under God” in official government documents is that the founders (allegedly) sought this “strict separation” of church and state.

But this puts the American Constitution Society in a sticky position. In assembling their pamphlet, they were eager to include Lincoln as a founder—the author of one of America’s founding documents, the Gettysburg Address. But the Great Emancipator’s characterization of the United States as a nation under God appears to undermine the strict separationism that the American Constitution Society wishes to promote. What to do?

The answer they hit on was simply to make Lincoln’s inconvenient words disappear. Now you are thinking: How did they imagine they could get away with it? The Gettysburg Address is the opposite of an obscure document. Millions of Americans can recite it by heart.

Go here to read the rest.  Tampering with historical documents, especially one so filled with meaning for Americans as the Gettysburg Address, in order to serve current political ends is Orwellian.  We can certainly fight all we want about the meaning of such documents, but let us respect the integrity of the texts.

8 Responses to Lincoln and Under God

  1. T. Shaw says:

    Good post!

    It seems disingenuousness “comes with the (godless) territory.”

    I once read that a requirement to join the Masons is that one must believe in a Supreme Being – any Supreme Being. Sounds “American” doesn’t it? Well, that book stated the reason for this is that if one does not believe in God, one cannot be completely trustworthy nor loyal.

    So, (with that in mind) it seems consistent that atheists distort, omit, fabricate and outright lie to impose on the rest of us their their ideology: irreligion.

    Another godless goal I think (many here are better qualified) is to distort the Constitutional right of “free exercise” to a right to private worship, and a total ban of any religious symbol or moral teaching from public debate/discourse.

    Finally, (now I’ve run off the tracks) If Congress hasn’t passed a law regarding establishment of religion, I see no need to run a SCOTUS case . . .

    I started with an ad hominem, then an insult, and finally went irrational – I must be turning into a liberal.

  2. Paul Zummo says:

    Boy I hope nobody ever shows them Lincoln’s second inaugural address. There’s not enough white-out in the world to take out all the allusions to God in that one.

  3. Donald R. McClarey says:

    That is what I was thinking Paul when I read this story in First Things. The omission was so transparently fraudulent, and to no purpose.

  4. Elaine Krewer says:

    “Boy I hope nobody ever shows them Lincoln’s second inagural address.”

    I also hope nobody ever shows them the House Divided speech, the defining phrase of which (“A house divided against itself cannot stand”) was taken directly from Christ’s words in the Gospels.

  5. Donald R. McClarey says:

    My family and I will be down in your neck of the woods on Tuesday Elaine making our annual pilgrimage (that word should get neo-Confederate juices flowing!) to the Lincoln Museum and the other Lincoln sites. I can’t wait to see what treasures we uncover at the Prairie Archives!

  6. Elaine Krewer says:

    If you have time, Don, don’t forget to make a stop at the Cathedral too, now that the renovation is finished.

  7. A side note, Don, but I’ve a couple times heard atheists claim that Lincoln was among their number — any idea what the deal with that is? It certainly doesn’t seem to fit with his rhetoric.

  8. Donald R. McClarey says:

    “If you have time, Don, don’t forget to make a stop at the Cathedral too, now that the renovation is finished.”

    I will put that on my list Elaine.

    Darwin here is a link to a post where I explored Lincoln’s religious views:

    The bottom line is that I think the evidence shows that throughout most of his life Lincoln believed in God. During the war he became more religious, and by the time his life ended he was probably a Christian.

    He wrote the following in the White House with no intention that it ever become public knowledge. He wrote it for his personal contemplation:

    “The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true — that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”

    As his Second Inaugural Address indicates, few Presidents, indeed few men or women, have thought harder about the will of God.

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