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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 2:45 pm | A Few Clouds 67º


Harris Sherline: Overruling the Tyranny of the Minority

A small group of people — or even one person — should not be allowed to impose their will on society

We have now reached the point where the preferences of a single person or a small group can outweigh the wishes of everyone else.

A recent news story read in part: “Lone complaint leads to ban on inspirational banners in Georgia high school. Cheerleaders at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in Georgia have for many years created inspirational banners for home football games, the kind of banners players burst through as they come on to the field. … Particularly since 9/11, the messages on the banners have often been verses from Scripture, such as ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ But based on one single verbal complaint from a local resident, the Bible has been banned from pregame banners. Once again the tyranny of the minority — in this case a minority of one — has threatened both religious liberty and freedom of speech.”

Another example of a small minority imposing their will on the larger society occurred at Goshen College in Indiana, a Mennonite school with about 1,000 students, where the school’s president banned the “Star-Spangled Banner” from being sung or played at all sporting events — because the words are too violent. He justified his decision by saying, “I am committed to retaining the best of what it means to be a Mennonite college, while opening the doors wider to all who share our core values. … And I invite others to join us at Goshen College as we make peace in all of its forms, even with the national anthem.”

Reporting on the incident, NBC Sports’ Rick Chandler said: “I suppose we could have followed the example of the Mennonites and simply fled, giving the nation back to the British. But then we’d all be playing cricket.”

If this doesn’t trouble you, how about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg declaring that the ceremony commemorating 9/11 could not include any religious leaders or prayers? New York City Councilman Fernando Cabrera, a pastor at New Life Outreach International, said he felt that excluding the clergy from the ceremony was “wiping out the recognition of the importance that spirituality plays on the day,” and former deputy mayor of the city (under Rudy Giuliani) commented, “This is America, and to have a memorial service where there’s no prayer, this appears to be insanity to me.”

Back at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in Georgia, a huge majority in the community supported the long-standing practice of creating the inspirational banners. On just four hours notice, 1,600 people showed up at the polo grounds for a rally of support.

Although the Catoosa County Schools superintendent said she supports the banner tradition and reads the Bible daily herself, in order to avoid an expensive lawsuit the school opted to ban the banners from its football games.

So, because of the fear of potential legal costs, a minority of one prevailed against the wishes of the overwhelming majority.

Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow, who said the references to God are unconstitutional and infringe on his religious beliefs, filed legal challenges against the use of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency.

In 2002, the San Francisco-based Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court initially decided in Newdow’s favor, ruling that the pledge violated the First Amendment prohibition against government endorsement of religion.

However, in 2004 the U.S. Supreme Court said that Newdow lacked the legal standing to file the suit because he didn’t have custody of his daughter, on whose behalf he had brought the case. Newdow then filed an identical challenge on behalf of other parents who objected to the recitation of the pledge at school, and in 2005, a federal judge in Sacramento decided in Newdow’s favor, prompting the appeals court to take up the case again.

The court decided that “the Pledge of Allegiance serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded,” noting that schools do not require students to recite the pledge, which was amended to include the words “under God” by a 1954 federal law.

“The whole argument that ‘under God’ wasn’t placed into the pledge for religious purposes is bogus,” Newdow said. “I hope people recognize this is not against God or people who believe in God. It’s about the government not treating people equally on the basis of their lawful religious views.”

Newdow said he wasn’t optimistic the Supreme Court would agree to hear the case because the justices would probably be reluctant to hear a case that could invalidate the pledge.

Wikipedia notes that “on Dec. 31, 2008, Newdow and 17 other people, plus 10 groups representing atheists, sued Chief Justice John G. Roberts and others involved in the inauguration of Barack Obama in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, seeking to prevent the Chief Justice from saying ‘so help me God.’ The Constitution specifically defines only this single oath of office of 35 words and does not include these four words.”

This case has always baffled me because no one is forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow’s relentless effort to change the pledge is just another example of minority rule.

I’m old enough to remember a time when the reaction to this sort of nonsense was simply, “Get lost” and “don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog, Opinionfest.com.

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