Heretic on the Hill: One Nation Indivisible

By Scott MacConomy, SCA’s Director of Policy and Government Affairs.

Five thousand and fifty two bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives this year. That’s a lot. About 11 per Member of Congress in seven months. Every bill is introduced by one person who officially becomes the sponsor. Every other Member who wants to show their support for a bill asks the sponsor to be listed as a cosponsor. The number of cosponsors is important in decisions about which bills to bring up for consideration in committees and on the House floor.

The Do No Harm Act, which would clarify portions of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act so that the original intent is clear to the courts, has 126 cosponsors. That is a respectable number but significantly less than the number of cosponsors from the last Congress. I’ve been meeting with and emailing staff of the House members who have not yet cosponsored the bill this year and made some progress. I expect a dozen or so new cosponsors to show up on the list when the House is back in session after the August break.

In some cases there is a new staff member handling this type of issue and they just haven’t focused on the Do No Harm Act yet. Again, there are 5,052 bills so far to keep track of. I will keep working on adding more cosponsors to the Do No Harm Act to improve its chances of passage. You can ask your representatives here.

“Under God”

Last month Senator Mike Braun, (R-Indiana) introduced a Senate Resolution ostensibly simply supporting the Pledge of Allegiance. In fact a significant portion of the text summarizes the legal history behind the religious controversies arising from reciting the Pledge in schools, primarily the dispute over the addition of “under God.” The Resolution ends with “the Senate strongly defends the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance.” You can read the text of the Resolution here. As a Senate Resolution it does not go to the House or the President.

The Secular Coalition for America responded with a letter to Senator Braun. You can read the letter here, but it concludes as follows:

"It seems as though it should be possible to construct a Resolution that celebrates the Pledge of Allegiance without relitigating the 80 years of controversy it has created and without emphasizing the addition to the Pledge that millions of Americans do not agree with. When you prepare next July’s Senate Resolution, perhaps the words of Justice Robert Jackson could serve as a guide. He delivered the opinion for the majority [In 1943 the Supreme Court found that students could not be forced to recite the Pledge.] in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

Contact your own representatives about the Pledge of Allegiance here.

Be sure to sign up to our email list to receive a copy of Heretic on the Hill in your inbox, Scott’s bi-monthly update on our advocacy work on behalf of nontheist Americans and the separation of religion and government.

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