Let's take Michael Newdow's theory of the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion and apply it to the rest of the Bill of Rights, shall we?
Newdow is the California atheist who keeps filing suit to remove "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. He doesn't believe in God. Therefore, he says, people who don't believe in God shouldn't be coerced into saying or hearing those words while they attend public schools.
Never mind that nobody is forcing them. His argument rests on the theory that if you don't believe in something, it has no place in a government-operated school. Period.
n Amendment 1: In addition to freedom of religion, it covers freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to assemble, right to petition the government.
Under Newdow's logic, freedom of speech means freedom from speech. I don't have to hear anything I don't want to hear. So how can public school teachers say things I don't believe, don't agree with or don't want to be taught? Isn't that violating my right to freedom of speech?
What if I think the media is full of horse manure? Shouldn't freedom of the press mean freedom from the press, too? Get those newspapers, books, televisions, magazines and radios out of the public schools. I don't want my children being coerced into reading or listening to something I might believe is a government conspiracy.
Also, if I have a right to assemble, I have a right not to assemble. My children don't have to stand in line for lunch. They can go to the restroom whenever they want. If I want to assemble my child in sixth grade instead of fourth, because I think he's smarter than other kids, then the Bill of Rights guarantees it.
And what about this right to petition the government? Surely that includes the right not to petition government. That should cover my income-tax form. I don't really believe in federal income taxes, anyway, so I'm constitutionally covered.
n Amendment 2: The right to bear arms.
Nobody would argue, I think, that we also have a right not to bear arms. So shouldn't that go for government, as well. Some of us pacifists believe the cops and the military are a little too gun-happy. Having these government employees wandering around the country infringes on my right to not carry a gun.
n Amendment 3: No soldier can be quartered in any house without consent of the owner.
But what if I want soldiers quartered in my house? Don't I have that freedom? I should be able to demand that two soldiers stay in my house - and pay rent, by the way - if that's what I believe.
n Amendment 4: The right to be free of unreasonable searches, and that there must be probable cause for any search warrant.
All I want to know is when, exactly, I waived my Fourth Amendment rights because I desired to travel by airplane.
n Amendment 5: Right to due process of law, and a prohibition against taking my property without just compensation.
This is an easy one: I obviously have the freedom from due process of law. If I don't trust the judicial system of this country, then I should be able to pick the justice system under which I should be tried. And I don't really believe any compensation is just if I don't want to give up my property.
n Amendment 6: Right to a speedy trial.
So what's stopping my right to a very sloooow trial? I'll get back to you in a year or two on that case, prosecutor.
n Amendment 7: Right to a jury trial.
This goes hand to hand with Amendment 5 and due process of law. How can the government coerce me into a justice system if I don't believe in that justice system? What if I think rock-scissors-paper is how cases should be decided. Quit stepping on my freedoms.
n Amendment 8: No cruel and unusual punishment.
There are a lot of things every day that make me think the government is torturing me mentally. Take parking meters, for example, or two-hour parking zones. Isn't it cruel and unusual to make me go out and move my car down the block every couple of hours? Unproductive, too, and therefore unAmerican.
n Amendment 9: "The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
This is really the granddaddy of the Bill of Rights and probably should have been Amendment No. 1. Just because it isn't spelled out in the Constitution doesn't mean I don't have the right to do it.
Using Newdow's logic, I can think of all kinds of things that go on in government and in schools that seem to restrict all the rights not enumerated in the Constitution. Like that C I got in geology in college. If I choose to believe Sample C was an igneous rock, then my answer on the quiz was correct and I deserved at least a B. Maybe I don't believe in geology at all - and never should have had to take that class to graduate.
n Amendment 10: States' rights.
I was surprised to see this amendment still in the Bill of Rights, as Congress, the federal bureaucracy and federal courts have emasculated it. But since I believe strongly in states' rights, and the words are right there in the Constitution - "the powers not delegated to the United States ... are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people" - then I should be OK ignoring any federal law I see as unjust.
So what about the unfortunate children of atheist parents who are subjected daily to a Pledge of Allegiance containing the words "under God"? How can we ensure they grow up knowing they have a right to disbelieve anything and everything? That they can think as they please, anytime and anywhere? That the great Constitution of the United States gives them freedom from coercion in a land of liberty and justice for all?
I think we simply point them to the words our forefathers penned in the Preamble, the words we live by: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ... "
Oops. I guess they didn't mean "by their Creator." I guess they meant that a government of men is granting these rights, which means government can take them away.
Either way, Michael Newdow loses the argument.
n Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at editor@nevada appeal.com or 881-1221.