Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Saturday, 6 July 2002

# 7:40 PM

Sailor Nothing is a fine work of on-line fiction written by Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne. It's about why being a magical warrior of love and justice is no fun. Y'all should go read it. (Caveats: It's fairly dark; it would probably get an R if it were a movie; if you're not familiar with the "magical girl" anime subgenre you may not get the references.)

# 3:50 PM

A lengthy dream in which I was wandering around this insanely expensive hotel suite in a bathrobe. I wanted to take a shower, but someone had put all their clothes in one of those plastic stacking shelves on wheels, and wheeled it into the shower, and I couldn't move it or use the shower while it was there.

Then this crazy man broke into the suite and attacked me with a kitchen knife. I said "Ha, I'm crazier than you are" and took the knife away from him (getting some small cuts in the process). It then transpired that the crazy man was trying to steal enough money to buy a plane ticket back to Stanford (he was a college student). I was on the phone with a lawyer, trying to explain this, while simultaneously restraining the guy. It's hard to tie someone up properly when they aren't cooperating and you don't have any help.

At this point an older man materialized in the same room claiming to be the crazy man's father. "Okay, whatever, you take him." Then I woke up.

# 6:20 AM



... no law respecting an establishment of religion

I would like to make an actual legal argument for why the phrase "under God" should not appear in the Pledge of Allegiance, nor "In God We Trust" on U.S. paper money, nor any other reference to God or gods anywhere in anything officially endorsed by the government of the United States, federal, state, or local.

The precise text of the First Amendment relating to religion is

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

On its face that is pretty narrow. An "establishment of religion" refers only to the practice of having one organized religion endorsed by a state and supported by its laws, to the detriment of all others. It doesn't say anything about mentioning religion. But permit me to make an analogy to Jewish law, which has mitzvot and gezeirah. The mitzvot are the things which were explicitly prohibited in the Torah; the gezeirah are additional prohibitions added by the rabbis to prevent people from accidentally violating the mitzvot. Gezeirah are written on the principle that one should not do anything which has even the slightest potential to turn into, or look like, a violation of a mitzvah. For instance, the mitzvah against cooking a lamb in its mother's milk is expanded into a requirement that milk and meat be eaten only at separate meals, off separate sets of dishes, with separate sets of utensils, etc. etc.

It is this guiding principle that I would like to apply to the First Amendment. The government, then, should avoid anything that might even potentially be, or appear to be, an establishment of religion. Yes, it is a stretch from an officially established church to "In God We Trust" on a dollar bill. But it is also a stretch from not cooking a lamb in its mother's milk to eating milk and meat off separate sets of plates.