The following is the second in a multi-part series on former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s speech to the Values Voter Summit. Part I of this series is available here.
Newt Gingrich opened his speech to religious conservative convention yesterday by attacking a Supreme Court decision holding that segregated southern states actually had to obey Brown v. Board of Education. His speech went rapidly downhill from there. Immediately after attacking the Supreme Court for desegregating Arkansas’ schools, Gingrich launched into an offensive comparison between a decade-old court of appeals decision and the mass enslavement of millions of African-Americans:
One of the major reasons that I am running for president of the United States is the 9th Circuit Court decision in 2002 that one nation under God, in the Pledge of Allegiance, was unconstitutional. That decision to me had the same effect that the Dred Scott decision extending slavery to the whole country had on Abraham Lincoln, because I thought, if an American appeals court could be so radically out of touch with America that it could seek to block children from saying one nation under God as part of their description of America, that we had come to a point when we needed a constitutional crisis to reassert the legislative and executive branches’ legitimate prerogatives to teach the judiciary that they cannot be anti-American and expect us to tolerate them radically changing our society by judicial dictate.
Let’s get a few of Gingrich’s factual errors out of the way. The 2002 decision he refers to is Newdow v. Elk Grove Unified School District. The Ninth Circuit’s decision in Newdow did not “block children from saying one nation under God as part of their description of America,” as Gingrich claims. Rather, the Ninth Circuit held that the government cannot endorse a particular religious view and then incorporate that view into a government-sponsored ritual conducted by school children. Whatever one thinks of the Ninth Circuit’s opinion in this case, it did nothing to undermine children’s First Amendment right to practice their own religion free from government intervention.
Moreover, Gingrich’s speech conveniently ignores the fact that Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Ninth Circuit on appeal. In other words, for people who share Gingrich’s overarching desire to preserve the Pledge of Allegiance as it is, the system worked because the judiciary ultimately reached the conclusion Gingrich prefers.
These factual errors, however, are completely overshadowed by Gingrich’s bizarre comparison between a relatively minor court of appeals decision that was eventually reversed on appeal and the single greatest act of evil in the history of the American republic. It should go without saying that requiring schools to remove two words from a daily ritual in no way resembles the practice of kidnapping millions of people from their homelands, packing them like sardines in disease-ridden ships, selling the survivors into bondage and forcing generations of their descendants into involuntary servitude.