March 25, 2004

"[T]his kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing." That's a quote from Justice Breyer from the oral argument yesterday, his suggestion for how to think of the "God" referred to in the Pledge of Allegiance. I enjoy Breyeresque locutions. Here the whole context:
I mean, it's a pretty broad use of religion sometimes. I -- does it make you feel any better, and I think the answer's going to be no, but there is a case called Seeger, which referred to the Constitution -- to the statute that used the word, supreme being, and it said that those words, supreme being, included a set of beliefs, sincere beliefs, which in any ordinary person's life fills the same place as a belief in God fills in the life of an orthodox religionist. So it's reaching out to be inclusive, maybe to include you, I mean, to -- because many people who are not religious nonetheless have a set of beliefs which occupy the same place that religious beliefs occupy in the mind and woman of a religious -- of a religious mind in men and women.

So do you think God is so generic in this context that it could be that inclusive? ...

And if it is, then does your objection disappear? ...

But what I'm thinking there is that perhaps when you get that broad in your idea of what is religious, so it can encompass a set of religious-type beliefs in the minds of people who are not traditionally religious, when you are that broad and in a civic context, it really doesn't violate the Establishment Clause because it's meant to include virtually everybody, and the few whom it doesn't include don't have to take the pledge.

[NEWDOW: You're referring to the two words, under God?]

Yeah, under God is this kind of very comprehensive supreme being, Seeger-type thing.

There's something disarmingly roundabout in Breyer's form of expression. It actually reminds me of Ellen DeGeneres. I think it's an intentional backing off from strikingly clear statements that he is surely capable of making. The idea in the end is clear and comprehensible nonetheless, and there is something in the adopted inarticulateness that seems to invite the listener in or to avoid being too overwhelmingly brilliant. Or maybe it's just idiosyncratic or a sort of humor. Anyway, I find it charming.

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