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Interview With Michael Newdow

Aired August 27, 2003 - 10:27   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Many people across the country are watching all of this play out in Alabama. And one of the people that we'd like to talk to right now who's been watching this play out is Dr. Michael Newdow.
You may recognize that name and remember it. Dr. Newdow was the man behind a lawsuit a few months ago, I believe it was, I believe it was sometime last year that sued about putting the words "under God" -- "one nation, under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. He wanted it removed.

An, Dr. Newdow, I'd be interested to hear your comments about what we're seeing happening this morning in Alabama.

MICHAEL NEWDOW, PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE PLAINTIFF: Well we're doing essentially the same thing. We're saying government is not allowed to take a position on religion and it did that under Judge Roy Moore.

And I think the other judges made the proper decision. We're putting government where it belongs, again, into a secular realm. And leave it to the individual to decide what he or she wants to do with regard to his or her religious beliefs.

HARRIS: But don't you think in some way perhaps shouldn't the opinions of those who live there be taken into account? As you can see here, there has been widespread reaction there in the community and across the state of Alabama. Many people standing behind Judge Moore here.

NEWDOW: If we had a pure democracy, that would be absolutely correct. But we don't. We have a constitutional democracy. And our constitution protects the rites of the minority. That's why it's there. We have a Bill of Rights.

And there are a minority people here. They shouldn't feel like outsiders. They shouldn't walk into the federal or state judicial building and feel that, Hey, the government is of one religion and it's not mine. That's what this is all about.

HARRIS: Well what do you say to those who are there in this crowd who have said throughout the morning and throughout the past week or so as we've seen these protests play out and we're seeing it continue in these live pictures here -- those people who have been saying, Well, the nation's laws have been founded upon the concept of a god, and it's written on our money, "In God We Trust" is on every piece of currency we all carry.

If that is the case, why is this such a problem with having this sort of display inside a courthouse?

NEWDOW: First of all, the fact that it's on the money is not a persuasive argument. It shouldn't be on the money either. It's like in the 1950s saying, Well, why don't we keep on segregation because we have in the schools because we have segregation at the water fountains and crane cars and everywhere else. That's not a good reason. That's (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

And second of all the issue is it's a very simple issue. Is the government acting with regard to religion or is it not? And those people are not down there because of our history and our tradition. They're down there because we want to see God in government. And you know I understand that's what they want, but the Constitution says they can't have that.

HARRIS: Well, let me ask about one tradition that we all see play out almost every day we turn on television and see some of these courtroom dramas play out before us. As Heidi Collins reminds me of isn't it true that in every single courthouse someone is asked to come up and testify, they have to put their hand on a Bible anyway and promise to tell the truth, so help them God?

If there's no problem with that, and that's been a tradition that has been played out in your courtrooms for hundreds of years here, why is it then we can't have or couldn't see something like a display like the Ten Commandments just outside that courtroom?

NEWDOW: I think you're making the same argument as the money. That's also something that's wrong. I think that's very wrong. You have to stand up -- if you're an atheist, have you to either lie to yourself or tell the judge, Hey, I don't believe in your God, and I don't think you should start off -- and the jury -- and I don't think you should be in a trial and have to worry about that.

So I think that's very wrong. First of all, you don't have to do it. And I'll note the original oath, if you look in the Constitution, the oath for the president, which is the only oath in the Constitution, does not say "so help me God." George Washington stuck that in spontaneously at his inauguration.

So that "so help me God" stuff was not put in originally. We have put it in since and it's usually at the discretion of the judge and there are many judges who recognize the harm and don't do that. They just say, Do you swear or do you affirm.

HARRIS: Finally, Dr. Newdow, do you see any sort of place where there could be a middle ground here at all? Does it have to be all or nothing for people who live in this community and feel so strongly about something like this, is there no way to at least throw them sort of a sop at all? Should there be at least some kind of a compromise an both sides here?

NEWDOW: It's like would you compromise your free speech rights, your free exercise rights? No. They can do anything they want. They want God, go buy a piece of land, put the monument there and go worship every morning. There's nothing to stop individuals. The thing is government. Government can't take a side and government is taking a side here. Government is saying there's a God. And there are many of news America who disagree with that. And it's just as wrong to say there's a Jesus or there's a David Koresh or there's a Mohammed or there's a God. Same thing, government stay out of the business, very simple.

HARRIS: Dr. Michael Newdow, thank you very much. Appreciate talking to you again. Very interesting to get your perspective on this. This debate will no doubt be around for some time to come.


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