This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," October 30, 2007. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Members of Congress were outraged that the Veterans Administration decided, they claim, to ban the recitation that goes along with ceremoniously folding the American flag at federal cemeteries. Since the ensuing scandal, the group dropped that ban and opted to clarify the policy, but some don't think the move ends the controversy. Traditionally, the flag is folded 13 times, accompanied by a recitation, but somebody complained to the White House about what is said after the 11th fold, which prompted the ban.
After the 11th fold, the honor guard recites, quote, "The eyes of a Hebrew citizen represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
Is this evidence that God is under assault? Joining us now, Michael Newdow, who challenged the Pledge of Allegiance in a case that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And from the American Center for Law and Justice, Jay Sekulow.
We welcome you both back to "Hannity & Colmes."
JAY SEKULOW, AMERICAN CENTER FOR LAW AND JUSTICE: Thanks, Alan.
COLMES: Jay, there is no ban. In fact, the VA just issued this today, a clarification, that saying that volunteer honor guards are authorized to read the so-called 13-fold flag recitation and that volunteer honor guards will accept requests for recitations that reflect any or no religious traditions on an equal basis.
So what's the problem?
SEKULOW: Well, the problem was, until just moments ago, there was a ban, and that's the reason you're covering it tonight. This was issued about a month ago. And the Veterans Administration issued a proposal which said, in essence, stop saying this particular flag ceremony, the folding ceremony. The objection, as you noted, Alan, was because of the 11th statement, the 11th fold, which was, "In the eyes of Hebrew citizens," and then reference to the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The 12th one was in reference to Christian citizens.
But, look, the easy solution here was, it wasn't a mandatory flag ceremony, but this was an overreaction by the Veterans Administration. And the American people were outraged. And the end result of that is you're now confirming that it's been changed. And that's good.
COLMES: But the VA, by the way, said that pointed out prior to the lifting to the ban, they said it's inappropriate for government employees to be reciting religious references. If the family wants to choose a spokesperson, a friend, whatever, to read the script, that's not a problem. So the family had that — let me just get my question out. The family had the option. Why is it the role of a government employee to read religious references?
SEKULOW: Hold it. I mean, you could have a military chaplain at a funeral. They're government employees, and they're going to read scripture from whatever sacred text that particular member of the service was engaged in, and they're going to read their particular — and say a prayer. They may say the prayer in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or they may say it in Jesus' name, whatever their particular denomination, religious belief held. They're government citizens.
But this is what's important here. The VA issued this — and now you're saying rescinded — but literally happening moments ago. They issues this ban about 30 days ago. The outrage has been significant. What I'm interested in seeing, and when I see the actual recitation order is, are they saying that it now can only be done by basically volunteers, which, by the way, are most of the — most of the folding ceremonies are done by volunteers...
COLMES: And, by the way, Michael Newdow, scripts can be read. In fact, just before they lifted the so-called ban, they said scripts could be read, just not by the VA-sponsored volunteer honor guards. Now, of course, that's changed. So it's not as if this couldn't be done and those words could not be said on behalf of the family who wanted those words said over their deceased loved ones.
MICHAEL NEWDOW, ATTORNEY: Yeah, I think that there's always a question. This is a funeral. I think we should certainly take into account the views of the family of the deceased. The question is only, is it government sponsorship?
And if you have a standard that says we're always going to discuss or bring in God, the God of Abraham, then that's clearly unconstitutional. If we leave it discretionary, I think that's OK. And I think what the VA has now is totally appropriate.
COLMES: For example, Michael, as said, you've commented on this and said, would some people have a problem if there were words in the flag folding ceremony that mentioned Allah, for example, as opposed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?
NEWDOW: Right. I think that, you know, if that were the standard, if we had in this country that every time we folded the flag, we spoke about Allah and Muhammad as prophet, or that we don't believe in God or anything else, or took the view and that was the standard, then that would clearly be wrong.
But if we say we're going to respect our various citizens, our Christians, our Atheists, our Buddhists, and if the family wants whatever, I don't have a problem if the volunteers make the recitation, as long as it's not a standard, "This is what we always do as part of the government." As long it's up to the family and we accord with their wishes.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Michael, actually, that's probably the most reasonable that I think we've ever heard from you on the program here.
NEWDOW: It's totally consistent with what I always say.
HANNITY: Oh. Well, it's perhaps past experience has taught me...
NEWDOW: The question is, is the government taking a position? That's all.
HANNITY: Here's my question though. Our founding document, our Declaration of Independence, says we are endowed by our creator. You're not denying the Judeo-Christian foundation that has been there from the very beginning, are you?
NEWDOW: No, not at all. I mean we — we have people who were founded our country and they were Christians and white and men. OK, but the question is, do we want to worship the fact that they were white, believed in God, or were men? The issue is that they created a Constitution, which didn't mention God. And in that Constitution, what they had an idea was to respect everyone equally. That's all.
SEKULOW: You know, what Michael said, though — and I think this is important. Look, this has now become — the VA is changing its policy. Why? Because people like you all and us and others are talking about this.
And Michael Newdow, who has argued a case before the Supreme Court of the United States, and he and I are friends. We disagree on a lot of these kind of issues, but he's right. This is an equal access issue.
What the VA was thinking when they issued this ban, saying, "Now, we've decided because a heckler's veto, one person complained, so we're going to change the entire policy for the entire country" was absurd. And what the VA, hopefully, has done here is received a loud message and they're going to realize you can't just remove a reference because there's God in it. And they're taking this view, to remove God at any cost, which is — gives you an absurd result, which this...
HANNITY: But, Jay, let's take it a step further here, because we recently debated on this program the idea that, if a flag were to fly over the Capitol building, and on the certificate it would mention "God," for a period that that was banned. And I'm not speaking for Michael, and I'll let him jump in anytime he wants here, Jay.
SEKULOW: He will.
HANNITY: If a lot of people have their way, we would remove "one nation under God" out of the pledge, "in God we trust" off U.S. coins. I don't even doubt they'd want to, you know, change the Declaration of Independence and say...
NEWDOW: There's such a distinction here that you keep overlapping here. There's a difference between the government taking a position, saying, "We as the government of the United States hold this religious view," and allowing individual citizens. If we're talking about a burial, if we're talking about individual citizens who say, "Can you fly a flag for me, and I would like to put this inscription on the glad that you have?" that's all individual view.
HANNITY: But let me go back to Jay. But, Jay...
NEWDOW: That's very different from when the government says, "We're going to put God every time we fly a flag. We're going to talk about God every burial."
HANNITY: But this is very different. Alright. And I sense a little sensitivity in you, Michael. You're going to have to reexamine this. But hang on a second. But, Jay, up until — for those that fear a theocracy, up until '61 and '62, the Supreme Court decisions, we had bible reading in public schools. We had religion taught in public schools. There was no theocracy created. It was in keeping with the tradition and a belief system that this country was endowed by its creator...
NEWDOW: Who's belief system?
HANNITY: ... but now there's an open hostility, Jay, towards it.
SEKULOW: Right. I mean, here's what's happened. And this, Sean, is the perfect example of an overreaction and a misunderstanding that then becomes almost as if it's a Supreme Court edict. I mean, remember, it was just a couple of weeks ago on your program, as you mentioned, that the flag controversy, you couldn't say "one nation under God" or "in God we trust" for the Boy Scout that was giving the flag to his grandfather. That created a literal constitutional showdown.
Then, you know, a week later, we find that the VA, for the last 30 days, has been telling volunteers, volunteers, at a military funeral that when you're doing the flag folding ceremony, you know, you can't make the references to God, even if the family wants it. And, of course, no one's compelling it. They're just making it an offer. This is the overreaction.
HANNITY: All right, Jay, good to see you. Michael, appreciate you being with us tonight.
SEKULOW: Thanks. Thanks for having us, Sean.
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