Money walks and pillow talk

In Bites we trust: Sacramento atheist and Supreme Court combatant Michael Newdow unveiled his newest religious dilemma last week in front of a small audience at the Coloma Community Center. A true Renaissance man—Newdow is a medical doctor, reverend, attorney, musician and, it turns out, amateur comedian—he announced his intent to file what is essentially a lawsuit against loose change.

Turns out Newdow runs a church—The First Amendmist Church of True Science, or FACTS; clever, eh?—and wants to help promote his church by selling pens. They’re only a buck. But he only takes cash and refuses to take any currency that says “God” on it.

So, his religious rights are being impinged upon because all U.S. coins have the words “in God we trust” on them. And Newdow, well, he just doesn’t trust in God.

Meanwhile, Newdow’s sophomore attempt to get the words “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance is fast-tracking toward the U.S. Supreme Court. Earlier this year, he also sued, unsuccessfully, to prevent any prayer or the words “so help me God” from being spoken at George W. Bush’s second inaugural.

Actually, suing to get God off of coins was how Newdow first entered the legal atheism realm, way back in 1998. While researching to file that lawsuit (he’d never actually filed one before), he decided the pledge to the flag was an easier target. As it’s turned out, nothing having to do with God is easy.

Pen pals: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is pitching himself as a would-be reformer these days, but his “town hall” on Friday at Hewlett-Packard in Roseville showed little in the way of reform when it comes to providing public and press access.

Rosevillian James Kimker, a retired engineer, heard about the event on KFBK and was jazzed to see the governor in person. He drove to HP only to be turned away because he wasn’t an HP employee or a guest. He called it “bogus” and was decidedly miffed.

“The employees of HP,” Kimker said, “do not constitute the town of Roseville. When they say ‘town-hall meeting,’ that means the town.”

Media didn’t do much better.

After being herded into a pre-event staging area and informed that no questions would be allowed, camera crews were directed to lay their equipment down against the wall while a weapon-sniffing canine was brought in to inspect them. Happily, the critter was not trained to detect media harboring feelings of being made into the guv’s jailhouse punk. Nor did Bites get the chance to ask if a carton of Newports would be available in trade for services.

The event came off with all the improvisational verve and range of an eighth-grade production of Our Town. After the crowd was assembled, Bites and the rest of the boys and girls in the media room were led outside to an event area and herded—literally—into a gated pen at the back of the seating area. Mocking stares from the crowd, and a few catcalls, suggested that the people like to see the media bite down on the pillow and pay a flesh-slapping penance.

Each member of a four-person panel asked Schwarzy one question that—surprise, surprise!—focused on one of his four areas of reform. Afterward, HP employee LaMilles Garrett, who’d asked the guv why he wanted redistricting, told assembled media—perched on the edge of the pen with microphones and weapons-free cameras at the ready—that the question had been supplied to him.

Schwarzenegger did take a handful of presumably unscripted questions from the crowd, and he even explained his recent verbal gaffe about “closing” the borders, admitting he has trouble with English from time to time.

When the Governator finished, Bites attempted to exit the penned area and at least get some quotes from those in attendance, but a fresh-faced fellow from the governor’s office prevented said exit.

“You’ll have to wait until everyone leaves,” he said. Bites contemplated faking an extreme need to use a restroom but was afraid the flunky would whip out an Austrian bedpan on the spot. Knowing when to hold and when to fold, Bites bit down on the old pillow instead.