The first time I ever heard the phrase “go to the mattresses” was in the Mafia masterpiece “The Godfather.” Vito Corleone is near death in a hospital bed, shot down by a rival Mob family. The Don’s hotheaded oldest boy, Sonny, demands revenge. Tom Hagen, the consigliere, urges caution, but Sonny will have none of it. He wants the man who ordered the hit on his father executed — end of story.
“If not, it’s all-out war,” Sonny screams. “We go to the mattresses.”
The phrase refers to the Mob stocking safe houses with mattresses back in the day, so street soldiers could hunker down before battle. It’s a great descriptor, even more so today. In 21st century America, we’re determined to go to the mattresses over every last slight.
For example, a group called the Secular Coalition for Arizona went to the mattresses the other day against Gov. Doug Ducey.
Ducey’s sin? He posted an Easter greeting on his official governor’s Facebook page.
Ducey’s post, which went up on Easter Sunday, included the phrase “He is risen!” – a reference to Jesus. The governor wished one and all “a happy and blessed Easter.” The accompanying graphic displayed a cross and cited John 11:25, a passage which reads: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though may he die, he shall live.’”
Dianne Post, a lawyer for the Secular Coalition, fired off a three-page screed to Ducey on the subject, including a lecture on the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions, references to multiple Supreme Court rulings, and a demand for action — to be explained in writing.
As Post put it: “On behalf of citizens and taxpayers, we urge you to remove the effusive Easter greeting that is much too tied to religion from the Facebook page and to desist in the future from expressing such religious sentiment on government property or time. The government must respect the rights of conscience of all citizens, including those who in good conscience reject belief in a god.”
Ducey’s reponse? A firm “screw you” via Facebook. “We won’t be removing this post. Ever,” the governor wrote. “Nor will we be removing our posts for Christmas, Hanukkah, Rosh Hashanah, Palm Sunday, Passover or any other religious holiday.”
I’m going to side with Ducey here, despite the fact the most religious I get in any given year is a secular Christmas celebration that involves a few gifts, some carols sung by Crosby and Sinatra and studiously avoiding all beverages described as “nog.”
My rationale has nothing to do with a close reading of the First Amendment or me being okay with blurring the lines between church and state. I’m with Ducey because this is a dumb fight — a skirmish not worth going to the mattresses over.
The governor is Catholic. He’s never hidden it; his religion quite clearly informs his politics.
However, Ducey has never attempted to proselytize on behalf of the Church. Nor has he tried to turn his office into a recruitment arm for Christianity. Doing so would clearly would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment — and they’d be worth a fight.
I read Ducey’s Easter greeting as the governor being polite as opposed to political, effervescent as opposed to fervent. By contrast, Post read it as a hostile act, one that called for the lawyer’s equivalent of a declaration of war.
As someone who’s watched “The Godfather” at least 20 times, I keep recalling how Sonny’s foolish insistence on going to the mattresses worked out for Don Vito’s eldest boy. Sonny, as another old saying goes, ended up being dead right.