Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Problem with the Pledge

Leading children in public schools in a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance was, once again, struck down as unconstitutional, this time by U.S. district judge Lawrence Karlton.

From JS Online:

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled that the pledge's reference to one nation "under God" violates school children's right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God."

Karlton said he was bound by precedent of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2002 ruled in favor of Sacramento atheist Michael Newdow that the pledge is unconstitutional when recited in public schools.

This ruling should push the conflict over the Pledge directly onto the itinerary of the soon-to-be John Roberts Supreme Court. Previously the SCOTUS dismissed the case, saying Newdow did not have standing to bring suit on behalf of his daughter, of which he did not have custody. No such easy side-step exists for the Court this time and, hopefully, the issue can be settled once and for all.

The conflict over the constitutionality of reciting the Pledge in public schools centers around the inclusion of the words "Under God", added in 1954 at the behest of the Knights of Columbus. The original pledge, written by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy in 1892, did not contain mention of God anywhere. This change of wording, popularly endorsed as a confirmation of the United States' religious culture in opposition to the Soviet Union, has resulted in changing a pledge of patriotism to a public prayer, a challenge to which was an assured eventuality.

I agree with Micheal Newdow. The inclusion of the wording "Under God" in the Pledge fundamentally cuts against the protection of religious freedom in the United States. It is a blatant attempt to forward the idea that the United States is a Christian nation by design, an idea which has gained traction recently with many modern Evangelical Christians and which has no factual historical basis.

In addition to the "Christian nation" ideology defense of the Pledge, is the argument that such overt references to God are a part of the cultural character of the United States and as such are "harmless". I disagree. I think this is a subtle attempt to marginalize those who disagree with the established Christian majority in the United States. Such opposition to the dominance of majority opinion is what the Bill of Rights was written to protect. Moreover, for many, the Christian God is not a part of their individual American culture; to treat such individuals as outside the mainstream of that culture is to marginalize the very ideal of social plurality the Founding Fathers worked to instill.

Michael Newdow, the attorney who brought the original case in 2002 and is representing the families in the case ruled on by Judge Karlton, puts the cultural argument in perspective:

"Imagine every morning if the teachers had the children stand up, place their hands over their hearts, and say, 'We are one nation that denies God exists,'" Newdow said.

"I think that everybody would not be sitting here saying, 'Oh, what harm is that.' They'd be furious. And that's exactly what goes on against atheists. And it shouldn't."

This kind of case will undoubtedly be unpopular with a majority of the public. But, again, that's the whole point. This is a minority group, non-Christians, challenging a government-endorsed symbol whose intention is to tacitly align the culture of the nation with the beliefs of the Christian majority. It's another example of the Christian majority in the United States attempting to circumvent the Establishment Clause and have their faith enshrined above all others as an American institution.

My response to them is the same as my response to school-led prayer and government-funded "faith-based" initiatives: if Evangelical Christians want their religion established as the "One True American Faith", then they should do it honestly by introducing legislation that amends the Establishment Clause. If the United States is to be a mandated Christian nation, then our Constitution needs to reflect such openly and honestly.

Any thing less is a tacit admission by the Evangelical Christian community that their view of the Constitution and the philosophy of its Framers, is wrong.

Which, of course, it is.


DAS said...

Why would religious Christians want Atheistic folks to recite the lines "under God".

Considering that Atheists don't believe in God, for them to make a statement otherwise, that statement would surely be in vain.

And one of the 10 commandments the Fundies so claim to love is not to take the Lord's name in vain.

So why are some Fundies trying to force people to break a commandment? Do they not know it is also against God's law to place a stumbling block before the blind and thus against the law of God as much as the law of man to entrap someone to break said law?

So why do the Fundies insist on sinning in forcing others to invoke God in vain? Or are the 10 commandments monuments mere idols to them?

Samurai Sam said...

Most Christians have no idea what the Commandment against taking the Lord's name in vain actually means. They think it just means that you can't say "Jesus Christ!" when someone cuts you off in traffic.
I would argue that having "In God We Trust" on our fiat is also taking the Lord's name in vain.

Jessica said...

Stop over at AM Sam...we could use some commentary on this!