Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I Pledge Allegiance to the Constitution

Just minutes ago, a federal judge here in San Francisco ruled that the recitation in public schools of the current form of the Pledge of Allegiance, including the words "one nation under God," is unconstitutional and impermissible, in line with the precedent of the 9th Circuit.

Attorney Michael Newdow brought the case on behalf of three unnamed parents, since his suit last year was dismissed on technical grounds. The subject is headed back to the Supreme Court, although that Court will have two new faces on it.

Newdow hit the bullseye with this quote:

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." I think that everybody would not be sitting here saying, "Oh, what harm is that." They'd be furious. — Michael Newdow, to the Associated Press, 2005-09-14
The United States Constitution says that there shall be no establishment of religion in this nation. That means that the government must not prefer the exercise of one set of religious beliefs over another.

Removing the words "under God" from the Pledge, as Newdow and others advocate, does not express a preference for atheism, nor does it in any way discourage, disparage, or burden the exercise of faith in God. It simply returns the Pledge to the religiously neutral ground of patriotism, where it belongs.

The history of the Pledge is too often left out of the discussion of those two words. The original Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, who was a Baptist minister. However, before the so-called Christian Right leaps to claim Bellamy as their own, I hasten to add that Bellamy was also a utopian socialist. Bellamy was kicked out of his Baptist church in Boston for preaching socialism.

The original wording was:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Bellamy considered adding the word "equality" near the end, but that would've been too controversial in an era in which women and Negroes were not considered the equals of white men. The words "under God" were not added until 1954, during the "commie under every bed" period of anti-Communist hysteria.

I endorse this wording for the Pledge:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with equality, liberty, and justice for all. [uncredited slightly modified version of Bellamy's original Pledge]
If our Nation is to be indivisible, we must learn to stand together, Christian and Jew, Jew and Moslem, Moslem and Hindu, monotheist and polytheist, and even fundamentalist and atheist. If freedom of religion only means the freedom to pick exactly one god, it is not freedom at all.