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Mommy, don't we love America? (s/o the motto posts)

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Since we're all moms, here's an example of how this topic affects children:

Mommy, don't we love America?

Kids puzzled when school pledge rebuffs Mom and Dad.

By most standards, Lisa and John are model citizens. He's a veteran, they are both college grads, and they've been married for over ten years. Both have good jobs, John in high-tech and Lisa in the medical field. They live in the Boston suburbs, send their kids to public school, and spend most of their waking hours juggling busy schedules involving work, school, and the kids' activities.

Religious affirmations in school can discriminate against nonbelieving families, contributing to prejudice against them.

Nevertheless, in the eyes of some, there is reason to question the patriotism of Lisa and John. Their flaw, it seems, is that they don't conform to official government doctrine on the existence of a divinity. "Our six-year-old daughter came home from first grade very confused," Lisa explains. "In school she was taught to stand up each morning and declare that we are a nation under God, but she knows that mommy and daddy don't believe in any gods. She wanted to know, why does the school say there's a God when mommy and daddy say there isn't?"


Lisa and John, who both consider themselves Humanists, explained to their daughter that not all Americans believe in divinities, and that the "under God" wording was added to the Pledge of Allegiance by people who thought it was important. Trying not to overwhelm the small child with too much information, they simply explained that people who don't believe in God should not have their patriotism questioned.

Of course, Lisa and John are right. The Constitution guarantees religiousfreedom, including the right to not believe, as well as the separation of church and state. The Constitution also forbids religious tests for public office, making it clear that religiosity and good citizenship are unrelated concepts.

"She's a confident little girl and she knows that we are good citizens," John explains. "But she takes words seriously, and she was obviously troubled by the fact that the school was saying one thing and her parentswere saying another."

Lisa and John feel that they gave their daughter the assurances she needs, but they nevertheless resent that, on a daily basis in school, she must confront a religious truth claim that contradicts their family's beliefs. "Why should my child go to school every day to be told by the school, in an official flag-salute ceremony with teachers and classmates, that the religious views we've been teaching her are wrong?" John asks. "We teach her good values, right from wrong. She's a good girl, and her family's religion shouldn't be disparaged by her school."

Lisa expresses concern that the "under God" wording strongly implies that nonbelievers are less patriotic than those who believe. "This is a patriotic exercise, let's be clear about that," she says. "So if this official patriotic ceremony, conducted every day with hand over heart, declares that our country is under God, then obviously the inference is that true patriots must believe in God. That's always made me uneasy, but now that my kids are getting to school age it really worries me."

And John and Lisa are not alone. From sea to shining sea, secular Americans who love their country find themselves dealing with the problem of governmental religiosity in an age when religious activists are politically engaged, well funded, and ready to assert their agenda on such issues. As such, anyone who questions governmental God-talk immediately becomes a participant in the culture wars.

The problem, says Ron, a father of two from California, is that many Americans are oblivious to history. "A lot of people think the Pledge was written by the Founding Fathers," he says, when in fact it was actually written about a century later, in 1892, for a children's magazine. That original Pledge had no religious language, as it promised allegiance to "one nation indivisible." Though it proved catchy and was eventually utilized widely by schools, it remained secular until the "under God" wording was added in 1954 at the height of the McCarthy era, after much lobbying by the Knights of Columbus and other religious groups.

Around the same time that "under God" was added to the official federal version of the Pledge, religious lobbyists succeeded in convincing Congress to make "In God We Trust" the national motto. Again, Ron says many Americans are unaware that this religious motto was adopted only as recently as the 1950s.

"The real motto of this country, from the days of the Founders, was E Pluribus Unum," he says, referring to the Latin motto (meaning "Out of many, one") found on the Great Seal of the United States, which dates back to 1782. Ron and others point to what they feel is the beauty of E Pluribus Unum, in that it exemplifies the federal structure of the country (out of many states, one nation) and the pluralistic, melting-pot nature of the American population (out of many peoples, one American people).

Thus, secular parents like John, Lisa, and Ron teach their kids that America's sharp turn toward public religiosity actually contradicts traditional American values. Religious conservatives can cherry pick examples of the Founders making religious references, of course, but such arguments ignore the fact that the Founders did not have a religious pledge, a religious national motto, or for that matter an official annual National Day of Prayer. To be sure, practical politics in the 18th century required a certain level of respect be paid to religion, but what's most remarkable about the Founders is not their religiosity, but their secularism. Many Founders, such as Thomas Jefferson, considered themselves Deists and rejected outright the notion of revelation-based religion.

Some have argued that secular families and children should simply stop complaining, that they should learn to accept official governmentalbias against their religious views. If the Pledge wording really bothers you, these people argue, then don't participate in the flag-salute ceremony each day. (The Supreme Court ruled in 1943, in a case involving a Jehovah's Witnesses child, that schools cannot force children to participate in the Pledge.) This argument assumes, however, that nonparticipation is an easy option, but numerous documented instances of harassment toward those who refuse to participate in patriotic exercises suggest otherwise. 

Even more importantly, secular families feel that the burden of resiliency should not rest with the child, who simply comes to school expecting to be treated as an equal, but with the government, which has a duty to treat all children equally. "My child doesn't want to sit out while the rest of her class says the Pledge," argues Melissa, an Illinois mother of a junior high student. "No kid likes to be the odd one, the one who's different. She wants to participate like everyone else, but she doesn't want the government criticizing our family's religious beliefs." 

Some secular parents are active in Humanist and atheist communities, whereas others simply have no group affiliation. Almost all of them, however, are more likely to spend Sunday morning in a museum than a church, and all must find ways of dealing with the religiosity that is regularly imposed on their kids. Though it comes in various forms, the most persistent problem seems to be the regular, often daily, recitation of the religious Pledge of Allegiance in schools.

These secular families address this issue in different ways, depending on numerous factors - their own willingness to be visible dissenters, the temperment of their child, the level of sympathy of teachers and administrators, the religious and patriotic climate in the school community, and other factors. Most atheist and Humanist children indeed participate in the Pledge, though many parents report that their kids discreetly remain silent while the words "under God" are spoken. (Melissa's daughter quietly, and cleverly, says "under law" instead.)

Most secular parents are not thrilled with such compromises, but realize that there are few better options. "By participating, even if you don't say 'under God,' you are validating the religious language, because nobody knows that you aren't saying the religious words," John says. "By standing and participating, you give the appearance of unanimity. It perpetuates the ridiculous idea that all patriotic people believe in God."

Regardless of how secular families deal with the issue, most wish they simply weren't forced to do so. They see the entire dilemma as being caused by overzealous religious conservatives and the politicians who are reluctant to stand up to them, fearful of doing the right thing to keep governmentout of the religion business and protect the rights of minorities.

To illustrate what it's like to have their religious views rejected on a daily basis by the schools, atheist and Humanist parents suggest imagining a hypothetical where the Pledge wording is changed to "one nation, under Jesus." There would be no question, of course, that such a Pledge would discriminate against Hindus, Jews, and Muslims. As such, atheist and Humanist parents argue, the "under God" wording is really no different. The assertion that a country is "under God" is, by definition, a specific religious truth claim, a claim that is believed by some and not others.

Since America is growing increasingly secular, especially among the younger generation, this is a problem that is unlikely to go away soon. But until it does, the goal of true indivisibility may remain elusive.

 

Note: All names were changed for this article.

See the original Pledge (pre-McCarthy) here:  Porky Pig Pledge

Join me on Facebook

Text copyright 2011 David Niose

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-humanity-naturally/201102/mommy-dont-we-love-america

"Women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open." -Emma Goldman
 


http://masqueradingscientist.blogspot.com/




 




 




 




 

by on Nov. 15, 2011 at 2:15 PM
Replies (31-40):
jessilin0113
by Platinum Member on Nov. 15, 2011 at 10:22 PM

Your words reflect a lack of....

I've got nothing.  How doe she do that??

Quoting TCgirlatheart:

Don't encourage me!  I'm trying to resist the urge to tell you I'm v'ry busy with my family, and that I can't spend all my time on the net you know.

Quoting jessilin0113:

The silence is deafening.  Love the little symbol at the end, lol.  :)

Quoting TCgirlatheart:

As some would say, It's very telling~ 

Quoting jessilin0113:

I'm bumping again.  I'd love for some of those who feel the pledge and motto are perfectly appropriate to weigh in on some of the points brought up in the article.  Specifically to the points made about the burden this places on children.





Cincinnatus
by New Member on Nov. 15, 2011 at 10:25 PM
2 moms liked this

How is pledging allegiance to a flag and a government a patriotic thing to do at all? Sounds more nationalistic to me, and the two could not be further from one another. If allegiance to a ruler were patriotic, (rather than rebelling against a despotic ruler that does things like coerce children to swear allegiance to it) then we'd all still take tea and crumpets at 4pm, swallow our t's and h's, and have horrible teeth.

TCgirlatheart
by TC on Nov. 15, 2011 at 10:27 PM
1 mom liked this

I don't know either, and I have to say it would scare me if I ever figured it out.

Quoting jessilin0113:

Your words reflect a lack of....

I've got nothing.  How doe she do that??

Quoting TCgirlatheart:

Don't encourage me!  I'm trying to resist the urge to tell you I'm v'ry busy with my family, and that I can't spend all my time on the net you know.

Quoting jessilin0113:

The silence is deafening.  Love the little symbol at the end, lol.  :)

Quoting TCgirlatheart:

As some would say, It's very telling~ 

Quoting jessilin0113:

I'm bumping again.  I'd love for some of those who feel the pledge and motto are perfectly appropriate to weigh in on some of the points brought up in the article.  Specifically to the points made about the burden this places on children.






~How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes. I struggle to find any truth in your lies.~
LindaClement
by Thatwoman on Nov. 15, 2011 at 11:39 PM
2 moms liked this

It's not just that it's unfair.

Quoting jessilin0113:

Good article. It stated very well the case for why the "Well, they just don't have to participate" argument is unfair.

I'll explain it from my mil's perspective, which I think is just stupid (and think lots of people will agree...but I'll tell the story and see how it plays out)

We are not religious. I did not learn anything about any religion until I was in my teens. Dh went off and on as a child for various reasons. Mil wanted to know when our first daughter's christening would be.

Hunh?!?

I said, 'why would we do that?'

Her reply was:

"Just in case."

What? Just in case? There is either no deity, in which case there is not 'case' to be just in... or there is, and I betcha a dollar that won't work.

Saying it when you don't believe it (or repeating it mindlessly without even understanding the words, which I believe is a very, very common experience)... well, who does that please?

People who want to feel like part of a big(ger) club (than it really is)? People who don't mind heretics mouthing the words? Heretics playing along 'just in case'? Non-believers who don't want to be found out? People who can't conceive of someone who wasn't raised in this, who doesn't understand it or believe it, and who perceives no lack in their lives?

Yeah... what?!?

tweety101149
by Platinum Member on Nov. 16, 2011 at 1:35 AM
1 mom liked this

Thank you for posting this stringtheory... One  does not have to be atheist or agnostic...to appreciate it.  And what about Jehovah's witness..to my understanding...they are not even allowed to say the pledge because of religious restrictions.  They opt out.  I don't think that makes them any less patriotic.   I happen to believe in G-d...but, I don't believe the  pledge or our money should say anything about any deity.  It is exclusionary. Further the man that wrote the pledge Rev. Bellamy..probably would not even approve of it.   I think our lawmakers voted it through again..because they did not want to loose their seats..by upsetting..a majority of their constituents  even though is disinfranchises many.

butterfly on headlynda  




TCgirlatheart
by TC on Nov. 16, 2011 at 8:22 AM

BUMP!

romalove
by Roma on Nov. 16, 2011 at 8:27 AM
2 moms liked this

 

Quoting tweety101149:

Thank you for posting this stringtheory... One  does not have to be atheist or agnostic...to appreciate it.  And what about Jehovah's witness..to my understanding...they are not even allowed to say the pledge because of religious restrictions.  They opt out.  I don't think that makes them any less patriotic.   I happen to believe in G-d...but, I don't believe the  pledge or our money should say anything about any deity.  It is exclusionary. Further the man that wrote the pledge Rev. Bellamy..probably would not even approve of it.   I think our lawmakers voted it through again..because they did not want to loose their seats..by upsetting..a majority of their constituents  even though is disinfranchises many.

 Reading this helps crystallize what I'm feeling about having the discussions in the various threads regarding the motto and general expressions of God/religion in governmental/public arenas.

I keep hitting a brick wall in any discussion because the person I'm talking to is talking about what THEY want, based on how they feel.  I'm talking not about what I want because of how I feel, but what I think is the right thing to do based on the greater good, what is good for everyone.  Whether or not I believe in God has no bearing on whether or not the government should be expressing belief in God on behalf of everyone.

dawnharvey68
by Member on Nov. 16, 2011 at 1:28 PM
5 moms liked this

Thanks for posting this excellently written article, which I saw when logging on yesterday and which finally spurred me to join this group!

Quoting Cincinnatus:

How is pledging allegiance to a flag and a government a patriotic thing to do at all? Sounds more nationalistic to me, and the two could not be further from one another.

For me the pledge is problematic on two grounds.  Let's take the "patriotic" aspect first:

From a European perspective, I always found the idea of the state sanctioned/forced recitation by school children of a pledge of allegiance (and it is practically forced as an expect social norm) very sinister.  In Europe, such things smack of the worst types of national chauvinism and are only associated with totalitarianism (whether of the left or right).  A truly free and confident society shouldn't require its children to daily recite pledges or salute flags.  The American obsession with flag worship and military prowess also sits ill with the European mind, where memories of fascism and communism have left a legacy of suspicion of such attempts to instil national pride.

This all flows with the "American civil religion" concept, where prescribed norms of patriotic and religious observance are deemed socially desirable, and respectable types of free thought are popularly deemed "un-American".  Noam Chomsky famously pointed out that the idea of something being "unAmerican" demonstrated a streak of totalitarianism within mainstream American patriotic observance.  He said, for example, that if you go onto the streets of Oslo or Milan and said that someone could be deemed "un/anti-Norwegian/Italian", then people would think it is a ludicrous idea and laugh at you.  Perfectly true!

Indeed, counter to loving freedom, only societies that tried to impose or cultivate a narrowly defined definition of "patriotism" could use such terms: so sadly when accusations of "anti-american" behaviour are made against US citizens, this brings to mind the alleged crime of "anti-Sovietism" - once a high crime in the erstwhile USSR.

Anyways, the second aspect of the pledge, and the central one here, is the religious element.  It should be obvious to anyone that it is trying to impose a religious norm.  And then there's school prayers, benedictions, etc, etc.

On this aspect, I can do no better than copy the following article, which was published in a British magazine about 2002, following the ultra-patriotic aftermath of 9/11.  It is a good summary of the role of American civil deism as an imposed societal norm, and not much has changed since:

One Nation Under God?

Imagine a country which passes laws requiring its schoolchildren to participate in regular acts of patriotism, where they have been suspended or even beaten for non-compliance or protest.  Imagine a country where opposition to such state endorsed rituals, or the religious taint of national mottoes, can lead to victimisation, ostracism, and even death threats.  We are not talking about, as one might imagine, somewhere such as Iran or North Korea, but the USA.

The US Constitution continues to be demeaned by a significant number of Americans who revere it almost as a totem, yet fail to observe the protection for individual rights it contains.  The reaction of many Americans to matters of individual conscience or freedom reveals a mentality that requires absolute conformism to popularly accepted norms of patriotic and religious belief.  This ideological climate has been heightened since September 11, with over 1,200 laws being enacted around the country mandating display of patriotic mottoes and recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.

Interestingly, ‘God’ is not mentioned in the Constitution, which maintains that it and not God is the supreme law of the land.  Indeed the first four presidents were at pains to prevent the Christianisation of America.  The First Amendment prohibits Congress making any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion’; however this ‘wall of separation’ has endured unrelenting attack, with Bush now promoting ‘faith-based’ programmes and public funding of religious schools.

The US is constituted, through the Bill of Rights, as a democratically limited republic, where Thomas Jefferson’s feared ‘tyranny of the many’ cannot ride roughshod over minorities at will, and where the inalienable rights of the individual to freedom of conscience and expression are (theoretically) protected against arbitrary infringement.

As presently construed, all levels of government must be completely neutral, aiding neither a particular religion, nor all religions.  However, given the almost universal belief in God, this has been interpreted solely as prohibiting aid to specific religious creeds; the very idea that a reference to ‘God’, such as in the Pledge or in the national motto, should be construed as ‘respecting an establishment of religion’ is at such variance with public orthodoxy that it has never been seriously entertained in court.

At least that was until June 26, when the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a suit brought by Michael Newdow against the inclusion of the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance regularly recited in his 8 year old daughter’s school.  It should be obvious that ‘one nation under God’ is a statement of religious affirmation, demonstrated trivially by its intrinsic monotheism.  Yet, to most Americans, the existence of God is unquestioned, atheists are regarded with suspicion and to oppose reference to God in patriotic expressions is perverse.  Thus ‘In God We Trust’ is emblazoned on currency, politicians cry ‘God Bless America!’ at every opportunity and publicly funded chaplains say prayers in legislatures across the land: these and other practices defended by the courts on the grounds of being merely ‘ceremonial deism’.  Even the Supreme Court simply chooses in such instances to completely ignore the tests ordinarily used to indicate state endorsement of religion in less politically sensitive cases, supporting practices that dissenting justices have described as obviously unconstitutional even to ‘a group of law students’.

Without a common culture that helps mould a sense of national identity such as in Europe, much of American identity revolves around rituals of patriotic observance, such as the Pledge of Allegiance.  Originally penned by a socialist ex-Baptist minister in 1892, it was increasingly required in schools and codified into law in 1942.

In 1940 Jehovah’s Witnesses in West Virginia objected to enforced recitation of the Pledge in school, under penalty of expulsion, on the grounds that the US flag was held as an idol and their religion required allegiance to God alone.  Their case was dismissed initially, on the grounds that their freedom of religion had to be subordinated to a national need for unity and patriotism.  But in the months following the decision there were more than 300 physical attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses, including an assault in Richwood, West Virginia where the sheriff had nine Witnesses tied together in front of a flagpole.  A mob surrounded them, recited the Pledge, spat on the victims, then drove them out of town.  This led the Supreme Court in 1943 to admit that they had reached the wrong conclusion, declaring that students could not be forced to recite the Pledge.  But, in practice, this right to opt out means that students are placed in the situation, in the words of the Newdow court’s decision, of having to ‘make an unacceptable choice between participating and protesting’.  Such a protest by two 18 year old students in Alabama led to a beating for refusing to recite the pledge, according to a case being argued only days after the Newdow ruling.

It was during the dark days of the Cold War in the 1950s that Congress added the phrase ‘under God’ to the Pledge, specifically to distinguish the USA from ‘atheistic communism’.  The secular, inclusive national motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’ (‘Out of many, One’) was replaced by ‘In God We Trust’, and public profession of religious faith became a litmus test for patriotism.  Many have denounced the court’s ruling on the grounds that the reference is innocuous, or merely a recognition of ‘common Judeo-Christian heritage’, yet an examination of the circumstances in which ‘under God’ was added reveal that it was clearly religiously inspired, a fundamental consideration for any legal ruling.  President Eisenhower, on signing the act into law, proclaimed that ‘millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim…the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty’.

Summarising the Newdow decision, Judge Goodwin wrote that ‘one nation under God’ is as objectionable as ‘under Vishnu, Zeus or no god’, because ‘none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion’.  The pledge could be seen by atheists as enforcing ‘a religious orthodoxy of monotheism’ and conveying a message to unbelievers ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community’.

The Appellate Court’s decision resulted in outrage and derision across the nation.  Congresspersons appeared on the steps of the Capitol to recite the Pledge, both the House and Senate unanimously passed motions supporting it, and even more state legislatures have been mandating it in schools.  Eschewing the legal technicalities of the case, President Bush, Senate Majority leader Daschle and others have resorted to epithets such as ‘ridiculous, ‘just nuts’ and ‘junk justice’ in an attempt to strangle the heresy at birth.  Christian groups mobilised with some demanding impeachment of the judges, and Bush vowed to appoint only ‘common sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God’.  The dissenting judge denounced the ruling not on firm legal grounds, but rather that since its logic could equally apply against ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘God Bless America’ it must therefore be inadmissible.

Polls reveal, though, that up to 20% of the population agree with the court’s verdict, and some brave individuals publicly voiced their concern.  Washington Post journalist Richard Cohen, who knows many politicians privately to be agnostic or even atheist, opined: ‘Not a single member of the House or Senate had the courage to suggest even that the court had a point.  Not one questioned the consensus.  If these men and women, adults with immense influence, were cowed into acting like 8-year olds in the classroom, then how can we expect real 8-year olds to assert their constitutional right to delete the phrase or not recite the pledge at all?  What kid could stand up to that kind of pressure?  Certainly no member of Congress could.’

Bucking the national trend, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed a bill mandating the Pledge in schools, comparing it to the indoctrination practised by the Nazis and Taleban.  ‘Patriotism must come from the heart’, he said, and not be dictated by the state.

Just one day later, though, Judge Goodwin buckled under the outcry and stayed his decision, meaning that the case has to be reheard by a full panel of 11 judges.  It is doubtful, since precedent shows that courts tend to follow the climate of current political opinion rather than opt for a correct, yet controversial and politically unpalatable decision, that Newdow’s suit will survive the full force of opposition now ranged against it.  That indeed will be a sad day for American justice.  Perhaps in such an eventuality the Pledge should still be edited, but in this instance the excised phrase should not be ‘under God’, but ‘with liberty and justice for all’….

The court’s decision itself is well worth reading, and can be found at: http://news.findlaw.com/usatoday/docs/conlaw/newdowus62602opn.pdf

Michael Newdow’s site is at: www.restorethepledge.com

romalove
by Roma on Nov. 16, 2011 at 1:32 PM

 

Quoting dawnharvey68:

Thanks for posting this excellently written article, which I saw when logging on yesterday and which finally spurred me to join this group!

Quoting Cincinnatus:

How is pledging allegiance to a flag and a government a patriotic thing to do at all? Sounds more nationalistic to me, and the two could not be further from one another.

For me the pledge is problematic on two grounds.  Let's take the "patriotic" aspect first:

From a European perspective, I always found the idea of the state sanctioned/forced recitation by school children of a pledge of allegiance (and it is practically forced as an expect social norm) very sinister.  In Europe, such things smack of the worst types of national chauvinism and are only associated with totalitarianism (whether of the left or right).  A truly free and confident society shouldn't require its children to daily recite pledges or salute flags.  The American obsession with flag worship and military prowess also sits ill with the European mind, where memories of fascism and communism have left a legacy of suspicion of such attempts to instil national pride.

This all flows with the "American civil religion" concept, where prescribed norms of patriotic and religious observance are deemed socially desirable, and respectable types of free thought are popularly deemed "un-American".  Noam Chomsky famously pointed out that the idea of something being "unAmerican" demonstrated a streak of totalitarianism within mainstream American patriotic observance.  He said, for example, that if you go onto the streets of Oslo or Milan and said that someone could be deemed "un/anti-Norwegian/Italian", then people would think it is a ludicrous idea and laugh at you.  Perfectly true!

Indeed, counter to loving freedom, only societies that tried to impose or cultivate a narrowly defined definition of "patriotism" could use such terms: so sadly when accusations of "anti-american" behaviour are made against US citizens, this brings to mind the alleged crime of "anti-Sovietism" - once a high crime in the erstwhile USSR.

Anyways, the second aspect of the pledge, and the central one here, is the religious element.  It should be obvious to anyone that it is trying to impose a religious norm.  And then there's school prayers, benedictions, etc, etc.

On this aspect, I can do no better than copy the following article, which was published in a British magazine about 2002, following the ultra-patriotic aftermath of 9/11.  It is a good summary of the role of American civil deism as an imposed societal norm, and not much has changed since:

One Nation Under God?

Imagine a country which passes laws requiring its schoolchildren to participate in regular acts of patriotism, where they have been suspended or even beaten for non-compliance or protest.  Imagine a country where opposition to such state endorsed rituals, or the religious taint of national mottoes, can lead to victimisation, ostracism, and even death threats.  We are not talking about, as one might imagine, somewhere such as Iran or North Korea, but the USA.

The US Constitution continues to be demeaned by a significant number of Americans who revere it almost as a totem, yet fail to observe the protection for individual rights it contains.  The reaction of many Americans to matters of individual conscience or freedom reveals a mentality that requires absolute conformism to popularly accepted norms of patriotic and religious belief.  This ideological climate has been heightened since September 11, with over 1,200 laws being enacted around the country mandating display of patriotic mottoes and recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.

Interestingly, ‘God’ is not mentioned in the Constitution, which maintains that it and not God is the supreme law of the land.  Indeed the first four presidents were at pains to prevent the Christianisation of America.  The First Amendment prohibits Congress making any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion’; however this ‘wall of separation’ has endured unrelenting attack, with Bush now promoting ‘faith-based’ programmes and public funding of religious schools.

The US is constituted, through the Bill of Rights, as a democratically limited republic, where Thomas Jefferson’s feared ‘tyranny of the many’ cannot ride roughshod over minorities at will, and where the inalienable rights of the individual to freedom of conscience and expression are (theoretically) protected against arbitrary infringement.

As presently construed, all levels of government must be completely neutral, aiding neither a particular religion, nor all religions.  However, given the almost universal belief in God, this has been interpreted solely as prohibiting aid to specific religious creeds; the very idea that a reference to ‘God’, such as in the Pledge or in the national motto, should be construed as ‘respecting an establishment of religion’ is at such variance with public orthodoxy that it has never been seriously entertained in court.

At least that was until June 26, when the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a suit brought by Michael Newdow against the inclusion of the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance regularly recited in his 8 year old daughter’s school.  It should be obvious that ‘one nation under God’ is a statement of religious affirmation, demonstrated trivially by its intrinsic monotheism.  Yet, to most Americans, the existence of God is unquestioned, atheists are regarded with suspicion and to oppose reference to God in patriotic expressions is perverse.  Thus ‘In God We Trust’ is emblazoned on currency, politicians cry ‘God Bless America!’ at every opportunity and publicly funded chaplains say prayers in legislatures across the land: these and other practices defended by the courts on the grounds of being merely ‘ceremonial deism’.  Even the Supreme Court simply chooses in such instances to completely ignore the tests ordinarily used to indicate state endorsement of religion in less politically sensitive cases, supporting practices that dissenting justices have described as obviously unconstitutional even to ‘a group of law students’.

Without a common culture that helps mould a sense of national identity such as in Europe, much of American identity revolves around rituals of patriotic observance, such as the Pledge of Allegiance.  Originally penned by a socialist ex-Baptist minister in 1892, it was increasingly required in schools and codified into law in 1942.

In 1940 Jehovah’s Witnesses in West Virginia objected to enforced recitation of the Pledge in school, under penalty of expulsion, on the grounds that the US flag was held as an idol and their religion required allegiance to God alone.  Their case was dismissed initially, on the grounds that their freedom of religion had to be subordinated to a national need for unity and patriotism.  But in the months following the decision there were more than 300 physical attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses, including an assault in Richwood, West Virginia where the sheriff had nine Witnesses tied together in front of a flagpole.  A mob surrounded them, recited the Pledge, spat on the victims, then drove them out of town.  This led the Supreme Court in 1943 to admit that they had reached the wrong conclusion, declaring that students could not be forced to recite the Pledge.  But, in practice, this right to opt out means that students are placed in the situation, in the words of the Newdow court’s decision, of having to ‘make an unacceptable choice between participating and protesting’.  Such a protest by two 18 year old students in Alabama led to a beating for refusing to recite the pledge, according to a case being argued only days after the Newdow ruling.

It was during the dark days of the Cold War in the 1950s that Congress added the phrase ‘under God’ to the Pledge, specifically to distinguish the USA from ‘atheistic communism’.  The secular, inclusive national motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’ (‘Out of many, One’) was replaced by ‘In God We Trust’, and public profession of religious faith became a litmus test for patriotism.  Many have denounced the court’s ruling on the grounds that the reference is innocuous, or merely a recognition of ‘common Judeo-Christian heritage’, yet an examination of the circumstances in which ‘under God’ was added reveal that it was clearly religiously inspired, a fundamental consideration for any legal ruling.  President Eisenhower, on signing the act into law, proclaimed that ‘millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim…the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty’.

Summarising the Newdow decision, Judge Goodwin wrote that ‘one nation under God’ is as objectionable as ‘under Vishnu, Zeus or no god’, because ‘none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion’.  The pledge could be seen by atheists as enforcing ‘a religious orthodoxy of monotheism’ and conveying a message to unbelievers ‘that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community’.

The Appellate Court’s decision resulted in outrage and derision across the nation.  Congresspersons appeared on the steps of the Capitol to recite the Pledge, both the House and Senate unanimously passed motions supporting it, and even more state legislatures have been mandating it in schools.  Eschewing the legal technicalities of the case, President Bush, Senate Majority leader Daschle and others have resorted to epithets such as ‘ridiculous, ‘just nuts’ and ‘junk justice’ in an attempt to strangle the heresy at birth.  Christian groups mobilised with some demanding impeachment of the judges, and Bush vowed to appoint only ‘common sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God’.  The dissenting judge denounced the ruling not on firm legal grounds, but rather that since its logic could equally apply against ‘In God We Trust’ and ‘God Bless America’ it must therefore be inadmissible.

Polls reveal, though, that up to 20% of the population agree with the court’s verdict, and some brave individuals publicly voiced their concern.  Washington Post journalist Richard Cohen, who knows many politicians privately to be agnostic or even atheist, opined: ‘Not a single member of the House or Senate had the courage to suggest even that the court had a point.  Not one questioned the consensus.  If these men and women, adults with immense influence, were cowed into acting like 8-year olds in the classroom, then how can we expect real 8-year olds to assert their constitutional right to delete the phrase or not recite the pledge at all?  What kid could stand up to that kind of pressure?  Certainly no member of Congress could.’

Bucking the national trend, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed a bill mandating the Pledge in schools, comparing it to the indoctrination practised by the Nazis and Taleban.  ‘Patriotism must come from the heart’, he said, and not be dictated by the state.

Just one day later, though, Judge Goodwin buckled under the outcry and stayed his decision, meaning that the case has to be reheard by a full panel of 11 judges.  It is doubtful, since precedent shows that courts tend to follow the climate of current political opinion rather than opt for a correct, yet controversial and politically unpalatable decision, that Newdow’s suit will survive the full force of opposition now ranged against it.  That indeed will be a sad day for American justice.  Perhaps in such an eventuality the Pledge should still be edited, but in this instance the excised phrase should not be ‘under God’, but ‘with liberty and justice for all’….

The court’s decision itself is well worth reading, and can be found at: http://news.findlaw.com/usatoday/docs/conlaw/newdowus62602opn.pdf

Michael Newdow’s site is at: http://www.restorethepledge.com/

 Welcome to the group.  :-)

tscritch
by Silver Member on Nov. 16, 2011 at 1:41 PM


Quoting Ziggy-Stardust:

Im an atheist and Im really starting to dread the day my daughter is old enough to go to public school. The world living as one united piece should trump religion any day. United does not mean we have to be clones of each other it means we need to stick together regardless of our differences. Respect.

I think every person should ask their elementary school aged child if they know what it means to pledge allegiance to something. Unfortunately, I sure as hell didnt know what it meant when I was forced to recite it in 1st through 8th grade. God and patriotism are not synonymous and shouldnt be thought of as such.

I completely agree!

On a side note, I love the quote in your siggy. One of my favorite Rush lines ever!!!

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