Editorial: Pledge of Allegiance
As much as I love America, and I feel that I love this nation far more that those who feel compelled to cover their homes and bodies with the stars and stripes but feel equally compelled to attempt to silence anyone who disagrees with his or her opinion, I must lend my voice to an issue that I have considered a problem as long as I have been able to understand it—the sanctioned violations the separation of church and state in such areas as the Pledge of Allegiance, our currency and our courthouses. Although the phrase “separation of church and state” never actually appears in the Constitution, the Founding Fathers did clearly state, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” thus creating a distinct separation between the secular and the faith-based aspects of our society.
I had always believed that this distinct separation and guarantee of religious freedom was one of the reasons behind what I had been taught was our national motto—E Pluribus Unum (out of many one). That would make sense, right? This is, after all, the Great American Melting Pot, right? Unfortunately, kiddies, as of July 30, 1956, “In God We Trust” has been our national motto. Somehow those who follow the Judeo/Christian/Muslim ideal, that constitutionally has no place in our government, got congress to adopt this unconstitutional motto.
This is not to say that the religious does not have its place. Although I am not a religious woman, I believe whole-heartedly in the right to worship whichever deity, in whatever fashion each individual sees fit. That is exactly what makes the separation of church and state so crucial to our peaceful coexistence. Without it we would find ourselves in a situation where the differences in belief structures would oppose each other and create intense conflict as they vied for their place in the religious hierarchy.
One of the biggest problems is that too many people don’t realize that there are religions that don’t fall into the Judeo/Christian/Islamic mold. There are religions that don’t have a god the way they do. Perhaps, as is the case in Buddhism, they have no god, they follow the teachings of Buddha—a man. Or maybe, as is the case in Hinduism, the deity or deities worshipped is so trivial to the faith that they have an open theology, it is the belief that what is done in one life will have a direct result on the next that is central to their ideology. Most Pagan (a word that conjures up an unfair stereotype due to the unfortunate de facto American religious hierarchy) religions worship a male and female deity, at least. And then, of course there are Agnostics who are unsure of what higher power there is, if any, and Atheists who believe in no deity at all.
Now that the brief theology lesson is over, it is clear that to base the credo “In God We Trust” does not ring true for all Americans. What’s more, this faith-based motto seems to be a law establishing religion. Yet, when it was challenged, it was the man who dared to bring up the minor fact that the motto is illegal who was vilified. In addition to suffering public ridicule, he was all but laughed at and ignored by the Supreme Court.
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said there are “so many references to God” in public affairs, noting “In God We Trust” was on US currency and coins. She added that the Supreme Court opens all its public sessions with the words, “God save the United States and this honorable Court.” This is, unfortunately, true. But the overuse of “god,” especially where it is completely inappropriate and illegal is not grounds to call it legal.
Besides, noted Justice David Souter, even if the words “under God” represented religion “in actual practice, it’s an affirmation in the mindset of a civic exercise.” How can it be considered a “civic exercise” to be compelled to profess a belief that does not exist in order to express patriotism?
“God is so generic in this context as to be a neutral” expression of belief, continued Justice Stephen Breyer. That is simply not true, as I said, not all belief structures have the same “god” concept as the one that was legislated. These ideologies need to be respected just as much as those that do, thus disproving the neutrality of god.
Michael Newdow, the California father who brought a case before the Supreme Court citing that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional in June of 2004, said, “I want my belief system to be given the same weight” as those with a particular religious faith. He said using the pledge as written amounts to having the government tell his daughter “her father is wrong” because of what he believes. Yet, isn’t that exactly what the Supreme Court just told her? This man is an American; he has a constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of religion. His choice is no religion. The Supreme Court has no right to treat him differently than any other litigant who enters their courtroom. But they clearly did.
If an African American felt that the wording of a particular law was discriminating, (s)he would be heard. If a woman felt that she were the victim of sexual harassment, simply because she overheard an off-color joke, her case would be taken seriously. And if a homosexual couple felt unprotected by the law as it stands, steps would be taken to correct the problem. These are all part of what America is about, and I am certainly not saying that this should change. But the rights of those whose spiritual paths are in the religious minority deserve equal protection, too. So I wait the day when I can proudly stand up and say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Because until that is how it goes, we will truly have neither liberty nor justice for anyone but Christians, Catholics, Jews and Muslims.