Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Solemn Oath

     If there should be a single nail in the coffin of the so-called "Liberal Media", it should be last week's CNN headline, "Federal judge declares Pledge unconstitutional". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, long derided by the Redneck Right as too liberal (or maybe too Yankee), posted the slightly less biased headline, "Judge: Pledge violates rights". Both of these, plus the countless inflammatory headlines from around the nation are certain to push the buttons of religious conservatives who believe that Christians are being persecuted in the United States.
     What the hell am I talking about? Well, if you don't know, it is because of the fortunate (unfortunate?) timing of the latest battle over the Pledge. Despite certain pseudo-news channels chasing ratings over actual news, Katrina mostly dominated news coverage last week, and Texas Rita has headlines this week.
     So what are the nuts and bolts of this case? On September 14th, a US District judge ruled that requiring students to recite the Pledge was illegal. He explained that forcing students to affirm God violated the First Amendment. This is significantly different from the ruling in June 2002 that said the actual words, "Under God" were unconstitutional. The 2002 ruling caused a religious backlash around the country (in part because there was no news to report and because we were still undergoing patriotic anti-Islam fervor after 9/11) and Congress voted nearly unanimously to support a resolution keeping the Pledge intact with "under God". That ruling was overturned by the Supreme Court on a technicality, so it's really no surprise that the issue has resurfaced.
     I think people tend to forget what the Pledge of Allegiance really is. It's a solemn oath of eternal loyalty to the United States. Swearing loyalty to the US is not a bad thing for an American citizen to do. It's the solemn part that gets me. If you're older than 17, think back to the last time you said the Pledge. It was probably either back when you were in school or when you were visiting your children's school, right? And it's not that I think having kids swear allegiance to the US is a bad thing, either, but do they really know what they're saying? You have to be 16 or 17 to hold a driver's license and you have to be 18 or 19 to buy cigarettes. You have to be 18 to sign up for the military. You have to be 21 to drink and 25 to rent a car. And you cannot vote your preference for President or Governor or Mayor until you are 18. We don't trust children to do any of these things. So what do we get out of making children recite this oath 5 days a week? Most certainly don't appreciate the seriousness. And an oath is worth nothing if the speaker doesn't understand.
     So that makes it a farce. And the "under God" language makes it even more so. Students who don't believe in God but who do believe in the United States are swearing a false oath every single day. And what is confusing to me is that the Supreme Court in 1943 ruled to protect students from being complelled to salute the flag and say the Pledge because the government had no right to take the "free" out of "free speech". This is an argument any Libertarian should get behind. Imagine if instead of the flag, your kids were required to swear fealty to George W. Bush or Bill Clinton personally?
     That being said, I'm really not against the Pledge. And back to my original point, it is dishonest for the media to pretend that the recent court ruling is, either. 2002 saw an athiest try to remove the words, "under God" from the Pledge. Obviously, like so many of the 50's and 60's misguided laws (see the Georgia State Flag), the Pledge became ingrained in people who started to believe it had always been that way. But 2005 only reaffirmed free speech. And it reconfirmed that there are some people wanting to religiouscize our free nation no matter what the cost. We would do well not to heed their propaganda.

19 comments:

sideshow bob said...

Ummm...aren't we still undergoing patriotic anti-Islam fervor?

Good post, and thank you pointing out the differences in the cases. I had no idea. I feel guilty about it, but it seems like this whole Pledge thing has gone on for so long, that when I first heard about this case, my initial instinct was to tune it out. It's like, oh great, another stupid Pledge thing!

Ben said...

It could just be because the AJC headline writers are idiots. Plenty of times I find that the headline has nothing to do with the article. Do the reporters write the headlines or the editors? Anyway, I don't think many people consider the AJC anything but a pretty crappy paper.

Sylvana said...

This was the way the pledge went in our school. "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Nu, nu, nu, nunnunu, nu, nunu, nunu nu, with liberty and justice for all!" There was no mention of God.

It is not supposed to be one nation under any one god. We are supposed to be able to chose our own religion, or none if we choose to. There are lots of people in the US that do not worship God so the addition of "under God" has made the pledge a lie.

And I certainly don't want my son being forced to recite it the way that it is now. It should be returned to it's original wording. Before it got hijacked by a bunch of religious wingnuts in the 50s.

Ben said...

I guess I should also have mentioned my opinion on the pledge. Not much argument here, I don't think it should be "under god," nor compulsory, but saying a pledge in the morning is not a bad thing.

Otto Man said...

The most frustrating part of this is that most folks don't realize how recent an addition the "under God" part is. It was added in 1954, with the explicit reason that it would be a good way to distinguish Americans from the atheistic communists. And yet to this day, there are people who point to that, or the "In God We Trust" motto (also, by the way, a legacy of Cold War McCarthyism, adopted in 1956), as a sign that we're really a Christian nation.

I have no problem with the pledge. It seems a little hokey, but whatever, that fits in with elementary school, I suppose. I don't get worked up over the "under God" part, but it does seem a clear violation of the First Amendment. If kids can't say a generic prayer in school, they shouldn't be able to say that either.

Incidentally, the 1943 decision you refer to involved Jehovah's Witnesses who refused to salute the flag. Their reason? It was a graven image, and pledging allegiance to it violated their religious beliefs.

Scott said...

Otto Man, You're right about the 1943 involving Jehovah's Witnesses. But the judge in that case made his ruling without referring to any religious aspect (not unlike the Supreme Court decision in 2003), only saying that a compulsory oath of any sort is antithetical to the idea of free speech.
The concept of religious freedom had to wait until 2005.

ORF said...

I remember well saying the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school. I always thought it was a little silly. As I also thought that praying in church was a little silly. But when I think about it, you're right, Scott. I'm not sure I ever considered what we were actually doing, which was pledging our allegiance as American citizens to believe in the country and not go all John Walker Lindh on its ass. I was a smart kid and didn't pick up on that ever, so given that most kids these days are NOT so smart (JD notwithstanding, Bob and Syl!), well, I think it's safe to say that they don't really have a clue just what they're saying either. I don't mind the Pledge and while I don't necessarily appreciate the "under God" bit, I kind of wish that atheist guy would just give it up already and stop wasting tax dollars questioning whether or not the compulsory nature of it or the words within are legal.

Otto Man said...

Given the fact that most people rebel against what they were taught as a child, it seems we'd be better off instilling patriotism in future generations if we made school children give the flag the finger every morning. Then when they rebelled, they'd become little Alex P. Keatons.

Another interesting pledge fact -- until the 1940s, the proper way to pledge allegiance to the flag was with your right arm extended out, palm up. For some reason, we changed all that in the middle of World War II.

Shannon said...

What if we were to change the wording to "one nation in the womb of the great mother goddess?" I think I'm on to something (I admit I just read ORF's blog).

Personally, I stopped saying the pledge in high school. I'd stand out of respect, but refused to say it. I just don't see the point, under god under nothing whatever. It seemed like a waste of time. Get rid of it.

Ben said...

Otto Man, considering the prevailing liberal attitude in many metropolitian areas, I think in a lot of place the rebels are becoming Alex P. Keaton-ish. Not that I'm implying that everyone is liberal. My sister, for instance, grew up in Atlanta, and was fairly liberal. Now that she's moved to San Francisco, she says she still has the same beliefs, but the city is skewed so far left that she feels like a moderate, or even slightly right wing in some situations, which she never felt before. So if you grew up in S.F. and wanted to rebel, you'd definitely go Alex P. Keaton (who was a staunch conservative).

Sylvana said...

THAT'S IT OTTO!! Give the finger to the flag! Brilliant!

ORF said...

Ben, I think you are totally right about the sliding scale of moderate-ness. I always considered myself to be pretty liberal in my hometown in NC. But then when I moved to NYC, I felt like I was practically Jesse Helms compared to most people up here. I've libbed up considerably since moving to NYC and will probably stay that way even once I leave, but it's interesting to think about. I'm watching my dad, who moved here about a year and a half ago, go through a similar change. Which is pretty cool. Because he used to be Mr. Republican.

Ben said...

Yeah, I think my sister, despite her protestations, has moved further left. It's funny when she visits and then goes back to Cali, and my parents are both like, "Where the hell did she come from?"

Actually my favorite part of my sister moving to Cali is when she says stuff like, "I never realized how racist the south is until I moved to San Fran." Then I go visit her in S.F. and there's like 3 black people in the entire city. Pricing people out of being able to live in your area is an old and revered form of racism. Despite many problems Atlanta has with racial issues, I go to other cities and see little overt racism, but far more instances of whites and blacks having basically no interaction whatsoever. Got off topic a bit.

Shannon said...

I think that's an important point, Ben. Racism, be it overt or "subconscious" (like pricing people of color out of neighborhoods and not having much interaction with blacks, latinos, etc etc) is still a problem. I tend to think the latter (subconscious) is a larger problem because it indicates that people are in denial.

Ben said...

It is and it isn't. In my middle school, all the kids hung out together, black and white, and I don't remember even thinking there was any racism there. But in high school, from the first assembly freshmen and onward, the segregation was there, but it was by choice. All the black kids sat together in one area of the bleachers, and the whites, hispanics and asians were all mixed together everywhere else. I still talked to some of my black friends from middle school once in a while, but for the most part I had no classes with them. No great societal forces kept us apart, they just had their friends, most of whom were like them, and I had mine, most of whom were nerds in a lot of AP courses like me. I don't think there was racism involved, I think people just gravitate towards people similar to themselves.

Otto Man said...

Ben, there's actually a lot more behind the self-segregation of minorities in school. If you're curious, I'd highly recommend Beverly Tatum's "Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria?" It's an excellent study.

Ben said...

Can you give me a quick and dirty summary? I'd imagine a lot of it is culture differences.

Otto Man said...

It's hard to pare the book down, but she does an excellent job of tracking the many subtle ways in which people form their own racial identities and the intangible but very real privileges that come with those who are labeled white. You really need to read it to get the overall point, but a lot of it is about reconsidering what we take to be natural perspectives on race. As she points out, everyone asks why all the black kids are sitting together, but no one ever asks why all the white kids are sitting together.

I'm not doing it justice. Grab a copy and see for yourself.

Ben said...

A delayed response here, but I never sat with all the white kids. In fact only about half my friends in high school were white, the rest were Asian or Hispanic. College was a different story. I joined a Jewish frat to get more in tune with my history and meet some Jewish chicks, so most of my friends were white Jewish guys.