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.