I wonder if I'm the only person in the United States who has no strong feelings one way or the other about the court decision declaring the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional.
Just a few (idle and contradictory) thoughts on the subject:
* It doesn't matter. Does anyone believe this decision will be upheld? It will be overturned even before the new school year starts in September. It will have no effect whatsoever on anyone.
* It doesn't matter for another reason. Even if it were upheld Ñ which is impossible to imagine Ñ it would have virtually no effect on anyone. Will either patriotism or religion wither if public school children fail to say the Pledge of Allegiance each morning? If anything, I suspect it might improve the state of both, since in the long run mindless recitations lead more to cynicism than to respect for what they promote. After eight years of reciting prayers in Catholic school, the one thing I thought I knew about God is that he was a bore. And maybe a little hard of hearing, since he needed you to repeat words over and over. I had to stop saying the mindless prayers before I discovered that wasn't true.
* The politicians' reaction to this is interesting, if a little depressing. Senators unanimously passed a resolution condemning the ruling
and House members gathered on the Capitol steps to recite the pledge and sing "God Bless America." It sounds like some kind of superstitious ritual to ward off evil Ñ bad things are happening, let's sing a song. Republicans are scrambling to make political capital out of it. They know they have to do it quickly, of course, because the decision will probably be overturned very fast Ñ which doesn't give them a lot of time to milk this non-issue. (Although I wouldn't put it past them to continue trying to milk the issue even after it's dead.) Democrats are almost as absurd and desperate. Tom Daschle urged the entire Senate to be on hand this morning
when they open with the pledge Ñ something senators usually don't bother to show up for. They're all terrified that the Republicans actually will get some traction out of this, and are trying to be the first to condemn it. The sad part is that there is so much important work to be done right now and our representatives are wasting time preening over an utterly meaningless, symbolic issue. What does it say about our priorities that the Senate halted debate on a military bill to work on a resolution criticizing the ruling? You can't entirely blame the politicians, though. Americans don't want to take the trouble to understand complex political issues, but they get all hot and bothered about stupid symbolic ones Ñ so that's what the politicians are going to focus on. Unfortunately, we have the government we deserve.
* First prize for the dumbest reaction by a politician:
Senator Kit Bond (R-Mo.) said, "Our Founding Fathers must be spinning in their graves. This is the worst kind of political correctness run amok." If the phrase "political correctness" has any meaning at all (and it's been used so randomly, I'm not sure it does), wouldn't it mean avoiding saying things that are true (or at least deserve to be discussed), but make people uncomfortable? On the left, it means avoiding racial issues, because things that should be said make people politically squirmy. On the left, enforcing "political correctness" means not allowing people to say anything that might hurt someone's feelings. But of course political correctness exists on the right too. When Ari Fleischer tells Americans to "watch what they say." When John Ashcroft says asking discomforting questions is akin to treason. That's an attempt to say that some political ideas are out of bounds Ñ that they are "politically incorrect." It seems to me that the only political correctness evident here is all the politicians falling all over themselves making sure they are seen taking the "correct" (that is, popular) political stance.
* I'm not sure if it's a valid legal decision, but it doesn't seem to me to be an unreasonable one. According to the LA Times, a number of legal scholars said that while they certainly expected it to be overturned, "it represented a plausible interpretation of U.S. Supreme Court precedent." I'm no lawyer, but it seems pretty obvious that if the government leads children in expresssing the notion that our country is "under God," they are establishing a religion. It's a pretty bland and vague religion, but it's a religion nonetheless. In fact, I object more to the idea of the government establishing a bland and vague religion than I do to the overall idea of establishing a religion. I don't like the idea of government promoting religion, but I hate the idea of government teaching children that religion is bland and meaningless. In 1984, several liberal members of the Supreme Court, including Thurgood Marshall, Harry A. Blackmun, John Paul Stevens and William J. Brennan Jr., said references like "In God We Trust," which appears on United States currency and coins, were protected from the Establishment Clause because their religious significance had been lost through rote repetition. I find that really depressing: it's ok for the government to kill religion by reducing it to meaningless repitition. Is that what people of faith really want?
* The judge who dissented in the case wrote that the danger the phrase "under God" presented to the 1st Amendment was "picayune at most." Even though I don't see the court's decision as outrageous, I tend to agree with that dissent. The ironic thing is that I suspect most people who are angry about the decision would disagree. What the judge is saying is that having children recite the words "under God" doesn't really matter that much. The angry people think it matters a whole lot. And they're not all that enamored of the 1st Amendment anyway. If the 1st Amendment and the phrase "under God" really were in conflict, they'd seize "under God" and toss the 1st Amendment in a heartbeat.
* The dissenting judge went on to state that the ruling could jeopardize the singing in public settings of the nation's most treasured patriotic songs and even make vulnerable the words "In God We Trust" on coins and bills. " 'God Bless America' and 'America the Beautiful' will be gone for sure," he wrote. He's getting silly here, making people believe they aren't going to be allowed to sing "God Bless America" or "America the Beautiful." If the logic of the ruling were continued (and, once again, there's not a chance in hell of that happening), the government might not be allowed to lead people in singing those songs, but there's nothing to stop anyone from singing them in non-governmental public settings.
* Personally, I wouldn't miss "God Bless America." Ugly melody, simplistic and awkward lyrics and it always forms an image in my head of God dressed up like a World War I soldier. "America the Beautiful" is another story. There aren't many songs (and almost no patriotic ones) with melodies as soaring and lovely. And the lyrics are specific and poetic. Spacious skies. Purple mountains. It evokes a gorgeous image of a place you really believe God could shed his grace on.
*Personally, I wouldn't even miss the Pledge of Allegiance. I have nothing against its sentiments. Rather like them, in fact. I just hate reciting, especially group recitations. I like words, and when a lot of people try to say the same words at the same time, the fact that most people have no sense of rhythm becomes painfully obvious and the words turn to mush. I hate to hear "liberty and justice for all" (surely one of the noblest phrases ever) reduced to meaningles mush.
* And yet I love listening to children say the Pledge of Allegiance. Last year, I volunteered once a week in my daughter's kindergarten class, and the best part was the beginning of each school day, watching twenty 5- and 6-year-olds, with their hands over their hearts, pledging allegiance to ideals they've barely begun to understand. They looked so serious, sensing that they were doing something important, even though they weren't exactly sure what it was. It's an exquisite thing to watch. Maybe it's the transitory nature of that innocent faith in American ideals that makes it so beautiful. They will grow up. They will realize that "liberty and justice" are not fully available to all, and that at times we are all so cantankerous, even litigious, that we barely seem like "one nation" at all. They will become smarter and less innocent about America, hopefully not too cynical, but they will lose that look of awe. That's what growing up is all about Ñ but it's still a loss. I love watching small children pledge allegiance to the flag because while they are doing it, I can share a little bit of their innocent faith and their unquestioning awe.
* I'm not sure I understand why the man who brought this suit did so, unless he's just an eccentric professional complainer Ñ and there's some evidence that that's the case.
. The court has already ruled that students can not be required to recite the pledge. It seems silly to object to his daughter even being exposed to the words "under God." Let's face it Ñ we live in a diverse country. Every child in school is, at some point, going to be exposed to an idea that his or her parents object to. The compromise is that we always give people the option of opting out. If your parents don't want you exposed to sex education, they can sign a form and have you sit in the library during the class. If they think Harry Potter promotes witchcraft, nobody's going to force you to read it. But you don't get to eliminate sex ed for everyone, or kick Harry out of the library because you don't like it. Isn't the same reasonable compromise called for here?
* The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a socialist, Francis Bellamy. Pledging ourselves to "liberty and justice for all" is, after all, a pretty radical notion, one that conservatives, while they're anxious to be seen reciting the words, don't really embrace Ñ at least not in any way that a 19th century socialist would recognize. I can't help but be amused by right-wingers' attachment to a socialist pledge Ñ and wonder why they aren't worried that in reciting the pledge, they are endorsing not just religion, but socialism.
* Just a note: All the headlines are wrong. The court didn't rule that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional.
It ruled that the 1954 addition of the words "under God" to the original pledge was unconstitutional. There is a difference.
* Jerry Falwell immediately started a petition drive to urge the Supreme Court to reverse the panel's ruling immediately. I'm sure he knows perfectly well that doing so is a waste of time, since the decision is sure to be overturned anyway (and would we want the kind of Supreme Court that is swayed by petitions in any case?). I'm also sure that this will be a great money-making issue for Falwell.
* The fact that the Christian right is having heart palpitations over this decision makes the decision seem smarter than it otherwise would. The phrase "under God" seems pretty bland and meaningless to me, but if right wing Christians are certain that it promotes God, maybe they have a better take on it than I do. Maybe it DOES promote religion Ñ which would be an argument in favor of the decision.
* Atheists and agnostics don't like being asked to pledge allegiance to a country "under God." That's understandable. I don't think the press understands, however, that atheists and agnostics aren't the only ones who object. So do people who are religious, but not monotheistic. And so do people who see God as transcending national boundaries. The notion of a God tied to a particular nation is deeply offensive to many religious peple.
* Michael A. Newdow, the man who brought the suit, has already recieved threats and obscene phone calls.
He says he is worried about his daughter and so am I. Nobody can sink as low as people who call themselves religious and patriotic.