11 March 2010
"Under God," Again
Folks are still fighting over the Pledge of Allegiance. In the latest round, a 2-1 majority on an appeals court upheld the constitutionality of the inclusion of the words "under God" in the 1950s revision of Francis Bellamy's original text. As some will recall, Bellamy, himself a Baptist minister, did not see fit to include the G-word in a text first composed for one-time use on the 400th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America. Congress saw fit to invoke the Deity during McCarthyite days when many Americans believed that their recourse to faith distinguished them crucially from "godless communism." The news report of the decision only quotes the court to the effect that the majority found nothing wrong with the revised Pledge's expression of "some of the ideas upon which our Republic was founded." The justices might have been better off simply throwing out the suit on the premise that the Pledge is not a loyalty oath. While Congress took the frivolous step some time ago of bestowing official status on Bellamy's formula, it placed no one under obligation to recite the Pledge. The same plaintiff has had more success in the past challenging school rules that made the Pledge mandatory, and "under God" is one good reason why it shouldn't be. As long as the courts prevent authorities from forcing anyone to recite the Pledge, there's no point in challenging the text itself, as the plaintiff apparently tried to do here. If an atheist hears "under God" as an empty formula, he should not react to the Pledge as if he were a Jew ordered to worship a Roman Emperor. And before he complains about the offense to his conscience that comes with paying homage to a phantom, let him consider the spectacle, under God or not, of his beautiful conscience paying homage to a piece of cloth and all it supposedly stands for.