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Un-Pledge Well praise da lawd,

June 26th, 2002 · No Comments


Well praise da lawd, a federal appeals court has ruled the pledge of allegiance unconstitutional! I’m just surprised that it took this long for a court to toss this absurd little loyalty oath, which drones into children’s minds the idea that this is “one nation, under god.” That’s the kind of jurisprudence that actually does stir up a bit of patriotism in my black little heart.

Addendum: I thought this decision so obviously correct that a brief link would be all that was needed. But, to my surprise, I overheard a few colleagues blasting the decision as a sort of unnecessary secular puritanism. So let’s contemplate how the decision fares along the old Lemon test metric. (Yeah, yeah, it’s been superceded, but not by anything coherent, so I’ll stick with it. I always thought it made sense.)

To pass First Amendment muster, laws are supposed to have a “secular legislative purpose.” Well, the “under god” line was added to the pledge in 1954 after it had already been around for a while. Eisenhower explained the rationale for it when he signed the bill: “millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.” Now, maybe I’m just a mean ol’ secular puritan, but that sure sounds to me like the purpose of the law was to advance an expressly religious view through the power of government.

Another traditional test is whether a law has the effect of advancing one sect of religion over another, or religion as a whole over unbelief. In the context of public schools in which, even if children are not forced to participate, they see a government-appointed teacher leading the class in a pledge which ties citizenship and love of America to a vision of the nation as being “under god” — hell yes it has that effect. Or certainly, Eisenhower seemed to expect it to. Over years in a public education system, the message conveyed is unambiguous: your school, your teacher, and your government all consider monotheism an integral part of what it is to be an American. You can sit out, of course, but if (as a little atheist or polytheist child) you don’t want to falsify your own convictions, you’re basically required to broadcast your unusual beliefs, both to figures of authority and potentially intolerant peers.

In short, getting rid of the pledge isn’t an act of pettiness perpetrated by atheist bigots. It is the absolutely necessary removal of a subtle but potent kind of religious indoctrination — and a state-supported means of ostracising children with unorthodox beliefs — from our school systems. Hallelujah.

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