Regardless of the future outcome of Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, 02-1624, I'm smiling. For more than 20 years I've been waiting for someone to bring suit against a school district concerning the phrase "one Nation Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, and the Supreme Court is finally going to consider the matter.
I write "consider" rather than "decide" because it's entirely possible they'll decide nothing. At the request of Michael Newdow, the man who originated this suit on behalf of himself and his 9 yr. old daughter, Justice Antonin Scalia, regarded as one of the court's more conservative members, has recused himself in light of his criticism of an earlier ruling favoring Newdow during a religious rally last year.
The Christian majority in this country, overwhelmingly supports the inclusion of the phrase "under God", arguing that this inclusion does not violate separation of church and state. Nonsense! It does just that, for the following reasons.
Codes on both individual school and district levels mandate the daily recital of the Pledge. Children are required to stand (signifying their approval and respect), place their hands on their hearts (signifying the conviction with which they speak), and "parrot" a text of propaganda, most recently codified during the height of the Cold War. Despite a Supreme Court decision supporting individual students' right to opt out of this exercise, excusing my son from participating in this activity has caused numerous arguments with numerous teachers from most schools my son has attended, as well as various members of school and district administrations. In the end the district always balked before suspending my son from school over refusal to recite the Pledge, but not before threatening just that, and exerting their authority in their official capacity as representatives of these institutions in an attempt to coerce his (and my) conformity. Obviously the school systems are not adequately informed of or do not respect the Supreme Court's decision in this matter.
I agree with Mr. Newdow's position that putting young children in the position of opting out of an exercise led by the authority figure in the room unfairly transfers the responsibility to the child, and unnecessarily singles them out from the group based on their beliefs. The authority of school districts to enforce behavior standards on children in their care is granted them directly by the government. Since these institutions are established with and supported by public funds and operated entirely within the public sector, and are directly superceded in authority by (in turn) state & federal government agencies, the authority for individual schools to codify mandatory recitation of the Pledge comes from the highest levels of government.
While the Pledge of Allegiance was initiated informally in the late 19th century, it was originally codified on June 22, 1942, as "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." On June 14, 1954 it was recodified by Congress to add the phrase "under God" after the word "Nation". The fact that Congress literally recodified the Pledge to specifically insert this phrase into what had previously been a secular patriotic statement shows a clear lack of separation between church and state agendas. Following the recodification, President Eisenhower signed the new Pledge into law, writing "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." His language speaks for itself.
The Christian majority in this country would fight to the death before allowing the Pledge to be rewritten "one Nation under Allah" or even "one Nation under Jehovah"- further proof that the god of the Pledge is the god of some (Christians) and not others. Think of the outcry if it was suggested that the Pledge be rewritten "one Nation tolerant of Homosexual Marriage". Insert whatever philosophy you wish to associate with our nation, it doesn't belong there. But regardless of which god is in question here, government's wrongful imposition, mandating my son recite a pledge referencing any god constitutes a violation of his rights, before he even understands what those rights are. Having had my own rights violated in this same manner daily, for my entire school career, I understand what's at stake. Furthermore, I submit that we have progressed as a society past the need to brainwash our youth. Our nation is capable of earning the respect of its citizens without resorting to state-sponsored propaganda.
Schools should spend their time first respecting and then teaching my son and his classmates the meaning of those rights rather than subjecting them to the tyranny of the (Christian) majority, as codified with the authority of the Legislative & Executive branches. Here's hoping the third check in our system of checks & balances undoes the actions of the other two, on behalf of myself and my son and millions like us. That would be something to include in a lesson plan in his classroom.
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