Here we go again…another legal fight is under way to remove one more religious reference from the lives of everyday Americans. An atheist is suing to have the words “Under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance.
Michael Newdow is the father of a third-grader who he says should not have to stand up, face the flag, put her hand over her heart and “say that her father is wrong.” Newdow says it is not good enough that schoolchildren cannot be forced to say the pledge because it is unreasonable to expect children to opt out of saying it. In other words, his argument seems to be based on the concept of “peer pressure.”
Bush Administration lawyer Theodore Olson argued that the pledge reflects the nation’s religious heritage. The Supreme Court justices could rule that the words are a “benign and ceremonial part of a traditional, patriotic exercise.”
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor asked Newdow of his opinion of other obvious religious references, such as the “In God We Trust” on our currency and the use of the phrase “In the year of our Lord” on legal documents. She also included the opening call to the Supreme Court: “God save the United States and this honorable court.”
Newdow’s response was simple: “Nobody is making his 9-year-old say ”In God We Trust” or singling her out as an oddball if she refuses.”
That remark is patently absurd!
Perhaps Mr. Newdow was never “picked on” during his entire academic career, but the fact is that children face the possibility of scorn from their fellow classmates countless times during the day. If we’re seriously going to hide behind this as an excuse to remove a reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance, what else must we change in our classroom to prevent someone from facing the ridicule of others? Shall we abolish all grades, so that those who don’t make straight A’s won’t feel like they’re not accomplishing enough? Should we require all schoolchildren to wear uniforms — at parents expense, of course — so that no child will be picked on about their mode of dress? Perhaps we should require that all schoolchildren wear masks as well, so the less-attractive kids won’t feel inadequate when sitting next to kids who look like miniature movie stars-in-the-making.
Ridicule happens in the classroom. It’s not right, it’s not fair, but it is life. When we fight over things like “Under God,” and demand that it be erased, we’re not preventing kids from being picked on. If Mr. Newdow is genuinely concerned about his daughter being the target for poor treatment, I wonder if he has considered how her classmates might treat her knowing the fight her father is waging.
Think about it, people!! We’re losing yet another opportunity for discussion and learning. How sad it is that our schoolchildren aren’t exposed to the notion that not everyone may share the same beliefs about religion and culture. Instead of dealing with the obvious educational experience, in the spirit of protecting one person’s religious freedom to practice no religion at all, we face the possibility of simply sweeping these differences under the rug. In a perfect world, teachers would be able to educate students about diversity issues even with regard to religion. And also in a perfect world, parents would do the same, allowing the children themselves to make up thrie own minds. If our children aren’t allowed exposure of any kind to oher religions, or even to the fact that others exist, how can we expect them to make any informed decision about their own beliefs? If we prevent this, aren’t we forcing our beliefs on them, just as Mr. Newdow is accusing the school system of doing now??
The simple fact being overlooked here is that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is not a religious experience. It is not a prayer. It is an affirmation of one’s loyalty to their country. The words “Under God” are a tribute to the foundation of this country. Our nation was founded in part out of the desire for the very basic freedoms that atheists seem to want everyone else to give up. If the fact that the presence of the phrase “Under God” made the Pledge of Allegiance a show of religion, then your reading of this journal must also be a religious experience since it contains the phrase as well. Anyone else see a logic problem here?
“Imagine you’re the one atheist with 30 Christians,” Newdow told the Court. Ironically, it’s the 30 Christians that are being treated more and more like outcasts these days as all references to the God we believe in are stripped away from daily life. I wonder if the day will come when churches will have to be torn down and rebuilt to look like ordinary buildings without any religious symbols on the outside, so that those who don’t belong to the denomination in question won’t be offended at the site of it.
While I appreciate the fact that the Constitution protects people from being forced to practice a religion they do not believe in, I happen to think that it also protects people from being hindered from the free practice of their religion. Those who insist on defining the Pledge in terms of “practicing religion” can’t have it both ways: as long as they’re not made to “practice religion” with everyone else, how can they logically argue that those who want to do so should be prevented from doing so?