Pledge Roundup Part I : Everybody’s Got an Opinion

Lots of interesting thought going on around this issue; here’s a roundup of the comments I’ve received from folks:
Dave the Redwood Dragon agreed with my position, and added:
To his sentiments I’ll add only this: that the genius of the Founding Fathers in regards to the place of religion in political affairs was the insistence that their intersection take place only on an individual level, not the collective level of government action or support. The Pledge is, by virtue of its recitation in schools and other public, government-supported forums, just such a collective expression, and so the phrase “under God” is, as I said above, a blot on the Constitution.
Well said.
Allen at Cockalorum, however, finds me damp, and my arguments unconvincing, writing:
“You’re all wet.
Tolerance is not helped when one person can exercise a veto over everyone else. The whole thing is based on the idea that the plaintiff’s little girl is somehow harmed by hearing or saying “under God.” This is an endless road to go down, trying to shield everybody from having their feelings hurt. A wise parent would tell her to get over it. There are lots of things in the world that I don’t like, but I don’t expect the court to change them for me. If we allow this, we turn our society into a bunch of little groups angry at each other, and claiming Constitutional protection for their own parochial view.
I don’t believe that the Constitution was ever intended to create the kind of church-state wall this decision seems to call for. The fact that it guarantees freedom of religion on one hand and outlaws establishment on the other indicates that what it is after is tolerance, both by the majority and the minority. But this decision favors intolerance by a minority. For you to compare the pledge to religious fascism is more intolerance. We really need to get rid of the “I’m being picked on” mentality and learn to live together. If the girl had been kicked out of school or subjected to actual abuse and maltreatment by the school administration for her refusal to say the pledge, she’d have a case, but that isn’t the case here. Basically, this is a case of censorship masked as a constitutional imperative.”

Sorry, but I don’t buy it. This isn’t about tolerance: I would not support a lawsuit that tried to bar children from reciting the “under-God” version of the Pledge at recess on their own, for example, so long as there wasn’t any nefarious coercion or encouragement going on from teachers or faculty. Treating this like a censorship case totally misses the point that we’re talking about a state-sponsored loyalty oath, not something published in a newspaper or discussed among individual citizens. There’s a big difference. And for the record, I didn’t compare the Pledge to religious facism — I pointed out that we are at war with religious facism, and that at such times, it is important for us to consider what kind of society we want to be (I prefer a secular one). I actually said quite clearly that I did not think the “under God” phrase was the first step towards the Talibanization of America; and in fact, pointed out that this is used as a strawman argument by those who want to make secular folks like myself look unreasable and stupid (without actually going to the work of providing solid arguments against us).
One note of concession: I don’t have the legal or Constitutional background to have a firm opinion on whether the Constitution was truly intended to build as severe a wall between Church and State as I would like to see; I suspect it probably wasn’t. So I’m fine accepting that potentially, on Constitutional / legal grounds, this decision might have been in error. My arguments are aimed at what decision would be right for our society; I leave the legal analysis to those more qualified.
I also attempted to goad some of the Christian bloggers I know into commentating; I met with partial success with Dean over at HealYourChurchWebsite — he dropped me some interesting thoughts in e-mail, but pleaded server-movage when I bugged him to actually blog them. So here are some key exerpts:
“…First of all, we’re talking Constitutional Law here – and me being a guy with a bach’ in Music/Opera and masters in Computer Science/Operating Systems – if I can’t abstract it into neat, reusable and easy to perform axiomatic semantics — hmmm —… To me, the very same code monkey who brought you the Mean Dean Anti-Spam E-Mail Obfuscator [cool technique — you should check it out -NZB] , it appears that “Separation of Church and State” has been confused with the “Establishment Clause” – and those whose religion is a to be anti-religious have taken opportunity of this confusion to rid society of any mention of God.
In other words, this has more to do with judicial activisim than anything else – and will be struck down when it gets to the Supreme Court. A point well made by Pejman Yousefzadeh
And here’s my rub on all this. If more Christians would spend more time reading Os Guinness than watching TBN, we would have a group of people who could intelligently and articulately argue this point before it ever got the 9th US C.C.A.
There will always be God haters. Just as there will always be those who hate in the name of God. By our society dumbing down our kids as to what is and is not in the Constitution, rulings like this are no surprise.
Personally, I think this is just another sign that Christians have abdicated being an influence on their society with a fortress mentality. That is, we need more believers in all areas of law, media, the universities, everywhere if we are indeed going to be the Salt and Light Jesus compelled us to be.
For me, I do it with and writing software that saves lives…
I’ll predict right now that all these various “separation of church-n-state” cases will ‘blow-up’ in the face of those who are anti-God. Because at some point, some clever lawyer is going to successfully argue that athiesm _IS_ a religion … and when that happens, there will be an entire backlog court history to prove that the U.S.Gov’t has been actively endorsing _ITS_ tennants.
You heard it here first.”

Well, not surprisingly, I don’t agree with many of Dean’s comments (but I thank him for obliging me by sharing them). Quick responses:
First, I disagree with the argument that this is about being “anti-God” or attempting to install atheism as a state religion. There is a difference between making the Pledge — or any other document — not mention a deity, and making the Pledge explicitly declare the non-existence of any deity. When the court case comes around that wants to make the Pledge read “One nation, under no God, indivisible”, then I’ll be willing to agree that this is anti-God. Until then, I stand by the position that this is about making government God-neutral, leaving the practice of religion to individuals (as Dave points out so well above).
Second, I still believe that there is something inherently special about this particular case because it is an oath of allegiance. That’s about as symbolicly important as it gets. And so I do think it is different than having “in God we trust” on our money. The note on my money doesn’t bother me terribly much — although I wish we didn’t — but the Pledge does trouble me, simply because, as I’ve written previously, it sends such an explicitly contradictory message to the one group that we should always try our hardest to be honest with – our children.
And third, I think the cry of judicial activism is a bit overstated. If the Pledge had existed in this form for 200 years, coming down from the Founding Fathers, then perhaps it might be accurate to accuse the court of activism. But let’s remember: the phrase is question was explicitly added by Congress in 1954. I would look at this less as judicial activism, and more as fixing a dumb law that should never have been passed by Congress in the first place.
One more thoughtful email from a reader I need to quote/post/respond to here, but that will come later…