I have seen a lot of news articles and spots on the opinion shows about the issue of the words “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. Now I seem to be getting emails concerning the same subject and to be honest with you I am getting a little tired of it. So I am going to give you my take on the subject.
The whole argument is based on the clause in the constitution that the government shall not sponsor a state run church. This is the meaning of the “separation of church and state”. It means that the government will sponsor nor recognize one church above any others and thereby sponsor or promote a particular church or religion. This was originally a rebellion against the Episcopal Church of England, and in my opinion a pretty good idea.
But this does not preclude the government from acknowledging faith in a myriad of forms. What my issue with the current debate lies is the extent of the acknowledgement.
The words “under god” are hardly the issue. Since the founding supposition of religion is the belief that there is a god (or goddess or being or entity, etc) of one kind or another, why would there be an issue for any religious group that the words are used. After all we all interpret the words we use for ourselves, when you say “under god” you may mean some Judeo-Christian concept of god while pagan could conceivably be thinking of the Goddess and it is all good. But where do you put the atheists? (Notice I do not include agnostics in here since they simply do not know and would hold to a particular god if shown proof for such existence.)
Well, there is a simple answer to this, and that is with everyone else. Since the founding fathers in there wisdom chose not to recognize one religion or faith above others, to not have a faith is perfectly acceptable. In the case of the Pledge of Allegiance, if someone is not comfortable with reciting the pledge they should not recite it or leave out the offensive words if they so choose. Isn’t the point of the pledge to instill a sense of citizenship and unity? It is not a prayer, and it should not be looked upon as such a mantra. Also, if someone chooses not to say it or leave out words are they not doing what this country is striving for, the exercise of their personal liberties? Leave them alone, they are bothering no one.
On the other hand… Atheists, you are not getting what this country is all about. Yes there is no state sponsored religion, but that does not mean the government is existing in a vacuum and not taking notice of the actions of religious institutions within the country. The vast majority is comfortable with the words “under god” in the pledge (although did you know that it was Harry Truman who put the words there?) so this being the case in a society that runs with the idea of majority rule, you are over ruled. Again, you do not have to say the pledge, you do not have to say the words that offend you, that is not the idea of the pledge. Be happy that you are exercising your freedoms, and more than most, so in fact you are to be honored for that you do know how to exercise your rights in the first place. There are many people that do not understand the idea of exercising personal freedoms so you are a leg up in terms of civil activism.
So let’s look at the words “In God we Trust” on our money. For all the same reasons as the pledge this is a non issue and the words on the money do not sanctify the use of the money. You can ignore the words and still use the money to your hearts content and everyone it perfectly happy. And if the words were not there, the money would be just as good. So if the government chooses to remove the words it is a non issue because, again, then words are not what the money is about. In fact there is a lot more Free Mason symbology on the one dollar bill than the simple “In God We Trust” motto. I do not see people lobbying to have this removed, although if the meanings of the symbology were widely revealed and the roots of such, it would be more offensive than the motto. So keep it, don’t does it really matter?
The Ten Commandments on courtroom walls. Here I agree with the current court rulings that these should be removed. The reason is the Ten Commandments espouse a specific doctrine that is not held by all, although it is held by a majority. But the setting they are in MUST be as nonsectarian as possible. A courthouse is a place that anyone can be judged equally based on the laws of the land, not the laws of the Bible, and if they are judged differently based on their religious views it is not justice at all. The Ten Commandments are Judeo-Christian in nature and as such have no place in a hall of nonsectarian justice. We are not being judge by the laws of the Ten Commandments why should it be part of any legal edifice.
Governmental holidays and observances. There are two ways to go with this and both are equally acceptable to me. First option is that we ban all religious holidays and observances from governmental notice, no more Christmas break, (or winter break as it is now called) or days off for particular religious observance. Personally, growing up Jewish, I had to deal with this all the time. I was allowed to take off days for my holidays but the teaching continued and I had to make it up while the Christians and Catholics got their days off (me included) but did not have to worry about making up the work. Also the Christmas parties were a bit much for me to take. Eliminating these would level the playing field for everyone and that would be fair. The second option, the one that is not working now, is that we are tolerant of all holidays and do not discriminate against those that have to take time off for their observances.
The real solution I would suspect is somewhere between the two options. I think that we do need to ban sectarian parties within government run institutions, avoid special notice of particular observances, but we also have to flexible when observances are needed. It is a fine balancing act and one we are never going to get exactly right, but we should try.
So this issue of words in pledges and on money and courtroom halls have some, but in my opinion, very little merit. Words may be the way we communicate, but words are not everything we live by. I believe the actions we take determine our intent and words are just a supporting character in the play. So let’s all grow a little skin and let the words slide off us a bit, it is really not worth our time, effort and collective strife to worry about.