Friday, August 03, 2007

One State, Under God, Buddha, Allah, Vishnu, et al.

What is it about fundamental Christians that they are so weak in their faith that they feel it necessary to try to work religion into every aspect of everybody's life? Is their grasp in their faith so tenuous that, like an alcoholic or a smoker, they need to encourage others to share in their acts?

Texas has a law now that requires students who attend public schools to recite the Texas Pledge (first off, how many states even HAVE their own Pledge of Allegiance: 4 besides Texas) with 4 extra words: One State, Under God. Apparently, this is to remind our students that our state is one state, under God. I don't understand the need for this, other than to pander to the religious base. But, while this may be considered a Lemon Test violation of the First Amendment (Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 1971), it is what follows next in the Houston Chronicle article linked above that looks more clearly to violate the First Amendment.

According to the article, the students are not *required* to recite those four extra words. Rather, students who object to saying the pledge or making the reference to God can bring a written note from home excusing them from participating. In other words, what this law does is compel the invocation of God by all students in Texas, be they Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, Zoroastrian, or whatever. And in order to not participate, what they must do is bring attention to themselves by presenting a written waiver from home. This is nothing short of state sponsored coercion of a religion more on all students in Texas, compelling them to stay in line and follow the status quo, lest the students be alienated for thinking differently. For those who are unaware, State Sponsored Coercion of religion in public schools is also unconstitutional under the Coercion Test (from Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 1992).

If one disputes the intent of the law, one need just listen to the statement of State Representative Debbie Riddle, who claims it had always bothered hoer that God was omitted in the state's pledge: "Personally, I felt like the Texas pledge had a big old hole in it, and it occurred to me, 'You know what? We need to fix that. Our pledge is perfectly OK like it is with the exception of acknowledging that just as we are one nation under God, we are one state under God as well." Read differently, what Ms. Riddle says, essentially, is, "I am a Christian, and I want everyone here to follow what I hold dear and do what I want to do." This is not representative of the concept of a representative democracy, and it surely does nothing to look out for the minority from the oppression of majority.

This law was unnecessary. The phrase was unnecessary, and the compelling nature of the phrase does little more than lead toward situations not unlike Sante Fe ISD v. Doe, which resulted in a very real witch hunt for the (use your own expletive here) who objected to the recitation of a prayer at school events. While those individuals may very well have lynched the heathen who disagreed with their God, it's unlikely that objections to the new phrase in the Pledge would do so. Instead, I think we'll see a "kinder, gentler" form of hatred manifesting itself against these children who dare to believe differently.


Just Wondering said...

You hit this nail on the head, Steve! About two years ago I got one of those chain emails from a friend of mine at church, urging me to sign a petition to keep "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. I replied to the email respectfully declining to sign their petition and explaining my reasons why. I think you're right - is it some kind of insecurity and uncertainty of faith that makes people resort to rote in order to "prove" themselves?

Anonymous said...

I don't think that "fundamental Christians" are so weak in faith, rather I think they - or at least some of them - are so strong in their faith that it permeates all they do, however misguided it may be. It is inconceivable to them that one wouldn't want to be "under God." Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6 NASB). Thus, in the mind of these fundamental Christians, there are but two groups of individuals, those who are Christians, and those who are not. And they are squarely in the first group.

Notwithstanding, from a pragmatic perspective, I question whether Christains really believe that such compelled speech furthers their cause. How many children actually know or think about what they are saying? Does adding "One State, Under God," really alter, in any way, the State's religious standing? Are those who are compelled to speak what they don't believe more likely, or less likely, to join the ranks of the Christians? To answer, I don't think the fundamental Christians ever take the time to think about it. I think - and I'm speculating - they believe that this is a Christian nation woefully derailed from the founders' God-ordained purpose by godless heathens, and any step reintroducing God is a step in the right direction. And if it tramples on the alleged civil liberties of a few non-believers, well, that's okay because it's the way "the founders" intended.

Personally, I think the current legislation is disingenuous for several reasons. Most importantly, it paves the way for any other majority - religious or non - to trample on Christians' civil rights. What happens when the pledge affirmatively states that there is no god, or they may be a god, but we just don't care about him (or her)? What precedent will people of any faith have to stand on if the very foundation of religious freedom is eroded by the (arguable) good intentions of the religious right?

Finally, I question the need to plegde to any state, nation, or flag. Certainly the fundamental Christians will remember the command by God to His people in Exodus 20. "You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God ...." (Exodus 20:3-5 NASB). Yet, Christians across America place their hand on their heart and pledge allegiance to a nation whose actions are anything but godly. Why "turn the other cheek" (Matt 5:39) when you can bomb them? Why "love you enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matt 5:44) when you can invade them?

In short, Americans (and Texans) abandoned God and the ideals espoused by Jesus long ago. And adding four words, "One State, Under God," won't do a damned thing about it.

Hann said...

Wow, very interesting debate!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree Steve.

By the way, the added words really make the pledge confusing and gramatically incorrect.

As an atheist, I totally think that this is coerced religion... I think that the TxSCt and the 5thCir will find the other way however.


AVONLADY said...

What a shame that so many Christians repel people from their faith with their rigidity, lack of compassion, narrowness, and judgment.