7/4/11

Independence Under God

In the days leading up to the weekend, I noticed a trend among a certain subset of my Facebook friends. Statuses began to change to this:


FB Friend: I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO THE FLAG OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND TO THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS, ONE NATION UNDER GOD, INDIVISIBLE, WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL!" MY GENERATION GREW UP RECITING THIS EVERY MORNING IN SCHOOL WITH MY HAND ON MY HEART. THEY NO LONGER DO IT FOR FEAR OF OFFENDING SOMEONE! LET'S SEE HOW MANY AMERICANS WILL RE-POST THIS & NOT CARE ABOUT OFFENDING SOMEONE


To be honest, I didn't give it much thought until I read the following comment someone (not my FB friend) had posted in agreement:


Commenter: They don't say it in alot of places and its [expletive] if you don't like it go the [expletive] back to your own country. Alot of men and women lay their lives down each and everyday so that cry babies can whine about reciting the pledge of allegiance


Typically I'd shy away from discussing this type of thing on my blog, but I feel like a day that celebrates American Independence sort of calls for it. 


Wikipedia summarizes several aspects of controversy surrounding the pledge. They include:


1) That the promise of freedom to dissent means that people should not be required to give an oath of allegiance (as does the right of people to not speak in public).
2) That those likely to recite the pledge on a daily basis - kids in school - are too young to really understand what that oath means.
and
3) Objections to the constitutionality of including the phrase "Under God."


Let's start with an extremely streamlined summary of the recent controversy over the last two - schools and "Under God". Feel free to clarify my omissions and/or imply my ignorance in the comments below. 


Also (because, sadly, I feel this might be necessary), please keep in mind that if you think you know my personal opinion(s) on God and/or religion from reading this blog post, you are most likely wrong.


Allons-y!


Since the 1960s, the courts have been dealing with challenges to the constitutionality of prayer in public schools

A case filed in 2000, Newdow v. United States Congress, Elk Grove Unified School District, et al., raised objections that, for instances where the Pledge was recited in public schools, led by teachers, the clause "under God" was an endorsement by the state of religion, and thereby violated the first amendment.


To review, the first amendment guarantees freedom to exercise religion, and prohibits laws that impinge on the establishment of religious beliefs. Congress is also prohibited from making laws that can lead to the establishment of a national religion - the "establishment clause."


In 2004, the decision of the case (which was that requiring students to recite the pledge was unconstitutional) was struck down on the basis of standing. The next incarnation of the case - Newdow v. Carey - eventually resulted in a decision in which the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of pledge recitation in public schools.


Of course, if you believe in freedom of religion, then this follows: some people can say "under God" if they want, and anyone who doesn't want to, doesn't. Right?


Not exactly.



Before I get to my thoughts on the FB commenter (or rather, the mentality behind the comment), let's look more closely at the controversial words - "under God."


The Pledge of Allegiance was composed in 1892 by a man named Francis Bellamy, and adopted as the national pledge in 1942. The words "under God" were officially added to the original pledge twelve years later, in 1954 - although unofficial use of them began earlier. This addition was allegedly drawn from the Gettysburg address, although some question exists as to whether or not Lincoln used the phrase in his famous speech.


Different versions appeared in different manuscripts after the speech.


Version 1: "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."  
Version 2: "It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. 


Others have challenged the actual meaning, suggesting that in the context of the time, Lincoln's "Under God" would more accurately mean "God willing" and not a declaration that the nation follows God.


At the time of the "Under God" addition to the pledge, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, made these comments:
"From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country's true meaning. 
Especially is this meaningful as we regard today's world. Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war." (Source)


Reading the above excerpt actually gave me a lot of food for thought. Seriously, I had no idea about the history of the pledge, although I remembered the court case(s). The context of the change as stated in Eisenhower's adderss has me thinking about the reasons why the pledge might have been made official - not in the terms of is it "good" or "bad". 


Now, on to the comment.  Some critical questions:


Just because we've done something the same way for a long time, does that mean we shouldn't question it? (hint: bad news for any movement that has ever challenged the status quo.)


Is it a legitimate attitude that questioning a Pledge of Allegiance - or the willingness to say "Under God" - makes someone a coward or anti-American or anti-troops?


More bluntly, which was what caught my attention to begin with: Is there a place for people who are not comfortable with "under God" - either because they are atheist, agnostic, deist, or ascribe to a religion that is not compatible with the phrase - in America?


Most people would say something generic like "I don't care what religion so-and-so is" - but consider the ongoing discussion over whether President Obama is "really a Christian."  


We can't have it both ways.  


We can't be the "melting pot" but tell the Gruy√®re that it has to sit this one out because it's asking uncomfortable questions.


It's easy to dismiss dust-ups like this as a matter of political correctness - the "fear of offending" noted by the commenter. However, when those seemingly PC-issues crop up, it's equally important to understand why and look for clues as to what that issue reflects of our psyche as a nation, and as individuals. 


The assurance of 'freedom of religion' in the first amendment means nothing if it's a thin veneer covering up an "us or them," "fall in or get out" sort of mentality.


There are plenty of arguments for whether America was founded as either a secular nation, or a Christian one, and those for both sides carry flaws. The truth is that the Founding Fathers were white, Christian (although some may have technically been deists), and many owned slaves


In a modern age where the founding of America is idealized and politicians carelessly rewrite history to suit their rhetoric, we have to remember that, for all they accomplished, the Founding Fathers faced their own limitations - limitations of their time and their life experience - that are not necessarily applicable to the America that exists 235 years later. Nor SHOULD those standards be applicable.


Relying on the literal words of documents from that time restricts the nation to the past, rather than conferring independence in the future - for those who wish to live "under God," and for those who don't.


Happy Fourth of July! Drive safely, and enjoy the fireworks.

3 comments:

  1. I will say two things about this... when I was a member of a Christian church ( a long, LONG time ago) that particular congregation (rightly, I might add) did not try to use the U.S. as some sort of earthly kingdom for God's rule on earth in any way so we never said anything political in church and saying "under God" felt blasphemous. Which god did they mean anyway?

    Now that I have broken from the church (and I mean Broken- I'm an atheist) it seems even more controversial. The US was not created as a Christian state. You have not adequately done your research on what the founding fathers were- but they were definitely NOT Christians who were creating a Christian nation. They simply wanted freedom from a state religion which is where we are now.

    Now if you are not a Christian in this country you are mostly likely NOT going to be elected (unless you live in a Mormon region). If you are atheist you are definitely NOT going to be elected. And if you are Muslim? Well, I don't think you have much of a chance of that either. Fortunately, if you are a Christian and if you are a Republican you can get away with almost anything and there is forgiveness and you move on. If not, there is hell to pay.

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  2. I never make comments about other responders comments when reading blogs. Everyone has a right to their opinion. But I feel I need to make an exception this time.

    I understand why this blogger tries to avoid putting controversial topics on her blog. Politcal views, religion and the like ... always stir up strong emotions and responses. And strong responses always have the spin of "I am right and you are wrong," or "Your position is faulty because you didn't do xyz," or "I am in the know and you are not.".

    The previous responder's comments are an example of that presentation.

    For example

    "You have not adequately done your research on what the founding fathers were.."

    ... maybe a true statement, but stated as it was, it shuts down conversation and discussion. It might have been better to address this as ... "My research shows a different view of the founding fathers."

    With regards to the responders comments in the last paragraph, about who can and cannot get elected as President ... I think that line of thinking has been traditionally true, but I do think times are changing ... slowly, granted. At one time if was impossible for a Catholic or a Black to become Presdent. That has changed. I am sure that someday we will see an Atheist or a Jew or a Muslim, or a woman or any other minority as President. I believe it will happen ... maybe not in my lifetime but it will happen. I try very hard to avoid words like NOT and never in discussion of human activities.

    What I believe this blogger was able to do was to generate discussion. Well done!

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  3. @ Danette - I didn't say that the founding fathers created a Christian Nation, I said there were arguments both for and against that assertion. Analyzing those arguments would be a different post.

    For the first continental congress, though, you're right, I didn't research every single member. It's probably easier to say what they were not, as you allude to - Muslim, Jewish, etc. Some of them were definitely deists - Franklin, for example, many sources describe him that way. I linked to a page that I felt summarized a lot of that information - and one that didn't seem to come from an "agenda" site - but it wasn't information I personally researched.

    But personally, I find it very hard to believe that the "majority" beliefs of the time, even for those members of the first government that held non-mainstream beliefs, did not influence their world view and their political actions. If for nothing else, they had to vote, and they were certainly not a majority-non-Christian body. A truly secular body would not have added phrases like "with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence" to the declaration of independence (one of the additions to Jefferson's original document). IMO, this isn't the same as saying they wanted to establish a Christian Nation (nor should it support such an argument) - but that such a frame of reference helped form the language and perceptions of the time, so to speak.

    It might be that their wording of documents like the Declaration was extremely secular for the time. But Jefferson's original document was more secular by comparison. Linkage: http://web.duke.edu/eng169s2/group1/lex3/closing.htm


    @ RK - Glad you enjoyed the post.

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