Monday, May 08, 2006

Picking Battles: The Pledge Case

Vjack pointed out in a comment to Saturday's blog on “Militant Atheists” that some atheists consider the Pledge issue to be a poorly chosen battle. According to critics, this issue does nothing but generate a great deal of hatred for atheists for the sake of a relatively minor gain.

I disagree with this assessment. I hold that the Pledge case is one of the most important issues facing atheists today in the realm of civil rights.

It is NOT important, by the way, when held up against such wrongs as that of a President seeking to usurp the authority of the legislative and judicial branches of government. It is not important when compared to the genocide in Darfur, or a project to get malaria under control, or to take steps to deal with global warming.

In the realm of atheist civil rights, however, it looms quite large.

The Pledge of Allegiance is simply a promise to hate.

The Pledge of Allegiance is a pledge to hate tyranny -- which is fine. I hate tyranny, and I encourage all of my friends and readers to do the same. This hatred of tyranny is the foundation from which I criticize the Bush Administration. Its support for torture sometimes until death, kidnapping, secret prisons, gerrymandering, warrantless searches, usurping the power of the legislative and judicial branches of government . . . these are the hallmarks of tyranny.

The Pledge of Allegiance is a pledge to hate injustice, which I certainly endorse. The very essence of injustice is that it is what all good people should hate. It would help, in teaching children to hate injustice, if we would also include a few sentences on how to recognize it. Otherwise somebody might call right and good acts unjust, and be able to direct hate at the wrong targets.

The Pledge of Allegiance is a promise to hate rebellion. Francis Bellamy explicitly stated that he inserted the word 'indivisible' into the pledge to support Union over rebellion. In 1892, when he wrote the Pledge, the country was still surrounded by the living memory of the loss of 600,000 husbands, brothers, and fathers in the Civil War. They were surrounded by friends, family, and neighbors suffering the loss of limbs and other wounds. It is not surprising that Bellamy would score points with an oath that the current generation could use to tell the next, “Promise me that you will not take the country down that road again.”

When Congress added the words 'under God' to the Pledge in 1954, they wanted to teach hatred as well. They hated communism, and they wanted their children to learn the same hatred for communism that they had learned for tyranny, injustice, and rebellion. But they did not name communism as the enemy; they named atheism.

Now, children start each day by standing, facing the flag, putting their hands on their heart, and promising that they will think of atheism the same way that they think of tyranny, injustice, and rebellion. Thanks to these efforts, atheists are now the most hated group in America.

This is not a message of hate? The words ‘under God’ were simply added to the list of anti-American concepts. It is nonsense to suggest that of these four items, listed in the same context, have different meanings. If you have trouble seeing how this message could be a message of hate, I invite you to consider “A Perspective on the Pledge.”

Atheists can refuse to say the Pledge if they wish. This is supposed to make everything okay.

However, this only reinforces the message. There sits the atheist -- refusing to pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. There sits the atheist – refusing to join the American cause of fighting rebellion, tyranny, and injustice. Of course Atheists cannot be considered true Americans. After all, true Americans are all ‘under God’, and Atheists are not. Thus, it is clear, even to a child, that no atheist can be a true American.

This was actually the argument that sat at the heart of Michael Newdow's court case. What he told the courts is simply this: The school system should not be made a tool whereby others encourage my daughter, every day, to hate her father’s beliefs. They have no right to be telling my daughter that her father is not a good American.

Those who criticized Newdow’s lawsuit made a great deal out of the fact that the girl liked to say the pledge -- she wanted to say it. To them, the fact that the State was successful in teaching a girl to hate her father’s beliefs proved that they were right to do so.

The Pledge of Allegiance will hit the news again later this year. Newdow is chaperoning another case, which is now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals – the same court that granted him his victory last time around.

If you are concerned with the image of atheists in this country, I have a proposal.

I would like to propose that you decide where you want to make your voice heard when the next piece of news hits the internet. I would also like to propose that you go there and point out to those who are discussing the pledge and condemning 'militant atheists' what the real issue is.

We can speak in terms of separation of church and state and the wishes of the founding fathers. Yet, the real issue is why we should care about the separation of church and state and the wishes of the founding fathers.

I would like to ask you to remind them that the Pledge of Allegiance is a promise to hate. It is a promise to hate tyranny. It is a promise to hate injustice. It is a promise to hate rebellion. And, in 1954, it also became a promise to hate atheists.

See if you can get them to understand why a national campaign, where teachers urge their students every day to promise to hate atheism at the same time it teaches them to hate rebellion, tyranny, and injustice, is unfair and unjust.

The moral high ground goes to those who reject this policy, not to those who defend it.

2 comments:

JustinOther said...

Excellent point. I honestly have not paid much attention to the debate, but you have shown me the importance of the issue.

Paul said...

I see the Pledge as a promise to hate everything that is not "American". I see it as a chant of indoctrination and a call to blind nationalism. I don't think ANYONE should say the Pledge, regardless of their belief in a god or lack thereof.