As the Pledge Project picks up steam, one comment that I am hearing goes like this:
Why fight? All is lost. When the Supreme Court hears the case they will say that ‘under God’ and ‘In God We Trust’ do not violate the Constitution. We will be defeated.
The Pledge Project would actually gain strength if the Supreme Court ruled ‘under God’ and ‘In God We Trust’ to be constitutional – because the Pledge Project focuses on the moral arguments, not the legal arguments. An unfavorable ruling by the Supreme Court will chase secularists out from behind the robes of the judiciary, leaving them no option but to confront the issue in the public forum – which is where the arguments advanced in the Pledge Project are strongest.
As I see it, whether or not the Supreme Court hears the case, and what their decision happens to be, are beyond my control – and beyond yours. These are ‘facts of nature’ that we have to live with whether we like them or not – like the fact that chocolate is fattening and you have to pay $25 million to spend a week on the Space Station.
The goal that I have selected for myself – to leave the world better than it would have otherwise been if I had not existed in it – was very deliberately selected. I did not like the goal of ‘leaving the world a better place’ because a lot of circumstances beyond my could leave the world a worse place in spite of my greatest efforts.
Even if the world ends up being worse off while I am here, I can at least work to make it less worse off than it would have otherwise been. And even if people would have been better off in my absence, I can at least work to make them more better off than they would have been.
Now, allow me to apply this to a potential Supreme Court ruling that declares ‘under God’ to be Constitutional. Let’s assume that the Supreme Court does declare ‘under God’ to be constitutional. I can still ask what I can do to make the world better off than it would have otherwise been. In this, I see two options. The Supreme Court can render its decision in a culture that never questions the Pledge, allowing people to assume that no evil is done and promote it use accordingly. Or the Supreme Court can render its decision in a culture where many people recognize that the Pledge promote discrimination in the same way that a pledge to ‘our white community’ promote discrimination.
Of these two options, it is the second option that leaves the world better off than it would have otherwise been.
In order to be as successful as possible in getting thee arguments into the public mind, I hope to exploit the fact that, for about 7 days in the end of June and early July, much of the country’s attention will be fixed on this issue. I wish to take advantage of this situation to get the moral arguments out in front of people where they can read them and hear them. The more successful I am in presenting these arguments to people, the more we will hear people raising moral objections to ‘under God’ in the Pledge and ‘In God We Trust’ in government buildings and on government paper..
In order to get these moral arguments into the public consciousness, we must take advantage of a window of opportunity that will exist in the days after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals announces its decision. People will be discussing this issue. Our choice is to let the conversation be one-sided declaration of how anybody who opposes ‘under God’ is an enemy of free speech, freedom of religion, and the founding fathers, or to use this opportunity to insert whenever and wherever possible a string of moral arguments that will then serve as a context for any future Supreme Court decision.
At times in this blog I have drawn an analogy between these efforts in the realm of ethics and the laws of physics. No matter how massive an object is, and no matter how small the force that acts upon it, the force will have an effect on that object. You will not be able to fully explain or understand the movement of that object without mentioning that force. Similarly, society at large might be too massive for me to have much of a chance of moving it in any particular direction.
Those of us who will participate in this Pledge Project will have an effect. Even if we only reach a few dozen people, those few dozen people will have a better understanding of the moral objections to ‘under God’ and ‘In God We Trust’ than they would have otherwise had. That better moral understanding will enable them to make better moral decisions. Even with the Supreme Court giving anti-atheist bigotry its seal of approval, we can have an effect on how much or how little anti-atheist bigotry actually takes place.
When one student who would have otherwise stood for the Pledge of Allegiance instead decides not to do so, and he explains his choice to those who asks as “I refuse to join the school in insulting many of those who fought and died for my freedom by saying that those who did not support ‘one nation under God’ deserve as much of our contempt as those who support ‘tyranny and injustice for all’,” then that will be our victory.
When a teacher stands before his class and says, “I will not lead you in the Pledge of Allegiance because no decent teacher will stand before a group of children and teach them bigotry,” then that will be our victory.
When a soldier stands before a group on a patriotic holiday and says, “I cannot lead you in the Pledge because I owe it to the people that I served with that did not believe in God not to insult them by saying that such a person is as despicable as a person who rejects liberty and justice for all, then that will be our victory.
When a city council votes to remove a sign that says, “In God We Trust” because, they say, it is as wrong to have a sign on our wall that says ‘We Trust In God” as it would be to post a sign that says “we are white”, then that will be our victory.
When a government body passes a resolution that says, “We condemn any statement that implicitly or explicitly denigrates the patriotism or the moral character of a person based solely on the person’s belief that no god exists for us to be under or for us to trust,” then we would have had a victory.
I do not know how many victories, if any, are to be found in the future. Perhaps there will be none.
We could, of course, guarantee no victories if this is what we want. We simply need to do nothing.
If the Supreme Court decides to do the right thing . . . if the Supreme Court were also to decide that the government should not tell people to condemn soldiers who do not believe in God, if the Supreme Court should agree that schools should not teach religious bigotry to children, if the Supreme Court should agree that there is something fundamentally undemocratic in allowing legislation that serves to block people from public office, then so much the better. In this case, the victory will be that much greater.
The best way to get these ideas into the minds of the Supreme Court justice is to get these ideas into the minds of the people, so the Justices themselves can hear people protest that they will not stand to have the government insult soldiers who fought in its defense without belief in God, and hear stories of people protesting the use of a Pledge and a motto to keep qualified candidates out of public office and positions of public trust, and hear teachers protest the teaching of bigotry in public schools – these are the best way to get the Supreme Court to consider these facts when it renders its decision.
How many of these victories can we credit to those who lie down and do nothing?
Even if this biggest victory is outside of our grasp, the other victories are still available to us. How many or how few of those smaller victories we can score depends on how much or how little we plan on working towards those victories.