Schools are starting up again across the country. One of the things that this means is that the government is once again going to start to indoctrinate millions of children into the attitude that, in order to be a good American, one must endorse 'one nation under God'.
Many children will go to school to see the message prominently displayed on the classroom wall, "If you do not trust in God, then we do not think of you as being one of us."
It is not enough that the government declares this to be the official state attitude towards atheists. Many of the teachers – and many of the classmates – that the atheist (or would-be atheist) students will interact with daily believe this. To think that this does not color interactions between atheists and the rest of their school is naïve.
It is here, at a very young age, under the direction of the State and the active encouragement of teachers and fellow students, that young atheists and would-be atheists learn to hide what they believe. They learn to be timid and fearful – attitudes that they will carry with them throughout their adult lives, much to the delight of the theocrats and others who favor having an sectarian state.
If I have not been plain enough in the past, let me be clear now, I think it is right and necessary to explicitly protest this policy.
It's not sufficient to simply sit down and shut up while others say the Pledge of Allegiance. In this country, those actions simply reinforce the message that atheists are un-American. In our cultural language, sitting down and saying nothing is interpreted as a sign of disrespect for liberty and justice for all, disrespect for the government, and, in particular, disrespect for those people who have fought and died to protect our liberty.
Which is exactly the message that the theocrats want to give.
So, we are given a choice to make one of two statements whenever the Pledge of Allegiance is given. We can either stand up and show respect for the idea that a person who does not support 'one nation under God' is the same as a person who does not support 'one nation . . . indivisible, with liberty and justice for all'.
Or we can remain seated and silent, and tell the community that our attitude is that people who fight and die for our freedoms are not worthy of our respect or consideration.
These are the two legally and culturally permitted statements that one can make whenever the Pledge is offered. No other message is permissible.
Both of them are messages that cast atheists in an unfavorable light.
Worse, it casts atheists in an unfavorable light in the minds of children . . . six, seven, eight years old . . . who are not old enough to question. It casts these ideas into the minds of children who will unthinkingly attach emotions and sentiments to these ideas. They will associate being 'under God' and trusting in God with a sense of belonging and acceptance that will make it very difficult – impossible for some – to be at all comfortable with the idea that some citizens do not believe in God. They will associate not being 'under God' or not trusting in God with the sense of being outcast and isolated, unworthy of the equal respect and consideration not only of one's government, but of other people.
At this point it is all too common for some individuals to stand up and say, "That is not what happened to me."
However, imagine somebody writing about the dangers of falling from a great height – how this breaks bones and causes death. Then, those few people who have fallen from a great height without being harmed, stand up and say, "That is not what happened to me."
We would be fools to think of their few exceptions give us good reason to reject the idea that falling from a great height is dangerous. We would be foolish to look at the exceptions and say, "This must be the norm." We should only look at the norm to discover what the norm is.
And the norm, when it comes to the public's attitude towards atheists, is that atheists are un-American, are unfit to hold public office and positions of public trust, is the last person most parents would want their child to marry, is immoral, and is politically disposed to support a Holocaust or Stalinist purge.
I would like those atheists who think that they, too, have not been affected by this social attitude to actually look at your lives. You're not worried about what anybody would think if they were to discover that you do not believe in God? Proclaiming your atheism to somebody that you might want to date – or their family – or your family – does not cause you an ounce of concern? You think you can run for public office stating explicitly that you believe that no God exists and that this would do absolutely no harm to your campaign?
A slave can be comfortable as a slave if he learns to accept this as his role in society, and conforms his own attitudes and expectations to the position that society has assigned them to. Slaves continued to willingly serve their masters throughout the Civil War - even taking up arms against the Union army.
However, the fact that some blacks had internalized the slave culture and found themselves comfortable within it, is not an argument for saying that no injustice is done under the institution of slavery. The fact that some atheists are comfortable in a culture hostile towards atheists is no proof that no injustice is done with the current Pledge, the current motto, and the current culture that they support.
Speifically, what I am endorsing is going to the school and asking or demanding (because, on an issue such as this, it is within one's rights to demand – at least in the sense of saying, 'You are an accessory to bigotry if you do not agree to this') the right to deliver a message to the school other than the two government approved messages.
What I am endorsing is demanding the right to say that students (or anybody else for that matter) should not be forced into a situation where they must communicate to others either, "I support 'one nation under God'" or "I have absolutely no respect for any who fight and die for liberty and justice for all." I support demanding the right to say – and even to demand that the school itself say – that bigotry deserves no allegiance.