Thursday, February 28, 2008

Perspective on the Pledge: Notes - "In God We Trust"

I will be working on my story, “A Perspective on the Pledge” this weekend. For those who are not familiar with my previous posts on the subject, the story concerns a parallel universe in which students are ‘encouraged’ to pledge allegiance to “one white nation”, which I use to expose serious flaws in arguments used to defend having “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance.

I have re-inserted the chapter on scouting, where my protagonist Shawn protests a group that is allowed to recruit on campus that holds that black people are morally inferior to whites and, thus, incapable of being good role models for children.

I have also decided that I wanted to incorporate some comments about the national motto, “In God We Trust”.

I could easily incorporate an equivalent slogan into the story. “In God We Trust” is an inherently segregationist slogan. It says that the most important principle within a particular country is the principle that the population is to be divided between a “we” who “trust in God” and “they” who do not. Furthermore, it holds that the “we” group is the favored group and, by implication, the group that “true” Amerycans would belong to.

In Ameryca, the hypothetical country in which my story takes place, all of these elements can be captured by giving Ameryca a national motto of “White Power”, because “In God We Trust” actually says, “Power to those who trust in God” – a slogan morally equivalent to “Power to those who are white.

An atheist, who walks into a city council meeting that begins with a pledge of allegiance to one nation ‘under Go, with the slogan “In God We Trust” on the wall, is in exactly the same (moral) position as a black person walking into a city council meeting that begins with a pledge of allegiance to ‘one white nation’, with the motto “White Power” sitting on the wall. It would not be surprising in such a nation that the black citizen would be addressing a council that consists entirely of white people, in the same way that atheists in this country face city councils that consist entirely of theists.

Imagine being a black high school student in a country where a substantially white majority insists on hanging the national motto, “White Power”, in all of the classrooms, Imagine seeing that slogan every day, and knowing full well what it is saying about you and your relationship to your white students.

Imagine what it would be like to be a white student in such a society. Imagine being a white eight-year-old, or ten-year-old, or twelve-year-old child who, for as long as he or she can remember, has been told that the official government policy is a policy of white power. Imagine being told from birth, in a government school, that to be a worthwhile person one has to be white – the way that the government tells its children that to be a worthwhile person one has to trust in God.

The argument used by those who insist on posting this motto in government buildings, classrooms, and keeping it on the money, is that it is a ‘patriotic exercise’. However, this merely means that a patriot is somebody who trusts in God, and no person who does not trust in God can be a patriot.

This claim, that pledging allegiance to one nation ‘under God’ and that posting ‘In God We Trust’ on classroom walls is a ‘patriotic exercise’ and not religious is an absurdity. If it is a patriotic exercise, then it is an exercise that says that patriotism requires being ‘under God’ or trusting in God. It is an exercise that says that those who fail to meet this criteria – those who deny that a God exists – are not patriots.

In late December, Michael Newdow was once again before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals defending his lawsuits against ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance and ‘In God We Trust’ in government buildings and on the money. One source that I read briefly mentioned a question that one of the judges asked almost in passing at the end of the questioning. The judge asked whether a person had to believe in God to be pa patriot. The lawyer arguing in favor of keeping ‘under God’ in the Pledge said no.

Yet, if the answer to the question is ‘no’, then this means that pledging allegiance to one nation under God is not a patriotic exercise. I hope that the judge who asked the question was aware of this implication, that this is why she asked the question, and this is what she will put into the opinion when it is released. “The state cannot defend the claim that pledging allegiance to a nation ‘under God’ is a patriotic exercise if it is possible for a person to be a patriot without being ‘under God’. And if it is not a patriotic exercise, then it must have some other purpose.”

Yet, even if it is a patriotic exercise, what sense does it make for a government prohibited by law from establishing a religion, to insist that patriotism consists in being ‘under God’, and those who are not ‘under God’ are not patriots? What reason is there for adopting a position?

In fact, there is no reason for adopting a position. And when one group of people brand others as ‘inferior’ without having reason to do so, that is the essence of prejudice. That is the essence of injustice. That, itself, is a moral crime that no person would find in a just system of law.

I am an atheist. A motto of “In God We Trust” says that in order for me to be counted among the “we” who make up this country, I must trust in God. Either I must take this motto to be among the most transparent examples of a lie that one can imagine (as clear as the claim ‘all swans are white’ when one is holding a black swan), or I must conclude that the government’s official position is that citizens who do not trust in God are not ‘we’.

The motto states nothing less than that trusting in God is a requirement for being a true American; a patriotic American, the type of American that the government finds acceptable enough to be counted among those it calls ‘we’.

What argument can the government give for excluding those who do not trust in God from the group ‘we’? What have those who do not trust in God done to be considered worthy of this form of ostracism and exclusion? Have they committed some crime? Is there evidence of disloyalty or treason? Is there any evidence at all that these are inherently inferior people who are unworthy of membership?

There is no more reason for believing that those who do not trust in God are inferior and do not merit being included in the group called ‘we’, than there is for saying that those of black skin are inferior and do not merit being included in the group called ‘we’. When a group is denigrated and excluded without reason, that is injustice. When people are condemned and labeled inferior when no evidence can be brought against them, then they are the victims of bigotry.

And in this case, not only is the government branding all those who do not trust in God to be inferior beings who do not merit being considered members of the group called ‘we’, it has made it the national motto. It has said that there is nothing more important to this government, no more worthy of respect and remembrance, than the idea that those who do not trust in God are unworthy of membership in the group called ‘we’. When it posts this sign in classrooms, they are telling the students themselves that those who do not trust in God are inferior, and unworthy of membership in the group called ‘we’. This, merely compounds the injustice, by several orders of magnitude.

Let us not pretend that the children are not learning this lesson. There is a reason why most Americans would never support an atheist as President. It is because, every time they look at their money, they see a sign that tells that that those who do not trust in God are inferior, and unworthy of membership in the group called ‘we’. It is because the government itself, our government, has taken it to be its prime mission in life to teach children that those who do not trust in God are inferior, and unworthy of membership in the group called ‘we’. Children cannot see that message day in and day out and not be affected by it.

But, then, affecting children with this attitude towards those who do not trust in God is the entire reason people insist on posting these signs in our schools.

What other reason could there possibly be?

No comments: