Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Pledge Project: Resolution Respecting Atheists

The Pledge Project: Respect for Atheists Resolution

Be it resolved that (insert name of Civic or Government Organization here) condemns any statement that explicitly or implicitly denigrates the moral character or patriotism of any citizen based solely on the fact that the citizen lacks trust in God or lacks a belief in God necessary to honestly pledge allegiance to 'one nation under God'.

I came up with this resolution from hearing a number of people say that the national motto, "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance with "under God" does not denigrate those who do not believe in God.

If this is the case, then let those politicians and civic organizations explicitly give their vote to this proposition. Let them go onto the record as saying that any statement that condemns the moral character or patriotism of a citizen based solely on a lack of a belief in God.

This resolution is particularly fitting for an organization that either has voted or is considering a vote to post the national motto in any public building, or the 10 Commandments, or any other religious display.

I would actually expect the resolution to fail (or to never come to a vote). This is because ‘In God We Trust” and “under God” are meant to deliver the opposite message – that those who do not trust in God are not patriots, and that a requirement to being a good citizen is to support 'one nation under God'. These practices exist to teach the people that those who do trust in God are not to be thought of as 'one of us', and a person who does not support 'one nation under God' has a moral character like that of a person who does not support 'liberty and justice for all'.

But let's not play with words any longer. Let's put the proposition before the legislators (at whatever level of government) and have them state explicitly whether they endorse or reject such a statement.

This should be something that even those who say that I am being too harsh on the issue of the national motto and national pledge should be willing to support. What reason can there possibly be against putting legislators on the spot and having them tell us whether or not they view law-abiding and peaceful atheists citizens as the equal to other citizens in terms of moral character and patriotism.

There are two ways that a legislator can vote on the issue. She can vote to condemn anybody who explicitly or implicitly questions the moral character or patriotism of a citizen based solely on a lack of belief in God. Doing so will make it the official position of the governing body that passes the resolution that they stand opposed to anti-atheist bigotry – the type of bigotry that we find quite common in this society.

It would be useful, wherever this resolution can be passed, to say, "This is the government's official position with respect to those who say that an atheist, insofar as he lacks a belief in God, lacks a moral foundation and cannot be trusted." It would be useful, wherever this resolution can be passed, to say that, "The government’s official position is to condemn anybody who takes the fact that a person (student or adult) who does not say the Pledge of Allegiance allows us to imply anything about his moral character or his patriotism."

On the other hand, the representative can vote "No" on such a resolution. This at least puts anti-atheist bigotry out there in the open for all to see. There will be no more hiding the fact that a particular politician views the atheist as inferior to other citizens in terms of moral character or patriotism. Once it is out in the open, we can start to deal with it. Dealing with anti-atheist bigotry is a lot harder as long as the anti-atheist bigot is allowed to keep his bigotry behind a thin veil. That thin veil allows those who do not want to see this bigotry (those who would condemn bigotry if they were forced to confront it, but who are not being forced to confront it) to pretend it is not there.

So, let's put it out in the open where they no longer have the luxury of pretending.

There is a third option – the option of abstaining. This is where a legislator refuses to cast a vote on an issue. Yet, one can still make political hay about the fact that a legislator or civil leader is unwilling even to say that atheists are the moral and patriotic equal of other citizens. After the politician abstains, he can be hounded, and asked repeatedly, “Do you believe that a person who does not trust in God or who does not pledge allegiance to God can be the moral and patriotic equal of one who does?”

A fourth option – an option that I would expect many civic bodies to take – would be to try to put off the issue and simply never bring it before the body to be voted on. This is where one needs to make a fuss. This is where one starts to collect petition signatures (particularly in and around college campuses), and where one goes to the press saying, “We merely want this body to acknowledge that they consider atheists to be the moral and political equal of other citizens. Why won’t they do that?”

Even if the resolution never gets voted on, the act of gathering signatures and of pressing the issue in the newspaper will still bring the issue out in the open. It will still spark discussion and cause people to confront anti-atheist bigotry and make it harder to deny or hide from the fact that it exists.

This resolution is not just fit for city, county, state, and federal governments. It is a fit resolution for a large number of civic bodies. It is a fit resolution to be considered by a school board, or the local Parent-Teacher Association. It is a fit resolution for any organization that might host an event that might include the Pledge of Allegiance. It involves any number of political and social campus organizations, from free thought organizations to those organized around civil rights or similar political themes.

If you, the reader, should decide to pursue this option before some legislative or civic body, I would like to recommend that you bring some recording device. In most cases, I would assume that you would come home with a set of bigoted remarks that can keep the atheist and secular blogs buzzing for days.

I would like to advise the reader who pursues this option to be ready for the press regardless of the outcome. If the resolution fails, then the message is simple. “Every legislator who voted against this resolution is a bigot who denies the political equality of citizens who do not believe in God.”

On the other hand, if the resolution passes, be ready praise the legislators for their vote on this issue. However, be ready to ask, "Why does the legislature then insist on hanging a sign in their building that denigrates the moral character and patriotism of somebody who does not trust in God. They say that this is a patriotic message. However, it cannot be a patriotic message unless one believes that a person who trusts in God is more patriotic than one who does not?"

Or, after the body passes such a resolution, be ready to ask, "Why does this body then insist on starting its sessions with the Pledge of Allegiance. After all, this cannot be thought of as a patriotic exercise unless one believes that a person who pledges allegiance to 'one nation under God' is more patriotic than one who does not. Yet, this body has just said that it is wrong to question the patriotism of a person who does not pledge allegiance to 'one nation under God'. So, which is it?”

I would like to warn you that one of the ways that legislators will try to avoid making a clear statement on this issue is by changing the language. They may seek a resolution that states that it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of religion – which is ambiguous as to whether or not it is fair to discriminate against those who have no religion.

The issue must be kept focused on the question of whether the legislator holds prejudices against citizens who do not have a trust in God, or who would not pledge allegiance to ‘one nation under God’.

1 comment:

vjack said...

I'm with you on this one, Alonzo. I just did a post about the Pledge Project too: