Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Pledge Project: Current and Historical Events


As the expected time for the release of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision comes near, I am starting to get a bit nervous. I went in to double-check some things that I thought I was certain about, and I have some worries. While I found evidence that the Supreme Court clears its docket of all cases by June, I can't find evidence of what I was certain was true - that the Appeals Court works on the same calendar.

At least, I was never one of the people who has argued that it is always a moral crime to have an unfounded belief.

But, I needed to confess this possible error as quickly as possible. Along with my regrets, if it turn out that I am in error.

I have gotten some help from people that I would like to mention.

Hank Fox at Earthman's Notebook included my article The Pledge Project: Sound Bytes in The 94th Carnival of the Godless. He gave me the honor of picking that post out for special mention. For that, I offer my thanks.

I have exchanged some emails with Stuart Bechman from Atheist United. He is sending out an email warning its members of the upcoming decision and directing them to a couple of the Pledge Project posts (Table of Contents, Sound Bytes) in making responses.

Mattew Goldstein took the wording from my Letter to Candidates and turned it into an online petition: E Pluribus Unum petition. I know of the problems with online petitions. Still, if you support the ideas that are contained within the petition, I would appreciate it if you would say so by signing it.

Also, remember, I will be covering these types of items on my other blog, Atheist Ethicist Journal. Go there for further updates.

In the mean time, I have been reading through some documents my mother sent me. She is writing up the family history – and doing a fine job of writing in my opinion. She is starting with a branch of the family that lived in Massachusetts in the 1600s.

It is interesting to note that, 350 years ago, my ancestors seemed to be heavily involved in church-state issues as well, including some work on a pledge of allegiance. Only, back then, they were on the side trying to establish a theocracy in Massachusetts – one that had no tolerance for anybody who did not share the dominant religious beliefs of a society that demanded religious purity from all citizens. That was why they were called ‘puritans’.

No one could become a freeman unless he was a member of the church and if he wasn’t a freeman he couldn’t vote in any election, nor hold office or be on a jury. Strong efforts were made to bar immigrants belonging to other religions denominations. Puritans came to Massachusetts to develop religious liberty for themselves not to tolerate other religions. Whenever a non-church member was tried for a crime or offence he was tried by both the judge and a jury that belonged to the church and so had a strong prejudice against him. The Freeman’s Oath was the first paper printed in New England at Cambridge in 1639 using the words that were established in 1634.

I _______ being by God’s providence, an Inhabitant and Freeman within the Jurisdiction of this Commonwealth; do freely acknowledge myself to be subject to the Government thereof: And therefore do here swear by the great and dreadful Name of the Ever-living God, that I will be true and faithful to the same, and will accordingly yield assistance and support thereunto, with my person and estate, assign equity I am bound; and will also truly endeavor to maintain and preserve all the liberties and privileges thereof, submitting myself to the wholesome Laws and Orders made and established by the same. And further that I will not plot or practice any evil against it, or consent to any that shall do so; but will timely discover and reveal the same to the lawful authority now here established for the speedy preventing thereof.

Moreover, I do solemnly bind myself in sight of God that when I shall be called to give my voice touching any matter of this state in which Freemen are to deal, I will give my vote and suffrage as I shall judge in mine own conscience may best conduce and tend to the public will of the body. So help me God in the Lord Jesus Christ.

I find it interesting that, in this society that was devoted to establishing a religious theocracy, their Pledge of Allegiance is actually less objectionable than the one that we are currently burdened with. The person taking the oath does so in the name of God, in the site of God, and with the help of God, but does not actually bind himself or his community ‘under God’. The person binds himself, not to God, but to the government of the commonwealth.

In short, if you read the text, the concept of ‘under God’ is absent.

In the history of the time, I do not think we would be wrong in assuming that ‘under God’ was assumed. It is not stated that the government of the commonwealth was a government ‘under God’, but everybody thought that it was or, at least, that it should be.

The Puritans firmly believed their simple way of holding a religious meeting and of organizing a congregation was the only correct way. They were bitterly unfriendly and hostile to newcomers to their settlements who proposed or tried to set up any form of worship that differed from their own. Strenuous efforts were made to bar immigrants belonging to other religious denominations. Dissenters and critics who appeared among the Puritans were frowned upon and could be severely punished, executed and exiled into the wilderness. Puritans came to Massachusetts to develop religious liberty for themselves, not to establish an ideal of toleration for all religions.

After all, the lack of religious liberty that Massachusetts colonists gave their residents was one of the reasons that the Massachusetts Bay Colony lost its charter in 1684.

in 1684 the Puritan controlled Massachusetts Bay Colony lost the royal charter that was given to them in 1629. In 1691, after agreeing to observe the king's rules, they received a new charter under which they governed until the Revolutionary War.

My mother informs me that, in the period when the Puritans were expelling people who did not share the religious views of the Puritans that controlled the colony, our ancestors were not those who were driven out of the state. Instead of being expelled, they were the ones who were doing the expelling. They were the ones who administered the Freeman’s Oath and made sure that nobody voted or had a say in the direction of the colony who did not belong to the church.

The advocates of ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance today, at least in this respect, have the same attitude towards religion and politics as the Puritans did. Though they are not yet kicking people out of the community who do not share their beliefs, they still insist that nobody sits in government who is not a ‘freeman’ in the Puritan sense – who has not have the approved set of religious beliefs.

We’ve been here before. We do not need to come here again.

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