TCU Daily Skiff Wednesday, March 31, 2004
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Pledge has us in denial

COMMENTARY
Brandon Ortiz

Never doubt the power of denial.

There’s a country-western song about a woman who can’t believe her husband is cheating on her despite obvious evidence. The title is the “Queen of De Nile.”

Sometimes you want to believe something so badly that to listen to anything otherwise is akin to blasphemy — no matter what the facts say.

The nation is in that kind of denial about the pledge of allegiance.

We want to believe that the words “under God” — a phrase that means so much to so many — in the pledge of allegiance are constitutional. Why would someone want to remove under God from the pledge? What direction is this country headed in?

As a Christian, I would like “under God” to stay. But an honest examination of the phrase’s history shows that it is blatantly unconstitutional.

When the original pledge was written by a Baptist preacher in the late 19th century, it did not include the phrase. There is even some debate whether the late Francis Bellamy would have objected to “under God” being inserted into the pledge. He was something of a radical who once delivered a sermon called “Jesus the Socialist.”

Those who think the phrase is constitutional argue that it is meant as a symbolic reference to our nation’s religious heritage. The irony is that the authors of “under God” would likely disagree.

It was added in 1954, during the height of the Red Scare and McCarthyism. The Knights of Columbus and other religious groups pushed for the change, which was meant to differentiate the United States from the “godless” Communists.

A House Judiciary Committee report said that including God would “acknowledge the dependence of our people and our government upon the moral direction of the Creator” and “deny the atheistic and materialistic concepts of Communism.”

The man who introduced the resolution, Sen. Homer Ferguson, R-Mich, said, “I believe this modification of the pledge is important because it highlights one of the real fundamental differences between the free world and the Communist world, namely belief in God.”

Judging by the words of those who authored the change, the modification was an intentional endorsement of religion — something the high court has repeatedly ruled government cannot do.

There is a very real difference between putting “In God we trust” on coins and reciting the pledge, and that concerns the very nature of the pledge itself.

The definition of a pledge is “a solemn binding promise to do, give, or refrain from doing something,” according to dictionary.com.

A pledge is a statement of devotion. There is very little doubt this nation would not tolerate a pledge asking us to devote ourselves to one nation under Allah, or Buddha, or Satan.

Some may counter that children are not forced to recite the pledge in schools; that was ruled unconstitutional in Minersville School District v. Gobitis in 1940. But they weren’t forced to recite school prayers either in Township v. Schempp, in which the high court ruled unconstitutional an optional prayer.

Atheists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and students of other beliefs face inherent social pressure to recite something they do not believe in. Young children usually aren’t aware of their rights — and are unlikely to exercise them when faced with the befuddled stares and possible taunting of young classmates.

Traditionalists like to say that this country was founded by “Godly,” religious men. But it was also founded by members of religious minorities who fled persecution in Europe. It was clearly the intent of the Founding Fathers to protect such minorities.

When other arguments supporting the pledge’s constitutionality fail, some supporters like to go ad hominem, personally attacking those with whom they disagree. I will undoubtedly get e-mails calling me un-Christian or accusing me of trying to purge religion entirely from schools.

In the end, the pledge debate comes down to basic honesty. We can either admit something plainly obvious, or lie to ourselves.

And I see nothing Godly about lying to ourselves.

Editor in Chief Brandon Ortiz is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Fort Worth.

 
 
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