Sunday, June 30, 2002

An item that caused a certain amount of controversy this week, that I neglected to comment on, was the 9th Circuit Court ruling, and subsequent staying of that ruling, regarding the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance.

I chose not to comment on the ruling because I was surprised to find out that I really didn't care about it one way or the other. Did I mention that this surprised me?

I'd always been mildly offended by the "under God" that was inserted into the Pledge. I remember as a kid, when we had to say the Pledge each morning at school, I always chose to keep silent during that clause. I was taught early on to honor the separation of church and state, and that freedom of religion also included freedom from religion.

Not that we weren't religious, or didn't believe in God, but it was something outside of, and separate from, our feelings of patriotism and citizenship. Further, as a Jew, we learned about the evil of worshiping idols. Our emphasis was on ideas, not images, and I always thought the Pledge bordered on idolatry.

Seriously: we were pledging allegiance to the flag. Shouldn't we have been pledging allegiance to the country? The flag is merely a symbol for the country, and one of many. Standing, placing our hands over our hearts, and coming close to praying to a piece of cloth seemed odd to me. I'd have much rather pledged allegiance to freedom, democracy, justice, and diversity, and left the flag out of it.

So, I never bothered with "under God," and I'm set against any mingling of church and state. So why was I unmoved when a judge pointed out that there may be a conflict between the Pledge and the Constitution?

To be honest, my first reaction was, "Why a San Francisco judge? The rest of the country thinks we're all a bunch of Commies out here already!" But that wasn't really it.

Then I thought, maybe it's like the old Groucho Marx joke, "I wouldn't join any club that would have me as a member." Maybe now that thinking the pledge was religious idolatry was hitting the mainstream, I couldn't be bothered anymore?

Finally I realized that I simply thought that the ruling was as silly, meaningless, and absurd as the Pledge itself. In the battle to maintain a line between church and state, there are far more important issues right now than the words to some symbolic, but essentially harmless, patriotic pledge.

Because of the heavy symbolism of the pledge, people tend to get very emotional about it. Which makes it a great wedge issue to divide us and keep us from discussing some far more pressing problems.

For instance, the coverage of the circuit court Pledge decision overshadowed the Supreme Court's decision on school vouchers for religious education. I'm far more concerned about my tax dollars, precious few of which are already earmarked for public schools, going into church coffers. Now there's an issue that effects people, and is worth getting upset over.

Then there's the continued dismantling of the social safety net by the Bush administration, handing it off in chunks as part of the "faith based initiatives." Sure, social services may (or may not) be available for the down and out, but only for those willing to get on their knees and pray for it. That's got me a bit ticked off as well.

The Pledge? You've got to be kidding. Say it, don't say it, I don't care. It's a free country. You know that as silly as I think it is, I still say the Pledge, although I occasionally skip the "under God." Big deal.

If you care about the separation of church and state, we've got more important things to worry about than whether or not our money has "in God we trust" printed on it. Let's get going here.

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