An Issue of Supreme Importance

Supreme CourtToday — in addition to being the last day for screenplay reviews for Project Greenlight — marks the long-awaited hearing of the infamous “Pledge of Allegiance” case by the Supreme Court (well, eight members of it, anyway). Actually, come to think of it, if they’re running on schedule, they should be getting started on it right around now. I’ve gone into my position on this issue before, as well as my prediction as to the likely result, so I won’t bother to reiterate it here. Go ahead and read them if you haven’t already. I’ll wait.

Everybody back? Okay. I will draw your attention to today’s Post, in which they have a pretty detailed account of the issues at stake. I’ll give the Post credit for being balanced in their coverage, but one point is made abundantly clear by reading between the lines of their coverage: The pro-“under God” folks don’t really have a legal leg to stand on. Their entire argument consists of either, “It may technically be unconstitutional, but it’s harmless,” or, “How dare this guy even bring up this issue.” Now, is that the popular viewpoint? Hell, yes. But is it supportable? Not even close. This isn’t an example of long-standing “ceremonial deism”: The phrase was inserted a half-century ago as an explicit endorsement of religion. That’s the entire reason it’s in there. And the established case law is equally direct: Lee v. Weisman determined that religious invocation in a public school setting is unconstitutional. And that case involved high school students, who, it could be argued, are less likely to be influenced by an ostensibly “harmless” school endorsement of religion than the elementary school students in this case.

For my part, I haven’t recited the Pledge of Allegiance in years — not only because of the “under God” part, but because I actually don’t “pledge allegiance” to the flag, or even to the republic as a whole. I choose to ally myself with the United States, and I certainly have a strong interest in the safety and security of my family, friends, neighbors, and countrymen (in that order). But as a freethinking individual, I reserve the right to choose otherwise at some point in the future — by either the obvious step of moving somewhere else or the less obvious one of working to change the republic. Forced patriotism is a farce; I understand the government’s interest in indoctrinating “patriotism” in its subjects (how better to keep them docile and unquestioning?), but I’m sure as hell not gonna go along with it.

I may be no patriot, but I would be far more understanding of a pledge like that proposed as a replacement for the existing one (or a variation thereof): “I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, and to the Republic that it established; one Nation out of many Peoples, with Liberty and Justice for all.” I’m still not saying I’d recite it, but I certainly wouldn’t be so all fired up about it.


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