Court's decision runs against independence

Thursday, June 27, 2002

Surely, the apocalypse must be at hand.

A federal appeals court in California has now ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance (Yes, that Pledge of Allegiance, as in "I pledge allegiance, to the flag .") is unconstitutional because it contains two words - "under God."

In a 2-1 decision, the panel of three judges appointed for life terms unless they are impeached or resigned equated the offensive phrase with a government endorsement of religion. This, the judges ruled and the Associated Press reported, violates the U.S. Constitution's "Establishment Clause, which requires a separation of church and state."

Oh, that sounds very right, doesn't it. The Constitution says you can't mix religion and the government.

That so-called "Establishment Clause" is actually the First Amendment - which reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The rub comes in when interpreting what is intended by "respecting an establishment of religion." Is any mention of God in the public square an offense? Or did the Founding Fathers intend to avoid the abuses seen in the Church of England, an official state church, while not impairing the practice of all types of faiths?

The court case which brought all this to a boiling point was filed by a Sacramento atheist who objected to his second-grader being in a classroom where the pledge was recited. He called the pledge a "religious idea that certain people don't agree with."

As part of its support for the decision, the appeals court noted that students cannot hold religious invocations at graduations and can't be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Any student who objects to the words "under God," it was ruled, has to make an "unacceptable choice" between participating and protesting.

Yes, we're talking about an 8-year-old possibly being the only one in her classroom not reciting the pledge. But why is it "unacceptable" to require even an elementary school student to make a decision about what they do or don't support?

If I'm a parent, and I want to uphold "conservative" values, you better believe I have to take my own time to instruct my children on what I consider appropriate or of value - and why. I can't expect any public entity to do that for me, or to keep my kids away from anything that conflicts with my standards.

But if you are an atheist, you should be expected to not have any offensive ideas (read, supporting Christian beliefs) removed from a public environment including a classroom - or the campus of a habilitation center, or a courthouse lawn, etc.

To borrow a line from John Stossel, "Give me a break!"

No matter what one wants to argue the personal beliefs of George Washington and company were, it's probably fair to say they could find several thousand more pressing issues for the judicial system to take up than a parent offended by the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Ironically, the Fourth of July - a.k.a. Independence Day - is just a week away. It might be a very appropriate time to understand what we mean by "independence."

This editorial is signed because it is a personal viewpoint, not necessarily the conclusion of the Editorial Board.

-- J. Mark Lile