Date: May 4, 2011
Byline: Tad Armstong
Opinion: The Pledge of Allegiance
Vladimir Lenin, creator of the Soviet Communist Party, founder of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and proponent of atheism, was right when he said, "A lie told often enough becomes the truth."
A brief study of our Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, provides an example of Lenin's foresight. The irony is stunning that Francis Bellamy, original author of the Pledge (added to the U.S. Flag Code by Congress in 1942), was an advocate of socialism and that the Pledge was later amended by adding the phrase "under God" to set this nation apart from the atheist ideology of Communism during escalation of the Cold War.
Some might remember a video of Red Skelton, an American comedic icon, performing a dramatic reading of the Pledge. He reminded us that the phrase "under God" was added in 1954 and closes by saying, "Wouldn't it be a pity if someone said that was a prayer and the pledge would be eliminated from schools, too?" An online version of the video has been viewed almost 6 million times and bears this accompanying comment: "Just think, he said this on his television show in 1969 and really had no clue it would ever come about. Sad, isn't it?"
The statement that he "really had no clue" that his fear ever would come about probably is false. Mr. Skelton had plenty of evidence it might come about. He must have been keenly aware of the 1962 Supreme Court decision that government-sponsored prayer in public schools was a violation of the U.S. Constitution. He also probably knew of the court's decision in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, a 1943 ruling that held it unconstitutional to expel students for refusing to pledge allegiance to a flag they and their parents believed to be the worship of a graven image in violation of their interpretation of the Bible's Second Commandment. I seriously doubt Red would have disagreed with that outcome.
So, Red was not clairvoyant and probably did have a clue that "under God" might be challenged someday, if not as a prayer, as an establishment of religion. You would have, too, in 1969, if you had been aware of the true facts.
More important, the author of the Internet comment clearly implies how sad it is that the pledge has been removed from schools because of the "under God" phrase. But, is that true?
First, the Barnette case did not take "under God" out of the pledge. In 1943, it wasn't in the pledge. It also did not take the pledge out of schools, but simply permitted objecting students to opt out of the recitation requirement.
Most people I encounter believe the judiciary has eliminated the Pledge of Allegiance from our schools. Has Mr. Skelton's fear been realized? If some schools have removed the pledge from their daily diet, the reasoning cannot be based upon legal precedent, but may well be based upon lies repeated so often they become reality.
Only the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down the pledge because of the reference to God, but in 2004 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision for procedural reasons. Since then, six federal circuit courts of appeal have upheld both the phrase and the voluntary recitation of the pledge in our public schools and the Supreme Court has never addressed the issue head on.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking the Supreme Court to hear its appeal of a decision it lost against Hanover School District in New Hampshire on this very question. It claims, in effect, that although the pledge is voluntary, children of atheists either are coerced into conforming with the majority or are ostracized for their beliefs.
I agree with most of the government-sponsored prayer cases, but I do not agree with the foundation position in Hanover. Respectful silence by the minority, when confronted with the belief of the majority that a higher power exists, is neither an establishment of religion nor a burden so great as to allow a heckler's veto.
President Barack Obama closed his speech Sunday night announcing the death of Osama bin Laden by reminding us of who we are: "One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. May God bless you and my God bless the United States of America."
The remedy for atheist parents is the same for parents of faith. Raise your children in accordance with your values. Correct them, when necessary, about what they are taught in public schools, what they see on television and what they confront in daily life. Join the crowd.
Tad Armstrong is an Edwardsville lawyer and founder of ELL Constitution Clubs (www.ellconstitutionclubs.com).
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