One Nation Under Siege?

for the week of July 1, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

There is no small sense of irony that we are celebrating July 4 in the wake of a much-discussed and much-maligned ruling last week by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, writing the 2-1 majority decision, declared the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance an unconstitutional endorsement of religion. The ruling is on indefinite hold now, pending appeals.

President George W. Bush called the ruling "ridiculous." Both the Senate (99-0) and House (416-3) passed resolutions denouncing it.

I've tried to think this issue through and be fair. After all, I'm not in favor of mandated prayers in the public school day. On the one hand, the Golden Rule appears to prohibit Christians from forcing prayers in Jesus' name on those who are not believers. Would I want to be forced to recite prayers to Allah in a school district whose majority was Muslim? On the other, a "prayer" so innocuous that it made neither confession of nor petition to Jesus doesn't count as prayer for me.

But this seems quite different. It is nothing more than the acknowledgment that this country has always had a significant majority of its population that values and affirms the place of theism to our national life. Can we not speak that fact?

The original Europeans who came here were seeking religious freedom, not freedom from religion. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution acknowledge "God," "Divine Providence," and the "Creator." Our Supreme Court opens to "God save the United States and this honorable court." Presidential speeches almost always end with the words and especially in the post-9/11 world "God Bless America." Are these things an imposition of religion?

As our culture typically understands the word "religion," no. The language of Alcoholics Anonymous that distinguishes "religion" (i.e., institutional forms of a particular faith) from "spirituality" (i.e., reliance on a transcendent power) is a fair representation of how the vast majority of us take "In God We Trust" on our coins or "one nation under God."

Most Americans about 95% in the polls believe in a Higher Power. The Pledge of Allegiance merely articulates what is clearly that consensus view. If majority views must always yield to objectors, we lose the right to express any point of view at all on democracy, personal worth, or the public good.

We have no right to shanghai government for religious agendas. But if we cannot acknowledge a nominal faith in minimal ways, we are instead of "one nation under God" one nation under siege to political correctness run amok.

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