Saturday, September 7, 2013

Starting Over on the Pledge of Allegiance

"An atheistic American...is a contradiction in terms."
 - George MacPherson Docherty
Docherty (a Presbyterian minister) was the principal initiator of the addition of the words "under God" to the Pledge. He was quoted by Congressman Louis Charles Rabaut (Michigan) when introducing (in 1953) the first of many similar bills to amend the Pledge (formally adopted by Congress in 1942). The Pledge was finally amended by a joint resolution of Congress in 1954, and the words "under God" were inserted to "affirm our belief in the existence of God" and against "the evil weed of communism and its branches of materialism and political dictatorship" which were rooted in atheism (Rabaut).

David Niose argued this week before the Massachusetts Supreme Court that this violates equal protection (under state law). The now famous Newdow case, on the other hand, argued that "under God" in the Pledge violated the establishment clause of our federal constitution. It will be interesting to see how this new approach turns out in the courts, and I am happy to see Niose (current president of the Secular Coalition for America) leading this effort.

And I agree with Noise that "schools could start from scratch" by "designing a daily exercise [which]need not be a Pledge at all -- it could be a song, a quick lesson about a historic hero..." But instilling "patriotism" through government? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for the "general notion of civic virtue." But the "group dedication" part can get ugly, and all too often "patriotism" does indeed become "the last refuge of the scoundrel."

That said, Noise's suggestion got me thinking about what an atheist and humanist might feel comfortable making a pledge of allegiance to? Borrowing from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt helped draft, I came up with the following:

I pledge allegiance to self-governance that respects the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights and responsibilities of freedom, justice, and peace for all members of the human family.

But instead of pledging allegiance to it, we should just focus on doing it! Then our children will have role models to emulate instead of boilerplate text to recite in rote. So that's how I would "start over" on the Pledge. What would you do?

Addendum: As for songs...Woody comes to mind. But I wouldn't make the Fox Five sing it.


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