Friday, March 19, 2004

The pledge of allegiance case is coming before the Supreme Court pretty soon. I think it's a pretty interesting case. On the broadest level, the key question is whether the words "under God" matter. If they do matter (i.e. if the kids are really pledging allegiance to America, an indivisible nation under God), then adults are forcing kids to acknowledge God--and the government can't force kids to do that. If they're just empty words, though (like on money), there's no harm in forcing kids to say them. So W (in the guise of Ted Olsen) is in the somewhat odd position of arguing to the Supreme Court that the words "under God" don't matter. That no one pays them any attention. That the word "God" means nothing! (Presumably they didn't ask God for His opinion...)

But of course that's completely 100% false and everyone knows it. The whole reason there's a controversy is that the words do matter. If no one cared about including those two words in the pledge, the Christian right wouldn't get all frothy about it. Of course it matters. At least to adults.

But on the other hand, does it matter to kids? I remember saying the pledge. It was rote and stupid and one ended up mindlessly mumbling it every morning. (I believe the practice in Granville, Ohio was to say it up until the 5th grade.) So by this logic, there's no harm in including the words "under God" because while they obviously matter to adults, kids aren't paying attention anyway.

W will also be arguing that the pledge isn't mandatory. Riiiiiiight. And that there's no stigma to not saying it. Uh-huh. One of my few memories of saying the pledge every morning was of Joel "The Jehovah's Witness" Van Zandt. He didn't pledge. But he stuck out like a sore thumb. When one is in the third grade, that can't be pleasant. So yes, it technically isn't mandatory. But there's undoubtedly a stigma attached to not saying the pledge, especially when every other eight year old-AND ONE'S TEACHER!-is reciting it with hand over heart.

Personally, I believe that the words "under God" have meaning. One shouldn't say them unless one means them.

To me this is one of those dumb little controversies that's interesting only because what it says about society. In the end, it's dumb because no kid's life has EVER been affected one way or another by saying the words "under God" in the pledge (it's interesting to note that those words were added in 1954, to fight off the godless commies, I guess we all got along just fine without them). But it's also interesting for the light it shines on us all.

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