- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

Many moons ago, I'll confess, I defiantly refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I fervently believed in my militant youth that it simply did not apply to me as a black female in America.

I am still bothered by the phrase "with liberty and justice for all," but I've come to believe that we are moving toward that lofty goal albeit slowly.

Back in the day, I also bristled whenever anyone offered the U.S. Constitution as a legal justification for their argument during a classroom debate. I would promptly retort that that fundamental document was damaged goods because it was outdated. Of course, I pointed out that blacks were not counted as full human beings at the time it was written.

Well, times change and sometimes people do, too. I'm mindful of the Bible verse that "when I was a child, I spoke as a child." Now that I have traveled many miles over time and space in this world, my views of the Constitution's workings are altered and tempered. I love my country with all its flaws, proudly pledge allegiance to its flag and boldly sing "God Bless America." I've also learned tolerance and respect for differences in opinions and appearances.

As Henry David Thoreau wrote, "The universe is much bigger than our view of it."

However, tolerance comes in all shape, sizes, colors and prayers.

I've also discovered that there's one subject you'll never get folks to demonstrate much tolerance or forgiveness about, and that's their take on the proper role of God in our government.

Oh, yes, we talk a good game about the sanctimonious separation of church and state in this free nation "under God." But sacred Judeo-Christian ethos permeates every nook and cranny of America's secular society wherein we even barter with tender engraved with "In God we trust." No question our judicial codes are replete with religious rules. "Thou shall not ," whatever, fill in the blank. So, too, is our public policy peppered with piety.

One day, a California federal court rules that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because it states that we are one nation "under God." The next day the U.S. Supreme Court rules that it is not a violation of the Establishment Clause against religious incursion into state affairs to spend government funds on religious schools through a political vehicle known as vouchers.

Who can keep up? Do we really know right from wrong anymore? Or have we come to accept the politically expedient? These are the new rules for the shifting sands of the times in which we are now living. Tomorrow, the boundaries will be redrawn yet again. In the 1970s, for example, the public sentiment favored abortion rights. In this decade, freedom of reproductive choice faces eradication under ever-changing political language to fit ever-changing political logic.

Herein lies the danger of attempting to legislate morality. The Founding Fathers must have been keenly aware of this even in their day, which is why they erected the wall between church and state in the first place.

One of today's greatest challenges facing our elected leaders and jurists at every level is finding the fair balance between what offends the masses versus what offends the few. But what none can afford is the slightest perception that their rulings are not based on the canons of law and ethics, but based purely on the politics of the present.

The latter all too often is determined by instant polling data drawn from a fickle and ill-informed public. "God," or a "Higher Power" or "the Universe" or whatever term of deity is in vogue is not the same entity to all in this multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious nation.

Nor are the rites, rituals or rules by which we honor our individual deity.

That's why the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom of assembly along with freedom of the press.

Surely, like many God worshippers, I have no personal problem with posting the Ten Commandments in public, blessing a meal, saying prayers in schools, reciting pledges invoking God, or spending U.S. currency imprinted with His name. But I understand there are those who do, and I respect their objections.

I feel a tinge of discomfort for my Jewish friends who must sit through secular meetings in which invariably someone starts by calling on "the Savior" or ends "in Jesus' name." And, Allah help our Muslim brothers and sisters, especially in these post-September 11 times.

In Virginia, the legislators got it right and the courts agreed. Unlike the La-La Land of California, the Old Dominion's legislators took great pains to ensure that students were not subjected to undue religious pressure when they passed the measure that instituted "a moment of silence" rather than "a moment of prayer" at the beginning of each school day.

As for the mandated Pledge of Allegiance, however, today you might feel akin to its message; tomorrow not. In any case, at any time, you can tune it out and remain silent.

It's still a free country.


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