- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

Despite the thunder on Capitol Hill, the Pledge of Allegiance seems safe enough. Speaking well of God carries only a small risk for politicians and judges, even in modern America.

The politicians, and even some of our judges, are falling all over themselves to view with alarm and point with pride in the wake of that infamous order to trash our most popular expression of patriotism.

The language of this attempt to kick God out of the classroom, at least in nine states of the West, was insolent to the point of insult to men and women of religious faith, as if the dynamic judicial duo were mocking us.

Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, a legacy of President Nixon who wrote the opinion, seems to aspire to be the theologian general of the United States. His opinion, more fractured theology than bad law, finds in the Pledge far more than the authors ever imagined they were putting in it.

"The recitation that ours is a nation 'under God' is not a mere acknowledgment that many Americans believe in a deity," he wrote. "Nor is it merely descriptive of the undeniable historical significance of religion in the founding of the republic. Rather, the phrase 'one nation under God' in the context of the pledge is normative. To recite the pledge is not to describe the United States; instead it is to swear allegiance to the values for which the flag stands: unity, indivisibility, liberty, justice, and since 1954 monotheism."

Is that a fact? Generations of American kids can be excused if they thought all this time they were, too, acknowledging that their parents and friends and neighbors generally believed in a deity, and that they were, too, recognizing the undeniable historical significance of the religious faith all but unanimously held by the founding fathers.

His nose having been bounced considerably out of joint by the snubbing of Vishnu and Zeus by authors of the phrase "under God," Judge Goodwin appears to think it's time to send God to the showers, too. His evocation of Zeus gives a hint, perhaps, of the mysterious place from whence the judge sprang, since it clearly was not Planet Earth.

But it's a rare wind that blows nobody good, even a judicial wind, and a lot of congressmen couldn't have been more pleased to get an opportunity like this one. Tom Daschle, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, perhaps sensing where godly (if not necessarily Godly) Republicans might be going with this, called the decision, correctly, "just nuts," and sternly advised his colleagues to bone up on the words of the Pledge and to be on time the next morning for their own recitation of the Pledge, the judges be damned.

Dennis Hastert, the Republican speaker of the House, hurried outside to join his colleagues on the Capitol steps to recite the Pledge and join in the singing of "God Bless America." If Vishnu and Zeus didn't like it, they could go to San Francisco for all Congress cared.

The melancholy note in this music of America is that what we're celebrating is not respect for authentic faith, but deference to civic religion, which is not actually religion at all. More talented judges than Alfred T. Goodwin and Stephen Reinhardt (a legacy of that noted born-again Baptist Sunday-school boy, Jimmy Carter) would have noticed this.

They might have noticed as well that judges at war with the idea of religion in the public square have other, far more inviting targets than an innocuous recitation by innocent children if they're interested in picking on someone their own size. The Constitution, which the judges really ought to read sometime, takes note of its birth "in the Year of Our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven," and even the founding fathers invoked the doctrine of "creationism," asserting boldly that all men are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights." Even the capitalization of "Creator" was the work of the founding fathers. What should the courts make of that?

The decision illustrates the mockery of much of what most of us hold dear by the modern judiciary. Judges of an earlier, more serious era would have told the little plaintiff in the case to sit down, shut up and tune out, that her daddy should get a life. Life gets complicated later, when three out of three people die.

But it's a shame that so much anger and passion are being spent on so little. The phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge as if an afterthought, attempting to recruit Him as an ally rather than as a prayer of humility. We should not concern ourselves as to whether God is on our side, as a wise old preacher of my close acquaintance was fond of saying, but whether we are on God's side.

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