Under God

We have yet another interesting Supreme Court case. Dahlia Lithwick's article One Nation, Under Hallmark, Indivisible is about the constitutionality of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. The case is brought by Michael Newdow, an atheist, on behalf of his daughter who is exposed to those words in school.

Before I comment on the specifics of this case, I want to address a broader issue I don't quite understand. Why is religion often so divisive? Why do some people feel threatened by an opposing belief system? The fact that others are able to openly believe what they want is a hallmark of our society. We should look fondly on others' passionate beliefs. It helps them derive happiness and direction in their lives. And the freedom that allows those beliefs to be practiced openly is a very good thing. We should respect and honor that freedom, not disrespect it with contempt.

We are exposed to many religious messages in our daily lives. The existence of those messages, and our exposure to them, should not (and can not) be considered a threat to our own beliefs. It is the responsibility of each of us to hold our own beliefs strongly, being true to ourselves. We can then safely navigate the sea of messages available in the public arena, entertaining them, debating them, or even adopting them as we see fit.

Now on to this case, specifically...

As my above opinion already makes clear, I don't think the existence (or not) of the mention of God in the Pledge is much of a big deal. If I were an atheist, I wouldn't consider it to be an affront to my belief system. But the Pledge is not a normal freedom of speech message. It is a state sanctioned message that is specifically exposed to our children. The state must be careful to respect others' personal choices, and not make them feel unnecessarily uncomfortable. In the case of our children, the state must be extra careful not to confuse them with messages that may be different from those being instilled in them by their parents. In this case, the line is being crossed, if ever so slightly. Dahlia Lithwick, in her article, comes to an interesting conclusion:

The case is a mess because, whatever you may think about God or the pledge, if you really apply the case law and really think "God" means "God," then Newdow is right. But Newdow can't be right. Can he?

Posted: Sun - March 28, 2004 at 10:41 AM