by Tom Van Dyke
Well, there's been a big hubbub and some decent discussion around here lately about the Pledge of Allegiance, especially the "under God" part that was added in 1954, apparently American society's response to the growing godless worldwide Communist hegemony. Not an unreasonable fear. The Commies took over a helluva lot of countries. By ideology, and by force.
Me, I could live without the Pledge today in 2008---it seems the squabbling about it diminishes any utility it might have once had. Seems like a cudgel to beat "God" out of our public square, the exact opposite of its original intent.
And it's not good to drag our kids into our adult conversations and controversies, since the kids who opt out of "under God" might get the fisheye from their religious classmates---or vice-versa if they put it back in, depending on how "cosmopolitan" the school is. It puts in a dimension of social coercion and conformity that even most religionists should be uncomfortable with. Takes all the unum out of our pluribus, which is the whole point of the Pledge in the first place.
But in principle, I don't give a damn that some atheist finds hearing "under God" an offense to his sensibilities, or feels "diminished" as a patriotic American when he stays silent during that part. This nation has always made room for conscientious objectors, going back to the debate on the Second Amendment when it was thought the militia clause might obligate Quakers to bear arms, which is against their religion. They don't bear arms to this day, and similarly, it's entirely proper to "opt out" of the "under God" part.
Right now, Michael Newdow enjoys an appellate victory from the Ninth Circuit, somewhat putting the Pledge on ice. But the Ninth Circuit is America's most radical one, the one that's overturned most often at the top level. It's likely the Pledge will end up in front of the Supreme Court somehow someday.
And judging by the decisions in similar cases over the past 50 years, I think the odds are on Newdow's side. But mebbe somebody will ask the members of the Court to look at their own oath of office, written in the first days of the very Founding of our nation in the Judiciary Act of 1789:
"I, A. B., do solemnly swear or affirm, that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent on me as [blank], according to the best of my abilities and understanding, agreeably to the constitution, and laws of the United States.
So help me God.”
Huh? What was that? "So help me God?"
One of my blogbrothers spent a considerable amount of time working for or with Michael Newdow to track down whether George Washington added "So help me God" when he took the office of president. [Yeoman's work here, and proving to near-certainty that Washington did not say it. Well done, Ray.]
But whether Washington informally added "So help me God" is small potatoes compared to Congress formally putting it into a Supreme Court justice's oath, wouldn't you think?
And the previous section 7, requiring the same oath of judicial clerks, allows them to "opt out" of the "God" part---
"Which words, so help me God, shall be omitted in all cases where an affirmation is admitted instead of an oath."
So, there should be no problem here. A norm, a custom and practice is established among the very first acts of the new Congress, the trap door left open for freedom of conscience. No coercion---no harm, no foul.
Opt out. Conscientious objection. Freedom of conscience is preserved.
Perhaps in our era of the "living Constitution," the Justices will someday see fit to rewrite their own oaths while they're consigning "under God" to the ashcan of history.
Because they should rewrite their own oath of office (as written by Congress) and trash the "under God" thing (as written by Congress) at the same time, because they are one in the same.
Then we'll establish once and for all who's in charge of this here country. Not the elected president, and not the elected Congress. The courts. Because if and when they decide in 2009 or 2012 or 2020 that one of the very first acts of Congress in 1789 is unconstitutional, then everything's up for grabs.
Everything, folks, no lie. So help me God.