The Right To Mumble


 It is for no particular item in the tax-bill that I refuse to pay it. I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the State, to withdraw and stand aloof from it effectually. I do not care to trace the course of my dollar, if I could, till it buys a man or a musket to shoot one with--the dollar is innocent--but I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance. In fact, I quietly declare war with the State….  ~ Henry David Thoreau

Kathleen Parker’s columns are usually fairly sensible, but a recent one about the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision on the Pledge of Allegiance really got me steamed.  Most of the column was satire, but I will address the parts that were not.

Ms. Parker begins, “Forget ridiculous, absurd, outrageous. The ruling was just weird. To determine that ‘one nation under God’ violates the constitutional prohibition against establishment of a religion is such a legal stretch and so out of touch with American reality….”  I agree that it is out of touch with American reality, but last time I checked, “American reality” is not what we examine to determine the constitutionality of a law.  But is it a legal stretch?  The First Amendment reads in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….”  If government teachers are required to lead their classes in saying a pledge that includes the words “under God,” and students are required to say it, that sure sounds like a law respecting an establishment of religion to me.

Ms. Parker continues, “Couldn't we focus our energies on ways to bolster hope and community rather than in designing excuses to destroy our nation's symbols and rituals?”  If you want to bolster hope and community through peaceful, voluntary means, knock yourself out.  But I don’t see how forcing students to recite a pledge to a piece of cloth is going to “bolster hope.” Additionally, America is not the only country that has national symbols and rituals.

Ms. Parker goes on to write, “…just as clearly as the U.S. Supreme Court will restore sanity and leave God alone for the time being.”  Leave God alone?  But didn’t this controversy arise because the government didn’t leave God alone? 

Ms. Parker continues, “For regardless of one's definition of God--and the Pledge leaves plenty of room for interpretation, not to mention the right to mumble or insert the word of one's choice (one nation under blog)--not even many atheists want to challenge the ultimate patriotic symbol at this juncture.”  Plenty of room for interpretation?  What could “God” mean other than the Judeo-Christian god?  Allah?  Buddha?  Baal?  I don’t think so.  The right to mumble?  Is that what freedom of conscience has degenerated to today, the right to mumble?  And if not many atheists want to challenge “the ultimate patriotic symbol,” so what?  In light of the way that Newdow has been vilified and the hundreds of death threats that he has received from so-called Christians, is it any wonder that few atheists want to challenge the Pledge?  Does their fear-based silence mean that the law is just and therefore shouldn’t be challenged?

Ms. Parker then writes, “As atheist blog pundit Stephen Green put it on his Web site (, Newdow's court challenge was idiotic and rude. The proper response to minor offenses, he says, is good manners.”  Rude?  Objecting to being forced to say something you don’t believe is rude?  If you force someone to say something they don’t believe, does that mean you’re polite?  Good manners?  What are people who object to saying the Pledge supposed to do, say the Pledge anyway and then say, “Thank you, Sir, may I have another”? 

Quoting Green, Ms. Parker writes, “When someone asks your kids to use the words ‘under God’ abstractly in a voluntary oath--understand that we atheists are in the slightest of minorities . . . . Have some manners. Show some understanding. Learn to shrug off the little stuff.”  First of all, they don’t “ask” kids to use those words, they force them to, and the words are not abstract. While the Pledge may theoretically be voluntary in some states, I know two teachers who make their students stand, if not recite, the Pledge.  So what if atheists are a small minority?  Does that mean they have no freedom of conscience?  Having manners has nothing to do with being obedient.  Show some understanding?  Who is in greater need of understanding, those who object to saying the Pledge, or those who want to force those people to say it?  Pledging allegiance to a flag and a government is “little stuff”?  Maybe for you, but not for people who take such things seriously.  If the Pledge is such “little stuff,” then why are politicians and commentators going berserk, and why is Michael Newdow receiving hundreds of death threats?  The lifeblood of liberty is being drained from our bodies by cuts from a thousand “little things” such as the Pledge, driver’s licenses/ID cards, traffic jams on government roads, sales taxes, business licenses, registering for the draft, etc.  

If you like to say the Pledge, you are still free to do so.  Say it as often as you like.  (If you’re a politician, say it frequently and in front of a camera, then sing “God Bless America” afterwards. This will help convince the sheeple that you are a good representative and a True American.)  Your children are still free to say it in a government school, and I don’t know of any private schools that ban it.  All I’m asking is this: If you want to worship the State or God or both of them at the same time (e.g, in God we trust, one nation under God, God bless America), do it on your own time and on your own dime.  Just don’t make me pay for government schoolteachers to lead students in worship sessions and then force students to participate.        

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