Guest blog by Aron’s wife.
And to a Republic for which the flag stands
Which people insist is one nation under God
Who is for most people mutually exclusive
As a public school teacher I am required by the state to lead the pledge every school day. As an American atheist, this daily pledge is a reminder that however indivisible our country pledges it is; nothing divides a people like religion. Although it irks me to lead the pledge, I am mandated to do it, and it wouldn’t accomplish anything other than losing my job not to do it. The good I do every day in my science classroom far outweighs the daily dings to my conscience. So, I like most of the people the pledge excludes, have become pragmatic about pledging to a nation under God. After all I am being compelled to violate the Constitution by my own government.
In fact ,the Christian Evangelicals of my state of Texas have become so fond of reminding other people that everybody is under their God (you know, Yahweh) that the overwhelming majority of lawmakers voted to put the word “under God” into the Texas pledge in 2007 as well. So no one has any illusions they can pray to any other God, the bill’s sponsor Rep. Debbie Riddle R-Tomball said…
“Since the time of the founding of the United States through modern times, the presence and influence of God has been intrinsically associated with the political and social culture of the United States … (the bill) will acknowledge our Judeo-Christian heritage by placing the words ‘under God’ in the state pledge.”
So since 2007, non-christian schoolchildren, teachers, and administrators have been compelled to pledge to the Judeo-Christian God twice every school day. Just in case any of us still harbored any lingering doubts about which God the state of Texas is under our state representatives voted a few months ago to put it on our license plates.
A portion of the proceeds benefit a group called the “Glory Gang”, who work with disadvantaged children of Nacogdoches county. One of the board members feels…
“The message of the Calvary Hill plate is the message that we give to the children we work with: there is hope,” said Matt Rocco, Glory Gang board member. “We believe the new plate will appeal to a lot of Texans who believe as we do and who will like knowing that sharing a Christian message from their cars will also help kids in need.”
For a people apparently concerned with the message we send to schoolchildren, you would think the state’s lawmakers, voters, and service organizations would know something about this country’s history of religious persecution. During Thanksgiving we are reminded of the Pilgrim Puritan’s providence in founding a colony to escape religious persecution in England. Rep. Riddle was probably alluding to this and other stories of the founding of our country when she sponsored the bill to put “under God” in the state pledge. It is true the Pilgrims founded a colony based on their wish to escape from religious persecution. However the persecution came from the Church of England who also worshiped the Judeo-Christian God. To make matters worse, no sooner had they set up their own government that they began persecuting other Christians-the Quakers.
Thomas Jefferson was keenly aware of the need for separation of Church and state not only to protect citizens from a theocratic government like England, but also to keep the peace between Christian sects. In 1659, Puritan dominated Virginia started passing anti-Quaker laws that banished them from their home colony and for a few capital punishment. Jefferson observed…
“…If no capital execution took place here, as did in New England, it was not owing to the moderation of the church, or the spirit of the legislature.”
So all of the pledging we do in schools to the ruling, religious class’s God goes actually against the political and social culture the founding fathers attempted to establish. Of course, they won’t see it from that perspective. The separation of church and state actually protects Christians from any other religious sect including different Christian ones coming into power and compelling them to pledge allegiance to their God.
History and Constitution aside the most compelling reasons to defend the separation of state are human ones. Once, I had an opportunity to defend a Christian from another Christian over the pledge in my own classroom. A former colleague brought in a mutual student of ours, and demanded to know why she didn’t say the pledge. She normally did the pledge in my classroom, but the schedule was different that day. She tried to explain that she was a Jehovah’s Witness and they believed pledging to a flag or anything other than God was idol worship. In his outrage, he heard none of the explanation, he asked her if she knew that this country was founded on God as if he wasn’t even talking to another Christian.
As an atheist, I could have cut them both off by saying, neither of you have any evidence to believe there is a God in the first place. However, I chose instead to support this child’s religious freedom, and told her to get a note from her parents excusing her from the pledge. She quickly got a note excusing her from the pledge, and the harassment about her religious beliefs stopped. If only the rest of us could get a note to excuse us from the state sponsored harassment of our religious beliefs during the pledge as well. And too, if it were up to most secularists this child would have never been harassed in the first place.