The pledge of allegiance and political divides

I love history because when one looks into the historical roots of current events, one uncovers all kinds of interesting bits of information. This is true about the pledge issue. In addition to the (by now) well-known fact that the phrase “under God” was not part of the original pledge at all and was only added in 1954 as part of the Cold War fight against “godless Communism,” there is an interesting history to the pledge that suggest that the people on either sides of the lines being drawn on this issue are not as predictable as one might expect. For example, it is now assumed that the people who oppose the inclusion of the phrase “under God” are “on the left” or “liberal” and that those who want it included are “on the right” or are “conservative,” whatever those labels might mean. But a little investigation shows that things are not so simple.

Gene Healy, Senior Editor of the libertarian Cato Institute pointed out after the 2002 ruling that the pledge exemplifies the kind of devotion to the state that conservatives should be wary of and he is puzzled by why they have rushed to defend it.

“It’s probably too much to ask politicians to reflect a little before they lunge for a political hot-button issue. But any conservatives so inclined should think about what they’re defending. What’s so conservative about the Pledge?

Very little, as it turns out. From its inception, in 1892, the Pledge has been a slavish ritual of devotion to the state, wholly inappropriate for a free people. It was written by Francis Bellamy, a Christian Socialist pushed out of his post as a Baptist minister for delivering pulpit-pounding sermons on such topics as “Jesus the Socialist.”

Though no one can be legally compelled to salute the flag, encouraging the ritual smacks of promoting a quasi-religious genuflection to the state. That’s not surprising, given that the Pledge was designed by an avowed socialist to encourage greater regimentation of society.

Regardless of the legal merits of Newdow’s case – which rests on a rather ambitious interpretation of the First Amendment’s Establishment clause – it’s ironic to see conservatives rally to such a questionable custom. Why do so many conservatives who, by and large, exalt the individual and the family above the state, endorse this ceremony of subordination to the government? Why do Christian conservatives say it’s important for schoolchildren to bow before a symbol of secular power? Indeed, why should conservatives support the Pledge at all, with or without “under God”?

The idea that the pledge is somehow neutral with respect to religion is addressed by one of the judges in the 2002 9th circuit verdict. From the website The Moderate Voice we find that Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote:

In the context of the Pledge, the statement that the United States is a nation “under God” is a profession of a religious belief, namely, a belief in monotheism. The recitation that ours is a nation “under God” is not a mere acknowledgment that many Americans believe in a deity. 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. A profession that we are a nation “under God” is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation “under Jesus,” a nation “under Vishnu,” a nation “under Zeus,” or a nation “under no god,” because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion. The school district’s practice of teacher-led recitation of the Pledge aims to inculcate in students a respect for the ideals set forth in the Pledge, including the religious values it incorporates.

The verdicts on issues like the pledge, the public display of the ten commandments, the burning of the flag, and school prayer will not affect the daily life of anybody in any noticeable way. But where people stand on this issue does say a lot about how they view their individual rights and liberties in relation to the rights of the state, and about their views of the relationship of the state with religion.

POST SCRIPT: The case for immediate withdrawal from Iraq

Tomorrow, Saturday, September 24 is the big antiwar march and rally in Washington DC. Tom Englehardt and Michael Schwartz make the case for immediate withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.

The Pledge of Allegiance back in the news

There seems to be no battles that the public and the media enjoy more than symbolic ones that have little or no effect on the actual lives of people. Among these are battles over the public display of the ten commandments, the burning of the flag, school prayer, and the inclusion of the words “under God” in the pledge of allegiance.

And that last issue is back in the spotlight now that US District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton in California has held that including the phrase in the pledge does indeed make the reciting of the pledge in schools unconstitutional. A similar judgment was arrived at in 2002 and that earlier decision was upheld by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Karlton said that he was bound by that precedent. That earlier case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which essentially punted by saying that the parent in that case (Michael Newdow who also acted as his own lawyer) did not have standing to file suit because he did not have legal custody of his daughter on whose behalf he was objecting to the phrase. Thus the Supreme Court avoided having to rule on the merits of the case.
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When does “looting” become legal?

The events following Katrina have raised disturbing questions about what to do about “looting” in situations such as those.

One grants that looting just for the sake of personal enrichment or to take advantage of another person’s weakness is wrong on both legal and moral grounds.

But what about looting for survival? If people are hungry and thirsty, is it appropriate for them to break into a locked store and take food and water, against the wishes of the owner? Or what if they steal a vehicle to escape from danger? In this Reuters photograph by Rick Wilking Reuters3_L.jpg the caption reads “Texas game wardens force people who used a mail truck to escape the flooded areas of East New Orleans to lie on the highway Aug. 31, 2005. The people were freed but forced to continue on foot.” The photograph clearly indicates that the people were being treated like criminals.
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Why we should leave Iraq immediately

(Text of the talk prepared for the Camp Casey meeting held on Friday, September 9, 2005 at Church of the Savior, Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.)

I suspect that most of us who are here are people who opposed the war on Iraq from the beginning. So I will not spend time making the argument that a country that waged an immoral and illegal war after selling it to the nation and the world under the false pretenses of weapons of mass destruction is not a country that should be allowed to continue its domination of the country it conquered.

Instead, I will address my remarks to those of us who are genuinely upset at the death, injuries, and havoc that has been wreaked on both the Iraqi people and the American soldiers occupying that country and their families back home. Such well-meaning people now seek to salvage whatever good that can be extracted from an essentially impossible situation, a situation that has been created by the political leadership of this country who either knew, or should have known, better and yet recklessly went ahead with this disastrous policy.
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Reflections on the Camp Casey event

Last Friday evening (September 9) I moderated the event where the traveling members from Camp Casey spoke. It was gratifying to see an overflow crowd at the event, suggesting that there is real concern that something has to be done about the stalemate that is now in Iraq.

The main speakers at this event were members of the bus tour that is going around the country calling for an end to the war. These are people who are members of Gold Star Families for Peace (people who have had family members who died while serving the US military in Iraq) and/or members of Military Families Speak Out and/or members of Veterans for Peace. We were welcomed at the beginning by Rosemary Palmer who is the mother of Edward “Augie” Schroeder who was one of the fourteen Ohio marines who died on a single day in August and who, with Augie’s father Paul Schroeder has since been speaking out against the war.

This nationwide bus tour is an outgrowth of the activities at what was known as Camp Casey in Crawford, TX. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of Casey Sheehan who was killed in Iraq, initially pitched a tent near Bush’s ranch in an effort to confront President Bush with questions about the purpose of the war in Iraq. When he refused to meet her, the protest suddenly swelled until it became in effect a tent city.

Once Bush left Crawford at the end of his vacation, the people at the site fanned out on buses to various places, to finally convene in Washington DC on September 21, just before the planned March on Washington on September 24 to protest the Iraq war. (There will buses going from Cleveland. For details of the march and how you can join or help, please see Post Script below.)

One of the people who spoke was Bill Mitchell of California whose son was killed in Sadr City on the same day as Casey Sheehan. This sad coincidence caused him to bond with Cindy Sheehan and together they co-founded Gold Star Families for Peace. The other speakers had close relatives serving in Iraq right now.

It was a very moving evening, listening to the sad stories of these people. Because they are so close to the events and have such a personal interest in the war, it was interesting to see that they had such a nuanced and complex view of the situation. They understood that not everyone agreed with them on the need to begin an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. They knew that their own family members serving in Iraq were ambivalent about the peace activism of their family members. They felt deep compassion for the beleaguered people of Iraq. They commiserated with other military families who had also had loved ones killed in Iraq but who felt that their children had died for a noble cause and still supported the war.

In this recognition of the complexity of the situation and the fact that there were no simple answers, the speakers provided a refreshing contrast to the politicians and pundits who, not having to fight themselves and having the luxury of not having any personal stake in the occupation of Iraq, feel free to see things in stark terms of good and evil and to label opponents of their policies as ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘not supporting the troops’ or ‘forgetting the lessons of 9/11’ and other tired justifications of the war.

In addition to being moderator I was also due to speak but since many of the speakers spoke for longer than expected and I did not want to cut short their personal testimonies, I decide to not give my talk to leave more time for the question-and-answer session. I will post the text of my talk later.

I personally found it very moving to meet the military families who have met such personal tragedy. It was clearly hard for them to speak about what happened and one has to admire their willingness to go public with their opposition to the war, knowing that they will be criticized and even vilified.


Case for Peace is pleased to support the above peace march and rally to be held on:

Saturday, September 24 in Washington, DC

Bring the Troops Home Now!
Money for Jobs, Education, Health Care & Housing, Not for Wars and Occupations!

Buses from Cleveland depart Friday September 23, 11 PM, from Gordon Square (W 65 and Detroit) returning Sunday, September 25, morning.

Seats $45 per person round trip. Some financial help available. If you can’t go, please consider contributing for scholarships.

Checks payable to Northeast Ohio Anti-War Coalition (NOAC) and mail to Linda Park, 1848 Beersford Rd., E. Cleveland, OH 44112

Reserve your seat now!!

For more information call the Northeast Ohio Anti-War Coalition at 216-736-4716 or send email to NOAC.

United for Peace and Justice, a sponsor of the rally, plans additional activities on Sept. 25 and 26 in DC. For details on all 3 days, go here.

Should people be forced to evacuate the hurricane devastated areas?

There is one particular issue that I have mixed feelings about and that is the way that people who still live in New Orleans after the hurricane has passed and the process of recovery is beginning are being compelled to give up their weapons and leave their homes.

The force first comes indirectly in the form of preventing food and water from reaching them to threats to put them in handcuffs and removing them, although it is not clear if that threat has actually been carried out.

According to the New York Times officers will search all the houses in both dry and flooded neighborhoods, and no one will be allowed to stay.
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Why poor people find it hard to abandon their homes

One of the commentators who harshly criticized the reluctance of so many poor people to leave prior to and after the hurricane hit New Orleans expressed amazement at their attitude. After all, he, said, such people had few possessions of value. Their clothes and furniture were of Goodwill store quality and their cars were usually junk. Unlike rich people who owned things of real value, poor people’s stuff was valueless and thus could be easily abandoned to the floodwaters or looters. He concluded that their reluctance to leave was irrational and their stubborn decision to stay in the face of warnings meant that they had forfeited any right to sympathy and assistance.
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In an earlier post, I gave a summary of a radio program that featured eyewitness reports by two San Francisco paramedics who had been attending a conference and ended up trapped in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. What follows is their extended report in their own words that expands on their radio interview. It is long but I did not want to edit it in any way (except for hyphenating an obscenity) because it is so compelling. (Note: I first received this via an email from a colleague at Case but later also found it on the Counterpunch website here.)
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Why natural disasters don’t affect all equally

There has been one aspect of the hurricane Katrina events and its aftermath that has been bothering me and that is the harsh way that people are being criticized for not leaving the city either in advance of the storm or even after.

In a much earlier post concerning the Terri Schiavo case, I said that I find it almost impossible to judge other people’s actions based on hypothesizing what one would do in if one were in that other person’s situation, if the hypothetical situation is very different from what one has personally experienced. In the Schiavo case, I felt that since I had never had to make a decision about removing life support from someone close to me, I couldn’t really make a judgment about whether Schiavo’s parents or her husband was in the right.
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A radio program that should not be missed

I have not been writing about the devastating effects of hurricane Katrina on New Orleans and all along the Gulf coast because I felt that there was little that I could add to everything that was being said. Like most people, I have been overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster and the fact that we are seeing the evacuation of a major city that may not be inhabitable for months due to the difficulty of drying out a below-sea-level area.

But over the weekend, I listed to this week’s edition of the NPR radio program This American Life and the show was so powerful that I felt compelled to alert readers of this blog that it is one show that must be listened to. Fortunately, you can listen to it online. The program is one hour long but you will be so engrossed that you will not feel the time passing. If any radio program is deserving of an award, this one is.
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