Column: Pledge mess requires perspective

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Poor Michael Newdow couldn’t have chosen a worse time to announce his objection to the &uot;under God&uot; phrase in the pledge of allegiance. We’ve lost faith in our corporations, in the FBI and the CIA, in a large section of the clergy, in the public schools, the government (if we have any sense at all) and even in Martha Stewart.

Not a time for a man to stand up and proclaim himself an atheist, one who is planning to make little children unpatriotic and scoffers at religion. I can appreciate the horror of it all.

It may be a little reassuring if I tell you that at least four of my classmates, four out of a class of 93, died on the Normandy coast during World War II. Some of the others died later from war-related causes. None of them ever wound up in prison or, so far as is known, molested children.

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The &uot;under God&uot; line was not added to the pledge until 20 years after we graduated. We said the original every day in elementary school and sometimes in junior and senior high. No one asked us if we wanted to. We just did.

If anyone had asked me in elementary school what the words &uot;pledge&uot; and &uot;allegiance&uot; meant I doubt if I could have come up with an answer. I don’t know about the other members in the class. One thing I do suspect that even without the addition to the pledge we were probably neither more nor less patriotic or religious than more recent reciters.

This is not to say that I have any objection to adding the words &uot;under God.&uot; When I’m in a meeting where the pledge is being said I do now and then mess up a little with the newer version. Habits formed during one’s formative years are not easy to break.

One thing that does puzzle me a little. In the expressions of outrage over the attempt to take the word &uot;God&uot; out of the pledge, there’s been a great many references to the United States being a Judaic-Christian nation. Now Michael Newdow has received death threats, some of which were recorded and played back on a TV news program the other day. They were full of profanity and the threats were not only against him, but against his little daughter. So frightening were the ones against the little girl that he felt constrained to take her out of school.

Behavior of this kind, of course, no more coincides with the teachings of the two religions mentioned than bombing innocent civilians fairly reflects Islamic teachings.

It is unfortunate that many religious leaders do not realize that bigotry does more harm to religion in the long run than does professions of atheism.

Indeed I sometimes have a feeling of empathy with the Irishman who said, &uot;Sure it’s a pity we all aren’t atheists. Then we could live together like Christians.&uot;

Much is said about our religious forefathers and founders, particularly by those who are not too sure of their history. The separatists who came to New England were indeed praiseworthy. Their courage and endurance can never be appreciated enough. Some of them did come seeking religious freedom, for themselves, but not for universal religious freedom.

As for the founding fathers, supposedly turning in their graves at the thought of the &uot;under God,&uot; phrase being deleted from the pledge, let me quote to you from a letter written to Peter Carr, Aug. 10, 1787, by Thomas Jefferson, one of the authors of our Declaration of Independence.

&uot;Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.&uot;

Albert Lea resident Love Cruikshank writes columns for the Thursday editions of the Tribune. Her column appears early this week because of the Independence Day holiday.