Magazine article Church & State

The Supreme Court and the Pledge Case: Trouble on the Horizon

Magazine article Church & State

The Supreme Court and the Pledge Case: Trouble on the Horizon

Article excerpt

Like it or not, the Supreme Court is going to hear a legal case challenging the use of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance at public schools.

On strictly constitutional grounds, this ought to be an easy decision. The Constitution is a secular document. Founders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison made it clear that they believed an American's religious or philosophical beliefs should be irrelevant to the government.

It's also an easy case from a pragmatic policy perspective. Our country is becoming increasingly diverse. Public schools serve children of many faiths (and none). They should stop requiring students to make a religious profession as the price of expressing patriotism.

When the Rev. Francis Bellamy penned the Pledge in 1892, he spoke of "one nation, indivisible." The last thing Bellamy wanted was a Pledge that would divide Americans along religious lines. To the extent that the current Pledge does that, it has the exact opposite of its intended effect.

Legally and pragmatically this dispute may be simple. Politically, it is something else entirely.

It would be foolish to pretend that this controversy does not present a significant threat. If the high court strikes down recitation of the Pledge in public schools, a political firestorm will occur. Religious Right groups will quickly mobilize and demand a constitutional amendment. What's worse, the ruling is likely to come down in late June of 2004--a few months before what is expected to be a hard-fought national election. …

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