FINALLY, A COURT DECISION WE CAN ALL LIVE with. Last week's 2-1 ruling, by members of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, reaffirmed the separation of church and state by declaring the Pledge of Allegiance's phrase "under God" to be unconstitutional. The panel's conclusion would appear to be a no-brainer -- a simple cleaning up of some long overdue judicial business begun when the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out school prayer in 1961. Contrary to what all the hyperventilating pundits and politicians have been saying since June 26, the judges didn't "outlaw" the pledge per se, but merely deleted a bit of superstitious doggerel that Congress had inserted during the Cold War.
Of course, no one seriously believes the country will legally remain above God for very long. Like many dubious causes these days, the call to restore the G-word to the pledge is being wrapped in the colors of 9/11 -- saying you agree with the 9th Circuit is like snatching a plate of apple pie away from a New York fireman. Cooler heads are forecast to prevail anywhere between the circuit's full 11-member complement and the Supreme Court, which, by legalizing school vouchers, itself was busy last week handing over our public-education system to the tender mercies of the nation's priests and preachers.
Until the pledge ruling's reversal, however, we can fleetingly savor the mad-cow panic that has seized both aisles of Congress. I especially marvel at how normally asthmatic liberals have suddenly filled their lungs with hot air to proclaim their loyalty to God, the Pledge, apple pie, firemen, Dalmatians . . . The vote on Senate Bill 2690 to "reaffirm the reference to one Nation under God in the Pledge of Allegiance," was 99-0; the House's similar action (House Resolution 459) passed with 416 votes. It should be pointed out, though, that after the "debate" on this mighty issue, three Democrats did vote against the resolution (including the Bay Area's Pete Stark and San Jose's Mike Honda), with 11 Dems courageously voting "Present."
A look at congressional resolutions shows that, while the rest of the world wastes its time grappling with global warming, hunger and AIDS, our own 107th Congress has so far found it necessary to float no fewer than 18 extremely important resolutions or bills concerning God. These tend to be harmless, folkloric proposals to make "God Bless America" the national hymn, or to allow God-fearing groups "equal access" to tax-supported facilities, but some, like House Resolution 239, introduced by Walter Jones (R-North Carolina), proposed that school children be given time to pray. Jones' was one of many annual attempts to usher God into classrooms through the back door and was typically concealed by a lot of mumbo jumbo about 9/11 and "the forces of international terrorism." This non-binding resolution passed, 297 to 125, and made its freshman sponsor an instant hero to the religious right.
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NOW DON'T GET ME WRONG, I SUPPORT EVERYone's right to believe what they want. I don't care if Tom DeLay believes the Earth's core is made of molten chocolate or if Tom Daschle thinks Wilma Flintstone is the Virgin Mary's twin sister -- just keep it out of the schools. I humbly offer the following suggestions toward bridging the gap between believers and atheists on the Pledge of Allegiance and related issues:
Remove the pledge's reference to a deity and replace it with something secular but equally bogus, like "One Nation, whose favorite color is blue" or "One Nation, whose citizens all eat pork chops."
Allow corporate sponsors to substitute their logos, names or ad-campaign slogans on currency in place of "In God We Trust" -- a motto, after all, that replaced the suspiciously collectivist "E Pluribus Unum" on our folding money in 1955. Perhaps "Just Do It" could appear on coins, with "In Microsoft We Trust" rising above the eye over the dollar's pyramid -- or even something local, like "Lou Ehlers Cadillac." Not only would corporate sponsorship save tax dollars, it would realize the Republican Party dream of getting government out of government by privatizing Treasury Department mints.
Change the name of the country to "God." Besides pulling the constitutional rug out from under atheistic malcontents and ACLU lawyers, it will once and for all simplify the name of our homeland. No more will we inadvertently insult folks south of the border by claiming we are "America." No more will we worry about sounding too grandiose by saying "United States of America" to foreign visitors and no longer will British customs inspectors think that we're not completing our sentences when, to their queries, we reply that we're from "the States." From now on, "God" is where we come from and "Godlike" is how we wish to be described.