The same week a Pew poll found that half of evangelical Christians think they face more discrimination than black people, Jews, and Muslims, a New Jersey high school senior and Christian says — and this is no joke — that removing the words “under God” from public school recitations of Pledge of Allegiance is tantamount to silencing her and other students who believe in a deity. This means that once again, a believer has misinterpreted the mere absence of a government-sanctioned recognition of god as a form of discrimination against her.
It all started in April when a family sued New Jersey’s Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District over the pledge. The American Humanist Association, which is representing the family, say that because the pledge includes the words, “under God,” in “marginalizes atheist and humanist kids as something less than ideal patriots.”
But no, the heathens have actually got it backward, say the aforementioned senior, Samantha Jones, and her attorney Diana Verm. As it turns out, references to god in taxpayer-funded schools is, or at least should be, the default. “They don’t want to be silenced,” says Verm, “they want to continue saying the full pledge of allegiance.” Verm says this as if the kids couldn’t possibly say the Pledge of Allegiance at any other time in a non-school setting.
Legal wrangling over the pledge has been ongoing for decades, most notably beginning with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Minersville School District v. Gobitis. In that case, the court clumsily ruled that states could compel students to salute the American flag and recite the pledge, only to reverse itself a mere three years later in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. In each case the plaintiffs were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who in accordance with their religious beliefs, do not swear oaths.
Of course, back then, “under God” wasn’t even in the Pledge of Allegiance. It was only added in 1954 at the height of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s (R-Wisc.) crusade against godless communist infiltrators. And for what it’s worth, three years later, “In God we trust” began appearing on U.S. paper currency.
The biggest problem with all of this isn’t the reference to god (though it’s certainly exclusionary and alienating), but rather the pledge itself, which is a creepy informal loyalty oath that in many cases is being recited by schoolchildren to young too understand what a republic is. Besides, if the United States is as great as Americans say it is, surely children will grow and learn to realize that.
Even without pledging allegiance to the Motherland under god.