The Pledge: God and the Devil are in the Details

Boy, it certainly didn't take Connie Chung many days on the job at CNN to show what a piece of shit she is. On June 26, her third night on the air, Chung interviewed Michael Newdow, the fellow who won the ruling in the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals banning the Pledge of Allegiance. Perhaps there are more hostile interviewers in the countries where the government runs the TV stations and they summarily execute troublemakers, but never in America have I seen such a one-sided attack disguised as news.

I don't know what Chung's thoughts on God are. Maybe she belongs to a sect that believes God is so vain and weak that He will perish unless 60 million schoolchildren are daily compelled by the state to ratify His total dominion over our republic. But I doubt it. Instead, I suspect she and CNN's suits read a poll and decided, “Let's ride this outrage thing a while.” Whatever the motive, Chung appeared to grow more bristling, indignant and O'Reilly-like with every question.

History's revered great reporters, even the mainstream guys, are the ones who realized their job entailed questioning entrenched power and the status quo: Edward R. Murrow speaking out against McCarthyism, Cronkite questioning the war in Vietnam, Woodward and Bernstein taking on the Nixon administration's amok reign.

On the same day, it was revealed that yet another corporation (this time, it was WorldCom) had cooked the books to the tune of $3.8 billion, resulting in 17,000 new jobless while the top brass were each pocketing more than $3 million per year; Chung instead reserved her bile for an emergency room doctor/single parent who had single-handedly taken on the world's biggest government on a moral issue.

Given the tenor of questions Chung asked, she might as well have peed in the guy's face. Wasn't it selfish and insensitive of him to impose his fringe minority beliefs on the majority of Americans? Isn't he unpatriotic to attack the Pledge of Allegiance during the nation's war on terrorism? And so on.

Newdow responded that he'd initiated the suit because he believed our Constitution entitled us to a separation of church and state, and he didn't want the state ramming religion down his daughter's throat at school.

Then Chung had the gall to ask Newdow—who is now receiving death threats from God's goodly people—if he hadn't caused his daughter far more harm by pursuing his offensive lawsuit.

There are ugly assumptions in that question: that, despite the protections in the Constitution against a tyranny of the majority, Newdow's redress of his government stepped outside social bounds; that he had valued his selfish quest over his daughter's safety; and that he then was to blame if his daughter was shunned or harmed by zealots.

If she hadn't been smooching up to the status quo, Chung's question might have been, “Isn't it frightening that we are so close to being a fundamentalist theocracy that I have to take it for granted a little second-grader is going to be hounded or hurt because you pursued your constitutionally guaranteed rights? Isn't that in itself an example of why the government should stay the hell out of religion?”

I wouldn't be surprised if Chung herself was shaken up by how far she'd strayed from responsible journalism. She moved on to other segments, but for the longest time, she was stumbling over words and forgetting questions.

The Los Angeles Times was scarcely braver. In a June 27 piece titled “A Godforsaken Ruling,” the Times' editorial writers declared the court's decision “a fundamentally silly ruling, which deserves to be tossed out.” They cited the longstanding intrusion of God's name into other government affairs as reasons why He should stay in the pledge. They called the ruling a “cure without an ailment” because the Supreme Court already ruled in 1943 that students have the right to opt out of reciting the pledge.

From which I can only gather that the writers never themselves tried skipping the pledge in school. They were never sent by their teacher to justify their religious beliefs to the principal or endured rabbit punches in the back from other kids for standing silent during the pledge. That happens; take it from the voice of experience.

I stopped reciting the pledge in the fifth grade, for the same reason Newdow brought his suit. I don't like government telling me Jack about God. And I took a fair amount of heat and rabbit punches for that.

What was obvious to me even as a kid was that the truly “fundamentally silly” thing was being coerced to swear an oath to a state that assured “liberty and justice for all” while in the very same breath denying that liberty and justice by making me kowtow to a deity I didn't believe in.

I have since amended my thoughts on God, though likely not enough to satisfy any of the true believers. I'm actually stupid enough to think that Jesus wouldn't have wanted a state to compel fealty to him. He didn't go sit on Caesar's throne; he got on the cross so that individuals with open hearts might come to him.

Our nation's founders were mainly religious men, but unlike the Times editorialists, they weren't comfortable with letting precedent serve as their measure of what is just and right. At our founders' point in history, nations “under God” had been opening men's hearts with their swords, waging holy crusades, bloody conquests, inquisitions, persecutions and such in the name of the Prince of Peace.

Much of the strife and carnage in the world today continues to play out along religious lines, which begs the question: Which God are we under? The One True God? The otherOne True God? The dozensof other One True Gods or sets of approved pantheons? The gods of the first Americans or the god invoked in seizing their land? The god who sanctioned slavery, or the one whose book Lincoln quoted from? The god of the [Protestants/Muslims/Hindus/Animists/Jews/Catholics] who murder [Catholics/Jews/Animists/Hindus/Muslims/Protestants] in God's name? The rip-off god of Benny Hinn? Ganesh, the elephant god? Haile Selassie? How about an Aztec god we can appease with human sacrifice at G.W.'s Texas barbecues? And where did Thor get off to? Shouldn't gods with their own comic books count, or, like the presidential debates, are we only allowed two corporate-approved gods to vie for our servitude?

There is clearly no one-size-fits-all Unigod, and it is pretty sure the congressional conservatives who in 1954 inserted the “under God” clause intended no such a thing. They meant their God.

And you tell me if this enforced fealty has panned out the way they intended. I'm sure most who disagree with me will agree that we were a more godly and more patriotic nation 100 or 200 years ago, and that it's in the past 50 years that our nation's morals have gone to hell. Well, we managed all that patriotism and godliness without any pledge at all until 1892, and without God in it until 1954, when the McCarthyites got in a righteous lather over “godless” communism. So, hmmm, it was precisely the same time that “under God” was forced on us that all this licentiousness and rock N roll and contempt for authority began. Is there a moral there?

This story is not without a local angle—and a potentially creepy one at that. Remember last year when Representative Chris Cox (R-Newport Beach) was nominated by President Bush for a seat on the Ninth Circuit? That court is a particular target of conservatives because it is one of very few willing to grapple seriously with controversial issues rather than just fall in step. For example, it is only due to the Ninth Circuit's intervention that the Bush DEA's move to criminalize harmless, healthful hemp foods is at least on temporary hold.

Cox would certainly have been a retrograde force on the court, and when it became clear that many of his fellow congresspersons had doubts about the bench-worthiness of his extreme-right, corporate-coddling views, he withdrew from nomination.

But the aftermath of the pledge ruling saw Congress falling into lockstep to let their constituents know they are right with God and decried the court's ruling. In the current atmosphere, Bush could probably exhume Joe McCarthy and nominate him with his appointment assured, so don't be too surprised if Cox gets a second chance.

After all, as our Dana Rohrabacher railed in Congress last week, we need to wake up to the threat of an “aggressive, atheistic agenda,” you know, the one under which churches flourish on corners in every neighborhood, that put God on our money and in our oaths, that grants tax-exempt status to millionaire televangelist hucksters, that has government funding and promoting “faith-based” organizations, that funnels your tax money to religious schools, that allows ancient superstition to take precedence over millions of persons' pain and suffering in the stem cell research debate. Yes, God Almighty, is in dire need of our representatives' help today, God help us.

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