Monday, July 1, 2002 Volume 67, Issue 151



Pledge ruling just plain wrong

Richard W. Whitrock
Opinion Columnist

In perhaps the most historic decision in recent memory, California courts have ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional. Despite the proclaimed facade of protecting the separation of church and state, the decision was wrong.

Supporters of the ruling have many arguments why the Pledge of Allegiance should not be said in schools, mostly about the phrase "one nation under God". To them, the Pledge of Allegiance is a state endorsement of religion, which violates the constitution and separation of church and state. 

Second, they argue that making the pledge optional forces the student into an unconstitutionally coercive situation: following the crowd and espousing beliefs they do not hold, or protesting publicly.

Finally, they argue that since America does not mention God in the constitution, and the insertion of "under God" into the pledge was religiously motivated, the pledge forces religion on children.

To be succinct, these are some of the worst arguments in the history of mankind.

First, the issue of unconstitutionality. It is true that God is not mentioned in the Constitution, and that the Constitution is very clear about the separation of church and state.

What supporters of the ruling fail to realize, however, is that the Constitution also mentions that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In other words, ladies and gentlemen, not allowing the expression of a belief in God is every bit as unconstitutional as forcing or endorsing one.

Furthermore, the idea of a separation between church and state (derived from the phrase "no law respecting an establishment of religion") means only that the state cannot sanction a church.

The reasoning for that restriction is to allow the free practice of religion, not to force its absence in all things public. The answer, then, is to allow for the voluntary practice of religion not to ban religion.

Additionally, the argument is false because it is not a state endorsement of religion and therefore does not violate the terms of separation. To be clear, allowing the pledge to continue on a voluntary basis is not a violation for two reasons. 

First, "voluntary" by definition excludes endorsement. Allowing someone to espouse a belief has never been akin to endorsement. Second, the term "under God" does not specify a religion. The term does not mean a Christian God any more than an Islamic, Hindu, or Navajo god for that matter.

To make the argument that the state is endorsing a religion, the religion it is supposedly endorsing must at the minimum be identified.

Second, the argument that an optional pledge forces the student into a coercive situation is just as invalid.

Since when is standing up for one's beliefs a bad thing? Forcing students to have an opinion or belief and follow through with it builds character, a quality that is in short supply in today's world. 

Avoiding the issue by not allowing anyone to say the pledge is not the American way, it's the cowards way.

Protesting can be as simple as not saying the "offensive" words.

Finally, it deprives students of the ability to express their belief in public (anyone remember free expression and free press in the First Amendment?). That force is worse than coercion.

The third argument supporters have is that the inclusion of the term "under God" was religiously motivated.

Since no religion is identified, this is hardly the case. Whether those that included it clearly meant a Christian God or not is irrelevant the words themselves are unspecific and very open to interpretation.

The phrase "under God" doesn't need to be seen as a mention of the existence of God but as an acknowledgement of Man's equality.

The Declaration of Independence mentions God for just that purpose. Because two people utter the phrase "under God" does not mean that the two use the phrase in the same sense.

The pledge ruling has not resolved the issue.

In the coming months, America should be ready not only for a strong and passionate response to that irresponsible and indefensible ruling. To survive the onslaught, supporters of the California ruling will need better arguments, ones that make sense.

Whitrock, a sophomore architecture major, 
can be reached at

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