The Ninth Circuit Federal Appeals Court has reaffirmed its earlier ruling that forcing public school students to recite the pledge of allegiance to the flag is unconstitutional, as long as the pledge contains the words "under God". Meanwhile, in defiance of that Court's original ruling, the Utah Legislature has approved and the Governor may soon sign into law a new measure (SB-105) making that very requirement. Unless they explicitly choose to opt out, elementary school students will have to recite the pledge daily and secondary school students will have to do it weekly. If all the students in a class opt out, they will be spared from repeatedly having to endure the ritual, but that will be the only escape short of a law suit.
The purpose of making the pledge mandatory in all schools is to promote the God belief as an essential element of American patriotism. The sponsor of the measure, Utah Senator Chris Buttars, has made this purpose clear, adding that America is, in his opinion, a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. "The God haters and values haters have let the values America has stood for slide right off the table. It's time to stop."
The pledge of allegiance makes a good tool for Senator Buttars, because 49 years ago the Christian nation enthusiasts were successful in inserting the words "under God" into the pledge by an act of Congress. The nation's nonbelievers weren't too happy about that, but they were in the minority.
Today many nonbelievers find the modified pledge insulting. Their values are as good as anyone else's, including their patriotism, and they don't appreciate being excluded. Many are active military or veterans. With "under God" added, the pledge has become the prayer of allegiance.
For many nonbelievers, the current pledge of allegiance is no longer an acceptable vehicle for expressing patriotism. Instead it's become a divisive statement of religious belief. A law forcing their children to recite it or be stigmatized by opting out is a serious intrusion into their families and a threat to their children's safety.
It's easy for Senator Buttars to say that children can opt out and, "nobody will say a thing to you," but we know how that really works. In 1995 Rachel Bauchman, a Jewish student at West High School, challenged requirements that she perform devotional Christian hymns in churches and ward houses as part of the curriculum in the school choir. She too was told she could opt out and nobody would say anything, but it wasn't true. Students called her a "dirty Jew" and a "Jew bitch." When she ran for student office, swastikas were drawn on her campaign posters. Police even arrested a man for making threatening phone calls to her family.
Laws requiring mandatory pledge recitation were first reviewed and approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1940. Jehovah's Witnesses refused to say the pledge, considering it idolatry. Many people condemned them as unpatriotic, and showed their displeasure by beating, lynching, tarring and feathering, or castrating Witnesses. Some had their homes burned. In 1943 the U.S. Supreme Court reconsidered the laws, ruling that people must be allowed to opt out if they choose.
In Utah the Legislature and the Governor have been attacking nonbelievers and secular values for years by forcing public schools to promote God belief and associate it with patriotism. After graduation prayer was banned by the Supreme Court, the Legislature and Governor passed a law approving a moment of silence at graduation ceremonies. Then they passed a law requiring the posting of the Declaration of Independence, with its reference to a Creator, in public schools. Three years ago they passed a law forcing elementary school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with its "under God" phrase, and last year they made a law requiring the posting of "In God We Trust" in all public schools. Now they're preparing to impose yet another God law to intimidate all students into reciting the Pledge of Allegiance regularly.
Christian nation enthusiasts may argue that all this God pushing is a legitimate function of government because it has roots in historic American tradition, but that argument is specious. "Under God" was not added to the Pledge until 1954. The earlier secular version is still inscribed on the monument east of the city/county building in Salt Lake City. "In God We Trust" was not on our paper money before 1955 and not on our coins until after the civil war. Our original national motto was "e pluribus unum" promoting pluralism, until it was changed to "In God We Trust" in 1956. America managed to fight and win many wars without these historical imposters.
The truth is that there is nothing uniquely American about God belief. Americans have died in wars against Germany, Britain and Spain, and all of these nations have longer and stronger national traditions of God belief than America. God isn't even mentioned in the body or amendments of the U.S. Constitution. One of the earliest American treaties, the Treaty with Tripoli of 1797, stated explicitly that, "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." That treaty was approved unanimously by the first United States Senate. That statement in subsequent treaties with Moslem countries has spared us alot of strife. Too bad we haven't continued that tradition.
As for values, consider that the Utah State Prison identifies 62 percent of its population as explicitly Christian and none as explicitly atheist. Christian values apparently didn't stop their crimes. In fact some even tried to excuse their crimes by claiming that God commanded them to commit them.
Most of the supposed religious tradition cited by the Legislature is a fraud, and is nothing more than annual pandering to the large block of religious voters in Utah. Under the U.S. and Utah constitutions, all American government is supposed to remain neutral with respect to religion, providing equal liberty and justice for all. Missionary work on behalf of "God" should be left to the churches.
If the Governor signs this new pledge law, it will add to the existing state persecution of Utah nonbelievers and force the state to defend yet another bigoted law in court.