By now everyone knows that a California judge has ruled the pledge of allegiance unconstitutional. Specifically, Senior District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton has ruled that the pledge's reference to one nation "under God" violates the right of school children to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God." Karlton was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, a devout Christian.
In a perverse way, the ruling is perfectly fitting: God has been booted from public schools for years.
What is surprising, however, is this: two heroes of the left are in lock step with two heroes of the right in their defense of God in public schools.
In her book It Takes A Village, Hillary Rodham Clinton insisted that "nothing in the First Amendment converts our public schools into religion-free zones, or requires all religious expression to be left behind at the schoolhouse door." Those words are actually her husband's, as are these, which she also quoted approvingly: "[R]eligion is too important in our history and our heritage for us to keep it out of our schools."
Senator Clinton's statement must surely infuriate many liberals. The New York Times must be bewildered by such an unsophisticated, red-stated statement.
Obviously, George W. Bush endorses this view. On occasion, Bush has had the effrontery to ask public-school audiences to join him in a moment of silence. One such episode took place in Sarasota, Florida at 9:30 AM on the morning of September 11, 2001, roughly 25 minutes after United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into World Trade Center South and 45 minutes after American Airlines Flight 11 smashed into World Trade Center North.
Also from the right, Ronald Reagan had some things to say on the subject. Beginning in the 1960s in SacramentoÃ¯Â¿Â½ironically, the city where Michael Newdow (aided by Judge Karlton) has led his crusade to remove religion from public educationÃ¯Â¿Â½Reagan quipped that "God isn't dead. We just can't talk to Him in the classroom anymore." Reagan posed a very good question: "Can it really be true that the First Amendment can permit Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen to march on public property, advocate the extermination of people of the Jewish faith and the subjugation of blacks, while the same amendment forbids our children from saying a prayer in school?" Amazingly enough, according to the ACLU, the answer to that question is yes.
Reagan lamented the repercussions of this religious purge. In a letter he sent to a friend from the Oval Office in March 1987, he complained of the secularized manner in which sex education was taught in public schools. "Well-intentioned though it may have been," he began, "it is taught in a framework of only being a physical actÃ¯Â¿Â½like eating a ham sandwich. The educators are fearful that any references to sin or morality will be viewed as violating the church and state separation." That's the Brave New World that the left has courageously embraced. Sex talk is good, sin talk is bad.
There is one more line of wisdom from Reagan that bears directly on the issue of "under God" in the pledge. Reagan believed that it was important for young people to hear and internalize phrases like "one nation under God." The reason why gets to the crux of this debate.
Acknowledging that we are a nation under God means that we possess unalienable rights derived not from some benevolent government but from an almighty creator. If such rights came from a ruling council, that same council could easily take them away. On the other hand, if those rights derive from God, then no government has the right to remove them. That is what has made America different from every totalitarian tyranny from Moscow to Berlin to Havana. One can draw a straight line from founders like Thomas Jefferson directly to recent presidents like Ronald Reagan.
Today, certain public officials are trying to erase that line, leaving us with a scary blank to fill in.
If not a nation "under God," then a nation under what?
Paul Kengor, is a professor of political science and the executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.