Which are crazier: liberals or conservatives?
The question is forced on us anew by the latest flap over the Pledge
of Allegiance. A Federal appeals court in San Francisco (where else?)
has ruled that the words under God, added to the Pledge by an act of
Congress in 1954, are unconstitutional. They amount, says the court,
to an official endorsement of monotheism, in violation of “the
wall of separation between church and state.”
But the phrase wall of separation between church
and state isn’t
in the U.S. Constitution. It was coined by Thomas Jefferson, who also
referred to “God” in such official state documents as the
Declaration of Independence, the reading of which in public schools
would presumably violate the Constitution too, by the logic of the
San Francisco judges. So, in fact, would every oath of office taken
on a Bible by public officials, including these judges themselves.
Once again the Constitution has been treated as a “living document” by
the ineffable Federal judiciary, which keeps surprising us by discovering
novel meanings in old texts. It always turns out that our ancestors
didn’t realize what they were saying. We need modern liberals
to explain their words to us.
Politicians of both parties are scrambling to denounce the ruling.
You can almost forgive conservative Republicans, who at least pay lip-service
to the principle that, as Lincoln put it, “the intention of the
law-giver is the law.” But liberal Democrats are proving themselves
brazen hypocrites: they favor filling the judiciary with just the sort
of judges who issue these crazy rulings, while they obstruct the confirmation
of judges they suspect of interpreting the Constitution strictly.
Still, let us remember that the author of the new Pledge decision
was a Nixon appointee; for that matter, many of the most indefensible
judicial opinions have been written by Republican appointees. Neither
party is a reliable guardian of the Constitution.
But conservatives treat the Pledge itself as if it were a founding,
authoritative, and virtually sacred document of the Republic. It is
not. It was written late in the nineteenth century — by a socialist,
if memory serves — and the words one nation,
meant to indoctrinate children with the idea that no state may withdraw
from the Union.
What other purpose does the Pledge really serve? It teaches an unreflective
loyalty to the government, rather than an intelligent attachment to
the principles of the Constitution. The Constitution never speaks of
the United States as a single and monolithic “nation.” It
always refers to them in the plural. There is a reason for this, but
most Americans have forgotten it. Even Lincoln sometimes spoke of the
United States as a “confederacy.”
Tellingly enough, liberals don’t seem to mind instilling mindless
obedience to the Federal Government into young children, as long as “God” is
kept out of it. The words under God are the only redeeming part of
the Pledge, since they remind us that the United States is answerable
to him whom Jefferson called “God,” the “Creator,” the “Infinite
Power,” and the “Supreme Judge of the world.”
The father who brought this case to court is an atheist who objected
to his daughter’s being pressured to participate in a ritual
that smacked of religion. Leaving the Constitution aside, he had a
point. The ritual was sponsored by schools supported with his tax money.
To most people this may seem innocuous; but he insisted that there’s
a principle at stake.
And so there is. Jefferson also said it’s tyrannical to force
a man to support principles he finds repugnant. By the same token,
other parents may rightfully object to supporting schools that exclude
all mention of God, except in profanity. Which side shall prevail?
The solution is so obvious that it hardly occurs to anyone: the total
separation of school and state. Tax-supported schools should not exist.
The government should have no say at all in the formation of children’s
minds. Education should be a purely private matter, left to parents
and those who want to support them voluntarily. That way we could avoid
endless and irresolvable quarrels about the Pledge, religion, sex education,
phonics, the New Math, “values,” and all the rest.
Never mind that private schools outperform state schools and that
home schooling beats them both. This is a matter of right and principle,
not of what (according to the state) “works.”
Copyright © 2012 by the Fitzgerald
Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. This column was published originally
by Griffin Internet Syndicate on June 27, 2002.
Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio
and archives of some of his columns.
Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.
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during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.
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