Toward freedom from religion

Posted: Oct 13, 2001 12:00 AM
Two recent events poignantly illustrate the unmasked hostility some in this nation have toward God. They insist that they are motivated by adherence to lofty constitutional principles, but are they? First, the ACLU has demanded that the Breen Elementary School in Rocklin, Calif., remove a "God Bless America" sign from its marquee. The sign was placed in front of the school after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States. An ACLU staff attorney called the message a "clear violation of the California and United States constitutions, as well as the California Education Code. "It must be replaced immediately," she ordered. The ACLU argued that the message divides students along religious lines, and that school officials are hurting and isolating students of "minority faiths" when they should be supporting the values of pluralism and tolerance. Apart from the "heady" constitutional issues, let me just ask a question. Could all those who really believe that any students are being harmed by such a message raise their hands? Can anyone contend that with a straight face? And just what minority faiths might the exalted ACLU be referring to? The sign says "God Bless America." It does not say, "The Triune God Blesses America." It does not say "Jesus Christ Blesses America." The only students who could conceivably be offended would be atheists or agnostics. If they don't believe, it sure shouldn't offend them that a Being they don't believe in supports their country. Besides, how many crumb-crunching atheists and agnostics do you know? And even if there are some of those poor souls, how many of them do you suppose have heightened sensibilities about such innocuous and neutral references to God? I'm not finished. You must also explain to me how that sign is anti-pluralistic or intolerant. It doesn't impugn non-believers in any way. It doesn't say, "Shun those who don't believe in God or America." The thrust of the sign's message is patriotism, not religion. The school put the sign up after the attacks to display patriotism. President Bush ends almost every speech with "God Bless America," as have numerous presidents preceding him – from the White House, no less. Should government officials be prohibited from making such statements? The insanity continues. The Madison Wisconsin School Board adopted a policy barring recitation of the pledge of allegiance by schoolchildren. This was after the state legislature passed a law in September requiring Wisconsin school children either to say the pledge or have the national anthem played daily. But here's the kicker. One school board member admitted that the board was primarily concerned with the pledge's reference to "one nation under God." "What I wanted to do was eliminate that which would be repugnant to those who believe very strongly and would have their personal and political beliefs violated by group coercion." It's the same old song, is it not? So, instead of allowing the schools to make their choice between the pledge and the anthem, they issued an edict requiring that only an instrumental version of the national anthem be played. Thankfully, the parents in both places are fed up, and they're fighting back. Some 250 people, many dressed in red, white and blue gathered in Rocklin, Calif., to support the message. Similarly, hundreds of parents protested the Madison School Board's injudicious action. Let's call a spade a spade here. I'm quite supportive of the First Amendment's prohibition of state-sponsored religions, but these cases don't even come close. These references to God, especially such religion-neutral and denomination-neutral expressions are part of our country's heritage and enjoy the full imprimatur of our founding fathers. We're all aware of the many and long-standing references to God in our founding documents and governmental institutions (Supreme Court, Congress, etc.) and so we know the framers were not offended by them. I came across another one that even preceded the Declaration of Independence. In a Declaration on the Necessity for Taking Up Arms against the British, Thomas Jefferson and John Dickinson made multiple references to God as well as penning patriotic themes. "Our cause is just. Our union is perfect ... We gratefully acknowledge, as signal instances of the divine favor toward us, that His providence would not permit us to be called into this severe controversy until we were grown up to our present strength ... we most solemnly, before God and the world ... exerting the utmost energy of those powers which our beneficent Creator has bestowed upon us. ... I could continue, but I certainly don't want to offend anyone.