One Nation, with Liberty and Justice for Who? by Eric Breitenstein (November 2000)

I remained seated. I, and a few of my friends, endured the nasty comments from other students. I actually called some of those other students friends. I did not always remain seated for the Pledge of Allegiance. Honestly, I had trouble ignoring other students telling me that I had to stand up.

So I developed several versions of the Pledge, for example: “I pledge allegiance to the Republic of El Salvador, and to the dictatorship for which it stands, one nation under Me, with liberty and justice for about six people,” or, “I pledge allegiance to the Iron Fist of America, and to the corporate oligarchy for which it stands, one nation under Pat Robertson, with liberty and justice for Fundamentalists.” In other words, I was destined to never be the Homecoming King. But my smallish act of defiance got me thinking: Why should I have to skip over a part of the pledge to my country? Why should there be a de facto establishment of the existence of a god (which everyone assumes to be the Christian one) every day in my public school?

The clear answer is that I should not have to skip a part of the Pledge any more than I, or anyone else, should have to have a government-sponsored deity shoved down our throats each morning at school. What is worse than having to either remain seated or skip over parts of the Pledge of Allegiance is that most students have no idea that they cannot require other students to stand up and pledge to the flag. In my AP English class, one fundamentalist student was almost screaming at me for not doing so. I had never seen someone get so close to a self-induced coronary. Lucky for both of us we were good friends and had been so since grade school. I replied to his beseeching that there was no law saying one had to stand for the Pledge and that the Supreme Court had actually ruled against any such laws. Because we respected each other, this tit for tat never amounted to anything, but most people do not have the luxury of growing up with someone who turns out to be an opponent. Many people, otherwise lacking any common interests, view those of another faith, a different version of one’s own faith, or of no faith, as enemies. Healthy discussions degenerate into vituperative attacks and disgusting rumors. Enmity emerges from the ashes and we soon have another holy war, Inquisition, Crusades, or Salem under humanity’s proverbial Bible Belt.

First, religion does not belong in public schools because it is divisive. It engenders a smug, holier-than-thou attitude that makes students, teachers, and administrators believe it is okay to violate the rights of others. And what hasn’t been done in the name of God? Hitler based his anti-Semitism on the Bible, even going so far as to state that killing the Jews would make him a doer of the Lord’s work. The website of the Ku Klux Klan is so blatantly Christian that I’m waiting for them to get Pat Robertson’s Pious Award. Osama bin Laden seems like a religious individual. Maybe Congress should ask him to open the legislative sessions with a non-sectarian, non-proselytizing prayer. Perhaps the Catholics and Protestants of Northern Ireland could teach us a few things about church/state separation. What about Waco or Jonestown?

All this may seem out of proportion to having to say the Pledge every morning. But think about it: The goal of Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, et al., is not to force people to say “under God” each day, or to keep “In God We Trust” on our money. Their goal is a Christian version of Iran. Total theocracy. In no uncertain terms the Religious Right does not care about the family, liberty, freedom, the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the free market, or anything remotely ensconcing the rights of man above the rights of a god. They crave souls. Like any addict, any path to the drug is acceptable. Saying “under God” now means one may be under someone’s version of God’s iron fist later. Step up the dose little by little. Tax exemptions, Blue Laws, post office closings, ceremonial deism (God on coins, Pledge, etc.), vouchers, “faith-based partnerships,” political meddling, blasphemy laws, direct funding of churches, and finally our nation becomes the Religious Right’s wet dream: Welcome to the Christian States of America.

That is why it is important to say that religion most certainly does not belong in public schools. That is why church/state violations of any kind must be fought. Students should not have to skip over the words “under God”; those words should not be there. Period.

In addition, religion should not be in public schools because it is false. As atheists, we frequently ignore or do not even consider that point. Religion is false. Evolution should be taught in biology classes, creationism in humanities. Evolution is a fact, creation is a myth. Public schools should be neutral about the existence of a god, even if everyone were to agree that a god existed. This is not to say that lively debate should not occur in public schools. Far from it, I discussed the non-existence of God as part of a presentation I did in my AP English class on Dante’s Inferno. I argued with my fundamentalist friend in class as well. But the government did not sponsor my presentation, nor my discussions with my friends. I did not borrow the band’s sound system and announce during football games that God was a fiction. I did not force people to remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance or tell everybody to say, “one nation, without God . . . “

When someone asks me the greatest reason for not having government-sponsored religion in public schools, perhaps the best answer would be because there should not be government indoctrination in something as important a topic as God. Would a Christian want government-sponsored atheism? Then I say get the State out of the metaphysics business all together. Religion is divisive, false, and far too important a topic to trust to the government. Forget the metaphysical, it can’t even fix the physical. That sounds like a ringing endorsement for keeping religion out of public schools.

Eric Breitenstein graduated at the top of his class (out of approx. 330) from Gulf High School in New Port Richey, Florida. He attends the University of Florida in Gainesville and will major in journalism. He enjoys photography, biking, writing, and reading. His favorite author is Bertrand Russell.

Freedom From Religion Foundation