Common sense in religion issue

Monday, July 1, 2002

Most of us probably relate to the concept of separation of church and state.

We look to parents and churches to pass on out religious beliefs, and would hardly want the public schools to be responsible for making our choices of religious beliefs for us.

So we've not kicked too much at the civil liberties efforts to enforce that separation - some of it appropriate and fair, some of it plain foolish. We've accepted it when they banned prayer from school, and even when students have been denied the right to have a invocation prayer or a song with a religious message for their own graduation.

I do believe that this week, they have crossed a line, and it doesn't look like the public will be quietly accepting this time.

Tradition runs deep, and when a panel of judges for the Circuit Court in California ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance violates the Constitution because it contains the words "under God," the emotion really hit the fan.

What a load of foolishness. Censor a profane rap song, and the free speech crowd is in an uproar. Pull a ugly, violent book from a library shelf and the legal community has a fit.

Yet we would permit our own court system to censor a creed intended to summarize the guiding principles of the founders of our nation, because it doesn't fit today's politically correct environment?

For goodness sake, you don't have to eliminate every reference to God to preserve people's freedom. If they don't like the Pledge of Allegiance, they shouldn't recite it, and no one should try to make them.

But from where I sit, free speech works both ways. The court has no right to tell anyone they can't say a prayer, sing a song or say a pledge if they wish to.

As I learned it, that Constitution the civil libertarians cite so arrogantly also says, in its First Amendment, that there will be no law "respecting an establishment of religion, or

prohibiting the free speech thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech..."

The judges, in their zest to appease one atheist family, is abridging the freedom of speech of millions. Do we really want to eliminate God? If so, we can't stop with the Pledge.

In fact, the word "Lord" appears in the very first sentence of the preamble of the Bill of Rights as approved in 1787. So if the Pledge is illegal, isn't the Constitution as well?

Uh, oh, the very Declaration of Independence on which our nation is founded has "God" in the first sentence, so I guess that's out too. Same for the old Mayflower Compact.

The Charter of the United Nations refers to "faith," better lose that too. And the few bucks in my pocket say "In God We Trust," so money had better be illegal too. The judges of San Francisco can send their paychecks out this way.

Whoops, the Constitution of the State of Iowa has a "Supreme Being" right there in sentence one, so I suppose our state must be illegal too. Who knew?

Starting to see just how foolish this court decision is?

Words and little recitations are not the important thing, and to be honest, the words "under God" weren't even in the original version of that Pledge. And, that court out west has no power in this state anyway.

But those aren't really the issues. What is eating people this week, I think, is just getting tired of being told what they can and cannot say, or do, or feel.

The words of that Pledge were solidly drilled into my head in kindergarten, and I couldn't get it out of there now if I tried. I don't see that they ever did me any harm, and it doesn't bother me a bit if my kids, and perhaps someday my grandkids say them too.

Most importantly, I hope none of us have any intention of listening to anyone who feels they have the power to tell us what we can and can't freely speak. A silly court decision here and there isn't important, but that freedom is what defines us.

Pretty lousy timing on the court's part, too. We have suffered tragic losses that have heightened attention to our national patriotism and our flag. And in a few days, in places like Storm Lake, we will honor veterans who sacrificed to gain and preserve our freedom to speak our minds. I dare anyone to try to tell the vets gathered in Chautauqua Park on July 4th that they don't have a right to Pledge Allegiance if they want to.

I would respectfully submit to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals what seems to be the response of the people in the cafes and grog shops of little Storm Lake this week.

"Get a clue."

So go ahead, say that Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America if you are so moved, and do it as darned loud as you please, as often as you please, and as proud as you please. Nobody has the right to tell you otherwise.