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BAN RELIGION AND BE READY FOR REBELLION ATHEIST'S PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE SUIT MAY TRIGGER UNEXPECTED BACKLASH.

Byline: Rob Asghar Local View

THE greatness of the American spirit lies in its wild and woolly interpretation of the constitutional principle of liberty. But well-meaning judges have moved us one step closer to establishing a thought police, and two steps closer to a pendulum swing that will leave this country more publicly religious than when they began.

I could be the poster child for groups seeking to excise religion from public life. Raised a Muslim, I sang Christmas carols in music class in public schools. Now I'm a Presbyterian elder preparing to serve communion this Sunday.

But unlike Michael Newdow of Sacramento, I'm not filing lawsuits. Nor are the members of my family, as unnerving as my shift in religious allegiances was to them. It's all a part of life, we all figure.

This is a free-market country, and so it is with the expression of religious ideas.

The impetus for Newdow's federal appeals court challenge of the ``under God'' words of the Pledge of Allegiance was his memory of youthful discomfort. Thinking back to when he had to recite the pledge, ``I remember it bothered me. I remember wondering why I had to do that.''

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals perceived the wounded man's mental scars and lovingly redressed the matter, with Judge Alfred Goodwin observing that, ``given the age and impressionability of schoolchildren - the policy is highly likely to convey an impermissible message of endorsement to some, and disapproval to others, of their beliefs regarding the existence of a monotheistic God.''

There is one problem with that. To endorse is not to establish. There is more than a fine line between endorsing the concept of God and establishing a formal religion.

However, Goodwin and his peers went so far as to violate the First Amendment's ban on ``prohibiting the free exercise'' of religious expression, and that will be the basis of an eventual pendulum swing in court decisions.

As much as the Constitution protects the rights of minorities, it protects the rights of majorities.

Gallup found that 96 percent of Americans believe in God or a supreme deity. They can certainly cite that belief publicly in schools, before U.S. Senate meetings and in movies without formally establishing a religious mechanism that oppresses a minority.

I say it's time for a field trip. Send Newdow, Goodwin and their friends to visit Mecca for a while. Ah, I forgot they're not allowed even to enter Mecca, because of religious laws there. Then perhaps they can visit Islamabad during the month of Ramadan, and walk the streets looking at restaurants that have been closed by the government in order to compel everyone into fasting during daylight hours. Our American friends may gain helpful perspective.

Those who despise the slightest hints of public religiosity may be projecting outward their own overly dramatic fear of coercion. The Michael Newdows of our country may dimly sense a swirl of forces inside himself, asking him to reconsider questions about the meaning of his life and his world. Fearing where that would take him, he silences those voices, for himself and for others. There will be no coercion on his watch, no public prayers, nothing that hauntingly reminds him of issues he is trying to leave behind.

Yet the truth is that an open religious marketplace is the best antidote to coercion. The New Testament revealingly depicts how some of the apostle Paul's most fruitless missionary work was in Athens, where the Areopagus' bustling farmer's market of ideas gave him a short and fair hearing and a far more tepid response than he received in many other cities.

By contrast, climates that are repressive to religious expression unwittingly set the stage for an explosion of conversions (in much the same way that a religious parent's fanaticism often predicts the future rebellion of the children).

In other words, Pat Robertson is probably praying right now that Newdow lives long enough to witness the horror of a nation that will inevitably react to his squelching of God by becoming more publicly religious than ever.

I don't suppose Newdow saw that coming.
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Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 1, 2002
Words:686
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