Politics used to be fun -- until it got religion.
Over a long life, I have had friends who were Methodists and Lutherans
and Catholics and Presbyterians and Mormons and Jews and Muslims and
members of many other faiths, including a few Atheists. And not a
single one had horns. They all spoke English and were generally
rational people. And they lived together in what might be called
religious peace, minding their own business. Many years ago I had a
devout Catholic friend here in Happy Valley who said she would rather
have her daughter marry a Protestant than a Republican. She knew how
to keep church and state separate.
But recently that has changed. All too many Americans are deliberately
trying to tear down the wall separating church and state. Ultimately
that can destroy our republic.
The latest battle, of course, is over the Pledge of Allegiance.
Personally, I think the California judge was right, but I don't think it
is worth the major upheaval it causing. Many people seem to think that
the Pledge was created intact by a bolt of lightning or a divine edict.
Actually Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister who was a Christian
Socialist, wrote the original Pledge in August 1892. It was published
in that magazine I loved as a kid, the Youth's Companion (although somewhat before my time). Bellamy's original Pledge read: "I pledge
allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one
nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." He considered
placing the word, "equality" in his Pledge, but knew that too many
Americans were opposed to equality for women and African Americans, so
he left it out.
In 1924 "my Flag," was changed to "the Flag of the United States of
America." In 1954, Congress, presumably to distinguish the U. S. from
the "Godless" Russians" added the words, "under God." The Pledge was
now both a patriotic oath and a public prayer.
Dr. John W. Baer, who wrote a short history of the pledge, asked, "Who
was it that talked about having a wall between church and state? That's
right, Thomas Jefferson...but what the hell did that guy know?"
A couple of centuries after Jefferson we have a diverse nation with
citizens practicing every religion known. And although we are
traditionally a Judeo-Christian nation, we are not quite sure what we
mean by Christian.
The fundamentalist Christian Coalition formed a political entity to try
to force their religious agenda into law. They would lead us all into
a single set of religious beliefs. We have "Christian" music,
"Christian" sports leagues, "Christian" radio stations. And now the
Supreme Court has decreed that tax money can go to Christian schools
which teach religion.
Pat Robertson, recently resigned as president of the Christian
Coalition, summed up its philosophy a speech in 1993. "There is no such
thing as separation of church and state in the United States. It is a
lie of the Left and we are not going to take it anymore." Well now,
wait just a minute.
The mainstream churches in America are fighting back. Clergy from
mainline Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths have joined together to
form several nationwide organizations to challenge those who manipulate
religion to advance an extreme political agenda. Walter Cronkite wrote
for the Interfaith Alliance, "TIA is a diverse group -- as diverse as
America. And its members have come together for the purpose of standing
up to the Christian Coalition and other radical right wing groups and
individuals who wrap themselves in the symbolism of religious faith."
Thomas Jefferson, my favorite founding father, was a very smart man. He
had a vision that went far beyond his time. He saw to it that the Bill
of Rights included the First Amendment, and later in a letter to the
Danbury, Connecticut Baptist Association, he strongly advocated "a wall
of separation between church and state."
Let's keep the right to worship in whatever way we choose. Let's honor
and support our political system which was so carefully crafted. Let's
maintain the wall of separation.
And let's continue to repeat the Pledge of Allegiance with pride, using
whichever words we choose.
Politics was fun until it got religion.