Charles Rehn - Democrat for President 2004

A Conversation With America
Questions That Must Be Answered
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Separation of Church & State
and the Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance - littlebluedot.gif (881 bytes) Wikipedia                    More on Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

These words [“under God”] will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble. They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded.

Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower,  speaking of a sermon by Rev. George M. Docherty,

Given what I have stated before regarding my personal religious beliefs, you'll probably find what I have to say is surprising.

Keep in mind that my father was a very patriotic, very political war veteran who was born in 1908.  I was raised to love this country and everything it stands for.    He also taught us kids to take the responsibility to voice dissent and seek change to laws we considered unjust... not as dissenters, but as equal citizens with a right and a responsibility.

Why do I bring that up?  Because the Constitution is truly a framework, providing guidelines for governance and conduct. It's an eloquent, vital document because it is designed at the seminal/quantum levels of a culture and government. What I mean by that is that what it outlines (for the most part) is more in the realm of a universal declaration that provides for inclusive justice without prejudice or malice; true equality (without bias or advantage).

We have many symbols in this country.  One of them is the Pledge of Allegiance.   Of course, we have some controversy going on about that (2/28/2003) because of court rulings that have declared it unconstitutional because of the use of the words "under God".  Part of the outcry caused by this decision is because 69% of Americans say they believe their faith is important in their lives.  Part of the outcry is because the suit that caused this to surface as an issue was filed and appealed by a man who describes himself as an athiest.

I believe it makes an excellent example of an intellectually honest conversation that we need to have regarding the separation of church and state. I think that would be a healthy thing.

I was shocked at the original ruling that it was unconstitutional.  I didn't even know that its constitutionality was being questioned.  I felt disappointed that we had come to that point of political correctness that we would question the intent of a simple pledge of allegiance.

And then, I thought about it.  To me, the Pledge of Allegiance is more than one of the great and beautiful symbols of this country.  It's poetry to me.  In my lifetime, I have always said the pledge with the words "under God" included, and I have never known it any other way.  And, I actually believe it's true.

I was born in 1955. Back in the 60's and early 70's, I would notice people refusing to say the pledge of allegiance at all because of their opinions of the Vietnam War.   Everyone I knew considered that to be an expression of hostility, and we tended to avoid those people just a little, because, after all, they were considered extremists and potentially dangerous.

In many ways, that response to their expression regarding a single issue, without denouncing their loyalty to the United States, was the same kind of "lumping of issues"  and peer coercion that's going on today. 

We have an emotional attachment to something that causes us to divide as a nation, and label people with different opinions and beliefs as bad and wrong, instead of equal people with differing opinions that deserve to be heard every bit as much as opinions of those who agree with any given policy.  It is human nature to be apprehensive of anything that seems different than us.

That said...

Gary Hart made some interesting comments recently in a speech in San Francisco.   People decided to "lump" his statements in a way so as to make it appear that he was implying endorsement of an anti-Semitic policy.

The essence of what he was discussing, and what I'll add, is this:

The United States is a nation of immigrants.  As time goes on, we become more diverse on a multitude of distinctions.  They include ethnicity, religion, sex and political affiliations and ideologies.

We share a great deal of heritage and history, but we also have our individual heritages and histories in cultures and families that tend to influence our perceptions, opinions and actions.  As a nation, we need to be sure that our individual interests and preferences do not exceed the interests that empower our nation in an inclusive manner, and as an inclusive democracy. 

It's when we are united that we accomplish the most.  When we are divided by exclusive preference it is an indication of needs that people do not believe are being met, or opinions that people believe are not being considered.  Dealing with any issue requires that people be heard and acknowledged, and that the government accept the difficult responsibility of remaining objective toward achieving an inclusive resolution.

These kinds of issues are often used by politicians and other partisans in order to diminish the unity of groups that would otherwise be unified, and to vilify those who would dare to be objective or non-partisan on such an emotional issue.

When this issue first came up, despite my personal emotional attachment to the use of "under God", I wrote a letter to a number of members of Congress chastising them for turning their attachment for those words into a propagandized political litmus test for patriotism, instead of the objective discussion of our commitment to democracy and fairness.  There was an opportunity to set an example for Americans; a "teachable moment". It was an opportunity to prove that law is reason without passion.

That train of thought should also be applied on a global level, though most definitely with a priority of protecting the interests of America.

That may seem like a great deal of rambling, but I believe it's relevant.

I believe that the court's decision is correct: that the use of "under God" makes the pledge of allegiance unconstitutional.  Emotionally, I don't like it.   On an intellectually honest basis, I have to agree with the decision.

However, that doesn't mean that I believe that we should discard its use.  I believe there are ways to address the issue that actually will assist people in understanding the intent  of the constitution and can be an aid to education, and in a way that will promote the acceptance of diversity, more universal understanding and acceptance of cultural and religious differences, and enforce the idea that in America, choice and freedom of expression are cherished more than the ability to induce conformity coerced by peer pressure.

The pledge of allegiance, using the words "under God", does, in fact, partially become a statement of religious belief, not democratic values.

I'll answer a couple of other questions that typically accompany this issue.

Q: Would I change the currency?  No. I might suggest that people give it a little more consideration, but I see no need to change any national slogans on this kind of medium.

The difference between The Pledge of Allegiance and slogans and symbols on coins is pretty clear: coins and such present national symbols, but require no individual agreement or act of agreement in order to be considered to be in compliance with a code of conduct or alliance.

In other words, whether you believe in "In God We Trust" or not has no relevance on the value of our currency's exchange rate or worthiness of trade, nor does it require you to do anything that requires you to identify your beliefs, opinions or affiliations, and risk alienation because of your inclinations.

Something like the Pledge of Allegiance does require an act and a declaration, while an unwillingness to participate can be alleged to represent any number of meanings which may or may not be true, and that would certainly invoke a coercive or bigoted response.

As for existing symbols: statues, engravings and historical documents and engravings...

An important consideration is whether you agree that we should be aware of and honor our heritage, and at the same time, embrace, not resist, the future.  By that, I mean, acknowledge that the world seems to get smaller everyday.  Understand that our global tendencies are to integrate and interact with people of  many other cultures and moral disciplines.  That will require mutual respect in all dealings.

I believe that existing artifacts of our culture should remain.  They are our heritage.  I love my heritage. I can not imagine anyone, of any culture or beliefs, who would think that we should destroy any part of heritage, so long as we do not display it in ways that are contrary to the principles we claim as a nation of people.

For example, I oppose the use of the Confederate Flag as a symbol representing our government, state, local or Federal, because we, as a nation, have supposedly rejected the use of symbols which confer a physical or cultural threat (like the threat of physical harm) toward fellow citizens.

I do believe we should be more inclusive by being ever-more vigilant in maintaining the separation of church and state.  To do otherwise would generate confrontation and divide us even more on issues that were never intended to be mandated or promoted by our government.

As time goes on, peaceful co-existence will depend on that kind of objectivity, and the wisdom to reject divisive, individual preference over more inclusive and embracing approaches. That will be true on a national and global scale.

(I really dislike the use of the word tolerance: it projects an air of having to put up with something distasteful).

All in all, when it comes to the Pledge of Allegiance, I can live with it either way.   I do wish we could have a less passionate discussion of the issue, and stop ostracizing those who agree or disagree on the issue from both sides.

Personally, whether I speak the phrase "under God" or not, I will always think it, and I'll likely say it most often, if only by habit.  That is what I have been trained to do. And I believe it as well.

Objectively, though, saying the pledge of allegiance, let alone using the words "under God", have no bearing on my allegiance to this nation, or the ideology or discipline of my chosen faith.  What's important to me is that whatever decision is made, that it be done without bias toward individual beliefs, but includes respect for those with other convictions as well.

As a believer in God, I could easily dismiss this ruling as silly and unnecessary, maybe even a little too politically correct.  But then, I consider that requiring people to lie about their beliefs in order "fit in" is like asking them to disobey the very "moral laws" we say we ascribe to. 

That is the real paradox and moral dilemma that must be embraced in this question.   What defines the foundation of this nation, what do we believe in, and how will our words and actions express it?

The teachable moment and opportunity.

Politics should not dictate morality, and churches should not influence politics.

However, in a perfect world, acting with integrity regarding its inclusive organization, churches and parents and communities would encourage and teach the values they believe in.  Observance of those values, as leaders or as followers or as participants in social and business transactions would be the measure of the success and validity of those teachings.

I reject the notion expressed by many that "that's not the world we live in" and that "you have to do whatever you have to do to survive or to "get your share".  What creates the world we live in is our individual actions and integrity, and when we do not live up to our standards, even in response to detrimental circumstances, it encourages and causes others to abandon their values as well, as a defensive measure.  It's one of those tangled webs that is difficult to untangle.

Inevitably, it is the training or education we provide, as teachers and parents and members of the community, that shape our values and traditions. 

Imagine if a church leader long ago had trained people to believe that playing leap frog was the way to worship God. It might sound funny, but if that had been the practice for generations, most people would do it without question.  And they would resist its removal from use if a new leader chose to discontinue the practice.

I consider this a valid basis upon which to begin an intellectually honest discussion on the separation of church and state, and perpetuating policies of inclusion.   Ultimately, it will be a step toward defining and/or re-claiming our character as a true democracy.

Girl marries dog to ward off evil
According to Santhal belief, if a child's first tooth appears on the upper gum he or she is in grave danger that can only be warded off by a marriage with man's best friend.The child can remarry a human after growing up.

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