Church, State, and School
June 27, 2002

by Joe Sobran

     Which are crazier: liberals or conservatives?

     The question is forced on us anew by the latest flap 
over the Pledge of Allegiance. A Federal appeals court in 
San Francisco (where else?) has ruled that the words 
"under God," added to the Pledge by an act of Congress in 
1954, are unconstitutional. They amount, says the court, 
to an official endorsement of monotheism, in violation of 
"the wall of separation between church and state."

     But the phrase "wall of separation between church 
and state" isn't in the U.S. Constitution. It was coined 
by Thomas Jefferson, who also referred to "God" in such 
official state documents as the Declaration of 
Independence, the reading of which in public schools 
would presumably violate the Constitution too, by the 
logic of the San Francisco judges. So, in fact, would 
every oath of office taken on a Bible by public 
officials, including these judges themselves.

     Once again the Constitution has been treated as a 
"living document" by the ineffable Federal judiciary, 
which keeps surprising us by discovering novel meanings 
in old texts. It always turns out that our ancestors 
didn't realize what they were saying. We need modern 
liberals to explain their words to us.

     Politicians of both parties are scrambling to 
denounce the ruling. You can almost forgive conservative 
Republicans, who at least pay lip-service to the 
principle that, as Lincoln put it, "the intention of the 
law-giver is the law." But liberal Democrats are proving 
themselves brazen hypocrites: they favor filling the 
judiciary with just the sort of judges who issue these 
crazy rulings, while they obstruct the confirmation of 
judges they suspect of interpreting the Constitution 

     Still, let us remember that the author of the new 
Pledge decision was a Nixon appointee; for that matter, 
many of the most indefensible judicial opinions have been 
written by Republican appointees. Neither party is a 
reliable guardian of the Constitution.

     But conservatives treat the Pledge itself as if it 
were a founding, authoritative, and virtually sacred 
document of the Republic. It is not. It was written late 
in the nineteenth century -- by a socialist, if memory 
serves -- and the words "one nation, indivisible" were 
meant to indoctrinate children with the idea that no 
state may withdraw from the Union.

     What other purpose does the Pledge really serve? It 
teaches an unreflective loyalty to the government, rather 
than an intelligent attachment to the principles of the 
Constitution. The Constitution never speaks of the United 
States as a single and monolithic "nation." It always 
refers to them in the plural. There is a reason for this, 
but most Americans have forgotten it. Even Lincoln 
sometimes spoke of the United States as a "confederacy."

     Tellingly enough, liberals don't seem to mind 
instilling mindless obedience to the Federal Government 
into young children, as long as "God" is kept out of it. 
The words "under God" are the only redeeming part of the 
Pledge, since they remind us that the United States is 
answerable to him whom Jefferson called "God," the 
"Creator," the "Infinite Power," and the "Supreme Judge 
of the world."

     The father who brought this case to court is an 
atheist who objected to his daughter's being pressured to 
participate in a ritual that smacked of religion. Leaving 
the Constitution aside, he had a point. The ritual was 
sponsored by schools supported with his tax money. To 
most people this may seem innocuous; but he insisted that 
there's a principle at stake.

     And so there is. Jefferson also said it's tyrannical 
to force a man to support principles he finds repugnant. 
By the same token, other parents may rightfully object to 
supporting schools that exclude all mention of God, 
except in profanity. Which side shall prevail?

     The solution is so obvious that it hardly occurs to 
anyone: the total separation of school and state. Tax-
supported schools should not exist. The government should 
have no say at all in the formation of children's minds. 
Education should be a purely private matter, left to 
parents and those who want to support them voluntarily. 
That way we could avoid endless and irresolvable quarrels 
about the Pledge, religion, sex education, phonics, the 
New Math, "values," and all the rest.

     Never mind that private schools outperform state 
schools and that home schooling beats them both. This is 
a matter of right and principle, not of what (according 
to the state) "works."


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