Church, State, and School
June 27, 2002
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 isnt 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
didnt 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 strictly.
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
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
liberals dont 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
The father who brought
this case to court is an atheist who objected to his daughters
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 theres a principle at stake.
And so there is.
Jefferson also said its 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 childrens 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.