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Relearning the 'Pledge of Allegiance' – The Presence of G-d in Schools

Only the discussion of abortion gets more emotive attention; but the role of religion in our schools and classrooms has been a sure fire prescription for heated conflict.

I was listening on the car radio this morning to Jay Weber (I switched from WPR because I wasn’t interested in that discussion and went searching for something more stimulating) and he was off on a tangent concerning some six year old girl who had written a piece to be read aloud at some school function and she had placed the word G-d twice in her speech. Word got out that her speech had G-d in it and one parent objected. According to Weber, school administrators decided that the speech was inappropriate for mentioning G-d and disallowed its reading. Webber in his outrage began to prattle on about how this six year olds right to free speech was being violated and that the establishment clause was being pushed too far.

As I listened; I began to think about not only this issue but where limits should be set. This situation with the six year old, didn’t amount to much; since as a minor, she doesn’t have the unlimited right of free speech. However, what right does anyone have to bringing religious expression into public government venues?

I began public school in the fall of 1951 and we were drilled to learn to recite the “Pledge of Allegiance” each and every morning in the classroom, facing the flag with our right hand held over our heart. Along with the opening prayer read over the school’s intercom, saying the pledge was part of our routine. In the third grade, 1954, I had to relearn the Pledge all over again. Congress had passed the law requiring the insertion of the phrase “under G-d” that had to be included. The teacher had us practice over and over again the “new Pledge” until we had committed it to memory. No one took exception to this change or to the fact that we opened the day with a school prayer. If the same actions were done today, the nation would explode over the controversy.

There is no clearer indication of values conflict than that of religious expression in public venues. Recently, conflict had arisen over one of the local school districts who had held graduation in a mega church because they didn’t have a venue big enough to hold the graduation. In the sixty years since I first started public school, the political landscape has changed requiring schools and other public entities to become the mediators to assure inclusion of all possible religious understandings and affiliations. This has had the greatest impact on public schools where inclusion means completely avoiding anything that remotely can be tied to religion or religious expression. Looking at the situation, one has to ask why so many are determined to either include or exclude religion into the secular space of public education.

As someone who believes that we need to protect the secular nature of the public schools; it is difficult for me to fathom why this religious expression in schools is so dominant and so important to its proponents. I was taught that religious belief and expression were strictly private matters and that I had the right to believe and practice anything that I want as long as it didn’t harm others or force my belief system onto others. I know why people are so attentive to keeping any and all religion out of the schools; much of it being a “slippery slope” argument. If we allow for even a minor religious expression, that the religionists will continue to push to get more included. So what is the correct position to take?

Let’s keep the two worlds separate in the public schools. Excluding all religious expression is the safest course of action. It maintains the neutrality of our schools and keeps them off the horns of a dilemma of what’s permissible and what’s not. I have often heard religionists talk about that “intelligent design” and/or “creationism” should also be taught along side of scientifically verified evolution. The primary issue there is that evolution does not need the notion of a religious creator being and can explain life and evolution without resulting to non scientific beliefs. Therefore, evolution is proper for the secular classroom and creationism is not.

Living in a diverse world requires reasonable limits that we should all observe. It is not unreasonable to preclude religion and religious expression from the public classrooms.

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CowDung December 11, 2012 at 07:33 PM
As I said before Lyle, since we live in a country where the vast majority of the people celebrate the Christian holidays, and there is a lack of workers that are willing to work during those holidays, it makes sense to close down during those holidays. If the Jewish population were the 80% instead of the 2%, the holidays would be according to the Jewish holy days instead of the Christian holy days. As I said earlier, it's more an issue of finding workers than favoring a religion.
FreeThought Troy December 11, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Anyone else find it surreal this conversation has turned into the Conservative Voices coming to the aid and defending workers' rights - esp. in gov. and the Progressive Voices calling for reduced benefits from gov. workers while leaving private business alone? Where am I? What is going on?
FreeThought Troy December 11, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Oh - and considering some of the adventures I have had trying to cool traditional soltice meals the past few years??? I happen to be very comforted there are fire fighters who have to work over Christmas : )
mau December 11, 2012 at 08:59 PM
What had at one time been celebrated as a Christian Holy Day, has been hijacked by the retailers and other commercial enterprises. I don't think much is left that is Christian in Christmas, when people wait in line for hours to fight over stuff, all in the name of giving.
Lyle Ruble December 12, 2012 at 01:33 PM
@CowDung....Even if the population was 80% Jewish, I would still object if the government shut down to accommodate the majority. I agree that it is now more of a practical matter. However, it wasn't all that long ago that what the schools now call winter break was called Christmas vacation and spring break was called Easter vacation. Nothing has changed but what it is now called.

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