Tuesday, August 29, 2006

One Nation Under . . .?

Boy, am I so glad that we had Congress cram God into the Pledge of Allegiance half a century ago! It really helps us appreciate the people who were supposedly our Christian, or Judeo-Christian, if you will, forbears, to see how our society has evolved. Is it true, as the religious right claims, that this country has become so hostile to religion that we need some kind of grand realignment?

Well, think about the question in the context of a few recent news stories.

First we have Katherine Harris. You remember her: the woman in the fright mask who helped rig the Florida election for Bush in 2000? Allegedly! Allegedly!

Anyway, here's what she's saying now: "If you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."

Nice, huh? This is a woman who already sits in the House of Representatives and now she's running for Senate.

Then, also in the South, we have a charming Baptist church in Mississippi. A church that opens its arms to all God's children, because, after all, we're all sinners and equally beloved in God's eye. Except, of course, if your skin is a little too dark for God's taste.
According to Stevens, the church made race an issue after a biracial 12-year-old boy, Joe, began attending Fellowship Baptist with his temporary guardians.
The church was "afraid Joe might come with his people and have blacks in the church," Stevens said.


Yeah! That's what we're all about in America!

Finally, so that I'm not just picking on Christians, Here's a story from New York. It seems that there are now some schools, and I use the term advisedly, whose entire curriculum is having their students memorize the Koran by chanting it. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, even in the summer. I'm not kidding. These are real madrassas, religious schools that get state recognition, and whose parents are allowed to claim that they're sending their kids to schools that provide an education that is substantially equivalent to that provided by the public schools. I'm not saying this isn't a hard task. In fact, it's harder for American students to do this than students in traditionally Muslim countries, because Islam disapproves of translating the Koran. Because it is seen as the literal word of God, the use of translations is frowned upon. Students know how to pronounce the words but mostly do not know what they mean. So the project, for these kids, is to spend all their school time for two or three years memorizing a series of language sounds they do not understand. So what if one of these kids is the son of a lawyer for the city of Mount Vernon, and, though he's old enough to be going into sixth grade, doesn't know his multiplication tables?

So if you're a big fan of God in the Pledge, God in the schools, God as the guide of American law, think about all of this. And think about how much you might like it if the people running the madrassas in New York all of a sudden got enough political power to change the Pledge to say, "one nation under Allah." Because when civil libertarians express some discomfort at the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, and the religious loyalty oath we make our kids recite in school every day, that's the kind of thing we're worried about.

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