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Commentary: Pledge Controversy

By Fr. Daniel Weir

Buffalo, NY – I am not usually very good at predictions. I don't read the signs of the times very well. But when the news came about the Federal court ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance, my prediction was right on the mark. I told my wife that the immediate result of the ruling would be a flurry of patriotic posturing by politicians. The following day, the only surprise was how nearly universal were the cries of "foul" from the Capitol and the White House.

The words "under God" were added to the Pledge when I was in elementary school and I have to confess that I can't recall reciting the Pledge without those words. I also have to confess that I didn't have trouble saying them every morning in school. I don't have trouble saying them most days now, but once in awhile the words do stick in my throat.

They aren't as easy to say when I think of my friends who don't share my belief in God, but who do share my love for this country. They stick in my throat when I think of how some so-called patriots want to make this a Christian nation in which there will be no room for atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Jews or anyone else who doesn't believe as these patriots do. The words stick in my throat when I think of how in the past year American patriotism has at times gotten mixed up with hatred against Muslims and Arabs. The words stick in my throat when I remember that they were added during a decade when segregation was the norm in both South and North, when a woman's place was in the kitchen, and when the United States was propping up Latin American dictatorships whose only redeeming feature was that they were anti-communist.

Words are powerful tools for good, but they're aren't magic. They don't automatically change things. My saying that this is a nation "under God" doesn't stop me from acting in ways that violate the ethical principles of the world's religions. The members of Congress who recited the pledge with such fervor after the court decision are the same men and women who often - or maybe even usually - base their decisions on a political and not a moral calculus.

These are the same men and women who accept millions of dollars in campaign contributions from lobbyists and special interest groups and wonder why some Americans suspect that those contributions strongly influence their decisions. These are the same men and women who enjoy the best health care the nation has to offer but who can't manage to figure out how to provide a minimum of health care coverage to all of their fellow Americans.

Rallying around the words "under God" won't solve the major problems that confront us as a nation. It may even serve to distract us from the important work that we have to do. When all the political posturing is over, the problems will still be there. For my money, it matters little whether the words "under God" remain in the pledge or not. If they remain, I'll say them with the same uneasiness that I say them with now, recognizing that they may not unite us as much as some would like to think and that they won't solve America's problems. Only we can do that.

Fr. Daniel Weir is acting rector at St. Mathias Church in East Aurora.