The right to blaspheme: For no god and country

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I could not have had a more patriotic beginning. I was born on Flag Day (June 14) in 1942, during World War II, at Liberty Hospital in Philadelphia, birthplace of the nation and the flag purportedly designed by Betsy Ross. My first public speech was at a fourth grade Flag Day ceremony. I had been chosen to read my essay, “What the American Flag Means to Me.” I wrote about looking at the flag when “The Star-Spangled Banner” was sung at major league baseball games, hoping I would one day be a player on that field. I’m pretty sure my essay was picked because I happened to mention Flag Day was my birthday. Or maybe the other essays were even worse.


My views on patriotism in general and Flag Day in particular have changed considerably over the years. The anniversary of my birth has become a day when opportunistic politicians periodically attempt to take away freedoms for which our flag is supposed to stand. On my twelfth birthday, President Eisenhower signed into law the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, saying, “From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.” 

President Eisenhower made no mention of the Constitution during this 1954 Flag Day ceremony, perhaps because the Constitution, which is dedicated to “We the People,” prohibits religious tests for public office and makes no mention of any almighties. This melding of God and country, turning a secular pledge into a religious one, only resulted in my feeling less patriotic when I no longer believed we were under any gods.

The Pledge is not simply a passive reference to religion. It calls on every child in public school to affirm that our country believes in God. No child should go to school each day and have the class declare that her religious beliefs are wrong in an exercise that portrays her family as less patriotic than God-believers.

Written By: Herb Silverman
continue to source article at washingtonpost.com

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  1. Patriotism.Hmmm, that word got me thinking.Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were all patriotic to this ‘pale blue dot’ we live on.No divisions based on colour ,creed or anything else.All evolved beings together on this beautiful planet among the stars.If only…

    • In reply to #2 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

      Patriotism.Hmmm, that word got me thinking.Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were all patriotic to this ‘pale blue dot’ we live on.No divisions based on colour ,creed or anything else.All evolved beings together on this beautiful planet among the stars.If only…

      I think its a natural evolution of human culture for that to happen. If you look at history its been a continuous trend in that direction. A couple of thousand years ago virtually all human cultures had very strong boundaries between in groups and their out groups. If you weren’t the correct religion or nationality you had no rights and could be made a slave. A couple hundred years ago even many educated people still thought that certain human races were inherently inferior (its weird to read some of the stuff some people who were otherwise very progressive like H.G. Wells wrote on the topic). In the last century we finally recognized genocide as a war crime no matter (at least in theory) who commits it and who its committed against.

      Steven Pinker’s recent book The Better Angels goes into this in a lot more detail. He provides very compelling evidence (although I would disagree with a few things he says) that the trend in human history is toward more rationality which means more equality and basic rights for all people. I think the real question (which Pinker mostly ignores) is can the human race survive with our culture in tact the coming shit storm we’ve created by ignoring problems like climate change for so long.

    • In reply to #2 by Christiana Magdalene Moodley:

      Patriotism.Hmmm, that word got me thinking.Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we were all patriotic to this ‘pale blue dot’ we live on.No divisions based on colour ,creed or anything else.All evolved beings together on this beautiful planet among the stars.If only…

      You may say I’m a dreamer… but I’m not the only one…

      Yes, it would be wonderful… no separation based on religion, race, nationality or language…

      A world where everyone thinks the same way, only in the sense that they all accept that we are all different…

  2. And here, in France, I’m listening to BBC Radio 3 (classical music station) on my computer while reading this – and the programme suddenly switches to a broadcast of Choral Evensong from St. Paul’s Cathedral (I think) with a contralto vicar intoning about how we are all gathered in Jesus’ name. This institutional bias will continue until the majority of BBC licence payers ( over $110 each year) who are not Christian face this down. “..under God,” although not in any official pledge, is so ingrained in British society that it might as well be. What’s the answer to this?

    • In reply to #3 by stuhillman:

      And here, in France, I’m listening to BBC Radio 3 (classical music station) on my computer while reading this – and the programme suddenly switches to a broadcast of Choral Evensong from St. Paul’s Cathedral (I think) with a contralto vicar intoning about how we are all gathered in Jesus’ name. Thi…

      On the other hand Anglican cathedral choirs are superb, and the music written for them since the reformation is just wonderful.. When I hear such music, combined with the superb language of the King James Bible, I often find myself wishing that I could…..

      • In reply to #7 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #3 by stuhillman:

        What’s the answer to this?

        Change the channel?

        Of course, but I think you know that this is not the point I’m trying to make. And here is an even greater dilemma: The BBC, especially BBC TV, make some of the most amazing films on natural history, science in general and particularly with programs supporting Darwinism and rational views of the universe and how we came to be here. So, when they support my prejudices I’m all for it – no surprise there. It just grates when they promote one particular religion on a regularly programmed basis – every morning on BBC 2, Songs of Praise etc. Under extreme pressure they will allow a Rabbi to surface once in a while – as long as he/she is not too direct in pushing an aspect of Judaism that collides with Church of England doctrine (don’t put down Jesus, for example). It’s that just about everyone in the UK pays a high fee in order to support the BBC whether they are Christian, Muslim, Hindu atheist….. And before any one else picks up the obvious – I live in France, receive all BBC radio and TV channels via satellite as a freeloader who doesn’t pay a penny in UK broadcasting tax so why should I bitch about it? But it does get on my nerves.

    • In reply to #3 by stuhillman:

      And here, in France, I’m listening to BBC Radio 3 (classical music station) on my computer while reading this – and the programme suddenly switches to a broadcast of Choral Evensong from St. Paul’s Cathedral (I think) with a contralto vicar intoning about how we are all gathered in Jesus’ name. Thi…

      Yep, the BBC stands for Broadcasting By Christians – but let’s not throw the baby (Jesus) out with the bathwater… As you mention yourself, the BBC also creates fantastic science and nature programmes that educate and enlighten people all over the world…

      Mind you, it is a shame they can’t accept that less than 5% of the population give a monkeys about bronze age sky fairy myths any more – but hey, it took them decades to work out / admit that half of their presenters in the 60′s and 70′s were predatory pedophiles…

      Give it time… they’ll see the light…

    • In reply to #3 by stuhillman:

      And here, in France, I’m listening to BBC Radio 3 (classical music station) on my computer while reading this – and the programme suddenly switches to a broadcast of Choral Evensong from St. Paul’s Cathedral (I think) with a contralto vicar intoning about how we are all gathered in Jesus’ name.

      The BBC is bound by its Charter to dedicate a certain number of hours a year to religious broadcasting, and the charter is agreed with the government, who in turn are strenuously lobbied by faith groups.

      In fairness, there are dozens of BBC radio and TV stations these days, and it is not hard to avoid their religious programming.

      And since the BBC is supposed to be there for all of the British people, I don’t begrudge some religious content for the (relatively small number) who want it.

  3. Why were the original words of the consitutions pledge allowed to be changed…was it by consensus ? Can’t citizens assert constitutional rights and demand it be changed back to what it was intended to be…. for everyone…. and without mention of religion or supernatural beings. Why allow anyone – especially a ‘vested interest group’ to tamper with the original intent of the constitution – Anyway in court or as a Jury member you can still swear an oath of truth without using the G word…and I know who I’d believe more…the one who knows what truth really is…..

    • In reply to #9 by Light Wave: (and also Stevehill)

      Why were the original words of the consitutions pledge allowed to be changed…was it by consensus ? Can’t citizens assert constitutional rights and demand it be changed back to what it was intended to be…. for everyone…. and without mention of religion or supernatural beings. Why allow anyone especially a ‘vested interest group’ to tamper with the original intent of the constitution – Anyway in court or as a Jury member you can still swear an oath of truth without using the G word…and I know who I’d believe more…the one who knows what truth really is…..

      If my History is correct, (the change was during the cold war.) It was pointed out that any comrade of the USSR could have said the same pledge (substituting USSR for USA) and so cheapen pledge. To make the pledge different, those god words were inserted so a comrade from the officially atheist USSR could not longer say the same.

      To use an evolutionary term, that is the missing link.

    • In reply to #12 by jjbircham:

      Why allow anyone to change a constitution?
      I guess it is called democracy, another way to look at constitutions is why allow yourself to be bound by them.

      Just to be clear this has nothing to do with the constitution except in the sense that the constitution guarantees free speech and you could make an argument that forcing kids to recite an oath every morning violates their right to free speech. There was no pledge of allegiance at the time the US was founded. In fact for the first 100 years or so many Americans felt more loyal to their state then to the nation as a whole so getting people to say such a pledge would have probably been impossible.

      One reason many people like Lee decided to fight for the confederacy in the US Civil War even though he was personally opposed to slavery was that reason, his first loyalty was to Virginia not the US. And it was the Civil War that gave us the pledge. The North had been very generous to the south in terms of not requiring much from them after the war was over, soldiers could keep their rifles I think and their horses (they needed them for farming and game). In return the North required soldiers from the Confederacy to say the pledge before being welcomed back into the US.

      I’m not sure when the pledge was first said by school kids but when it took of was during the 1950′s and the Cold War. That was when they passed laws about what counted as the official pledge. The interesting thing is that the words “under God” were not in the original pledge that the confederate soldiers had to say. They were put in during the Cold War as one more example of how the US differentiated ourselves from Godless, heathen , commies.

  4. I knew about the Cold War/McCarthyism rationale for the insertion of “under God”. It is perhaps ironic that give or take a couple of days, this year’s Flag Day was also marked by Russia passing a blasphemy law threatening imprisonment for anyone who defames the (Orthodox) Christian church!

  5. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.
    – Carl Schurz, comments to the Senate, February 29, 1872

    (Stiiiiil setting…)

  6. I am a few years older than Herb Silverman, and I remember when we were told to insert “under God.” Not that I was particularly any more insightful than anyone else, but even before that, I disliked that Pledge. Or any pledge like it. I had seen films of little German kids reciting pledges under the Hitler regime. It always seemed that we should be clicking our heels when reciting it. Blind unison patriotism is perhaps not as bad as blind unison religion, but it does get Honorable Mention.

  7. “From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. Delusion”!

    ..and that folks is where a whole load of America’s problems came from!

  8. My first encounter with this pledge was on the first day of first grade in a North Carolina public school. We had just moved from Colorado, and there were no pledges in my kindergarten class there. I balked right away. I was pretty sure that I knew what ‘pledge’ meant, but wasn’t clear on ‘allegiance’. Moreover; I wasn’t about to promise something without at least a minute to think about it, and so I sat down. I was taken by the hand to the principal’s office where I got a stern lecture on moral responsibility. Promise of future spanking was made, and a note to my parents was drafted.
    I was shaking in my little cowboy boots when I presented the note to Dad, a veteran who had proudly served under ‘that son of a bitch’ Patton. He said noting to me, but called the school principal. He listened for a while, and then I was astonished to hear him say, “I’m damn proud of the boy”.
    Mom, ever the pragmatist, suggested that I make up my own words and mumble.

    }}}}

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