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Lorenzo Sadun

New Texas pledge creates more divides among states


Saturday, August 30, 2003

Last week my three children returned to school and began a new morning ritual. By state law, they recite first the Pledge of Allegiance, then the Texas pledge and finally observe a minute of silent reflection before beginning their studies.

The original Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister. He penned a simple, unifying sentence that Americans of all backgrounds and religions could recite in good conscience: "I pledge allegiance to my flag, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The key word is "indivisible." As Bellamy later explained, "The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the `republic for which it stands.' . . . And what does that vast thing, the Republic mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation -- the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches."

The requirement that our children recite the Texas pledge undermines this principle. What does it mean to pledge allegiance to Texas? Are our children promising to take up arms for Texas in case of war with North Dakota? The concept of owing allegiance to a state, as opposed to the United States, is the direct opposite of "one nation, indivisible." Do the legislatures of Texas, Georgia and Arkansas (the three states with pledges) intend to re-fight the Civil War?

The principle of "one nation, indivisible" suffered a different blow in 1954. Over the objections of Bellamy's family, Congress inserted the phrase "under God." Their intent was to distinguish American religiosity from the atheist creed of our Soviet enemies. To the majority of Americans, the change was harmless and perhaps even welcome. To nonreligious families, however, the new pledge was an exercise in state-sponsored hypocrisy. Their children were forced to recite a formula that they simply did not believe. To many religious Americans, the new phrase was worse than hypocrisy: It was a desecration of religion for political purposes.

Instead of confirming our unity, the new pledge divided us along religious lines. As if to emphasize this point, the congressmen who changed the pledge later changed the national motto from "E pluribus unum" (Latin for "out of many, one") to "In God we trust." Unity was out; religion was in.

The same spirit motivates the new Texas law that requires a daily minute of silence. Having more silence in class would seem a teacher's dream, but this exercise is not intended to prevent headaches. Rather, the sponsors of the new law made it clear that this is a first step toward reintroducing prayer in the public schools. Once again, they are setting one religious group against another, coercing behavior whenever they have the power, without regard for individual conscience and belief.

I have nothing against prayer. My wife and I teach our children to pray, at home and at our house of worship, according to their hearts and the lessons of our religion. However, we do not want them to pray by order of the Texas Legislature. We do not want them to have to recite, or be subjected to, the prayers of another religion, and we do not wish them to impose their prayers on others.

If we truly support the concept of one nation, indivisible, then we should repeal the new law. Remove the minute of silence and its attempt to insinuate religion into school. Remove the Texas pledge and its separatist call. Finally, restore the Pledge of Allegiance to its original form -- an elegant, secular expression of loyalty to a nation that promotes unity by respecting the freedom, and the religious diversity, of its members.

Sadun is a professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin.




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