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Misguided outrage

Michael Newdow is a doctor, lawyer and atheist who was concerned about the effect the Pledge of Allegiance has on his daughter, who’s in the second grade in a public school in the Sacramento, Calif., area. The Pledge, since the dark communist witch-hunt days of 1954, has contained the phrase, “one nation, under God.” Newdow felt those words would disturb his daughter.
When Newdow appeared in the Ninth District Federal Appeals Court in San Francisco, to ask the court to declare the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional because it defies the establishment of religion clause in the First Amendment, here’s what Judge Alfred Goodwin should have said.
“Mr. Newdow, whenever the children in your girl’s class recite the Pledge, your little sweetie should put her hands over her ears for the two seconds they say, ‘under God.’ She’s going to hear a lot worse stuff in her life as she grows up. Now get outa here and quit wasting our time.”
Of course, that’s not what he said. Instead, Judge Goodwin, a Nixon appointee, amazingly, wrote the decision for his three-person court that agreed with Newdow, and set off a firestorm of protest across the country.
Since then, the judge seems to have come to his senses and backed off that decision. Newdow himself has gotten some absolutely ugly and threatening emails and phone messages, but he has also gotten some support from people who feel religion shouldn’t be imposed in public schools and the separation of church and state should be honored.
The maddening thing is that this one guy’s problem with the Pledge — it’s obviously his problem, and now his little girl will have to suffer a lot of abuse, too — is so trivial in the broad scheme of things, but it will cost the public a fortune, and tie up the courts forever, and get everybody worked up needlessly.
The Supreme Court held a long time ago that schools can’t require students to say the Pledge if they don’t want to. It probably wouldn’t hurt anybody if we occasionally examined our routine oaths, pledges, invocations, national anthems and prayers — what one learned fellow I know calls “civic religion” — to see if they’re out of date or whatever, but the court of appeals probably wasn’t the best forum.
As soon as Judge Goodwin’s decision was announced, Congressmen, senators and Christians went bonkers. The outraged congressmen, ever ready for a photo op, immediately gathered on the steps of the Capitol to defiantly recite the Pledge in front of the national press corps. The good senators immediately stopped debate on a defense bill to unanimously denounce the decision. Ministers everywhere no doubt started rewriting their Sunday sermons.
What is outrageous is that when something really serious comes along — say the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy that protects practicing pedophiles, or corporate executives at Enron or WorldCom or Arthur Anderson who cook the books, give themselves multi-million-dollar bonuses while utterly ruining the lives of their employees and stockholders — why then is there no similar outrage by congressmen, senators or ministers?
What’s wrong with this picture?