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One Nation, Under God

This Friday, at 2 PM EST, from Augusta to Anchorage, 52 million American children in 107,000 schools will simultaneously pledge allegiance to the flag.  “Today I ask students, teachers, parents, and other proud Americans to join me in showing our patriotism by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at a single time and with a unified voice,” Secretary of Education Rod Paige wrote in a letter to principals.  “We can send a loud and powerful message that will be heard around the world:  America is ‘one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’”  Across the country, schools are signing up and students are synchronizing their watches.  Except for a hapless few in Madison, Wisconsin.

The School Board there has banned the pledge.  Seems “one nation under God” is offensive.  No word on whether divine invocation or national unity distresses them more.  Says board member Bill Keys, “What I wanted to do was eliminate that which would be repugnant to those who believe very strongly and would have their personal and political beliefs violated by group coercion.”  His compromise is an instrumental rendition of the national anthem. 

Consider the Board’s complaint. 

One nation. In an age when hyphenated Americanism fractures us into a census-taker’s nightmare of subsets, if coming together qualifies as “group coercion” we should welcome the pressure.  Exactly what “political beliefs” does Mr. Keys believe nationhood violates?  Will the playground anarchists protest?  Or perhaps the second graders for separatism?  If so, pack them up for a quick field trip to the Balkans with a layover in Basque country.

Under God.  Since September 11, we invoke His blessing from overpasses and t-shirts after decades of deeming His name unacceptable at commencements and His crèche inappropriate on His own birthday.  The patriots who set our foundation felt otherwise.  George Washington said, “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection and favor.”  John Adams wrote, “The general principles on which the Fathers achieved independence, were…the general principles of Christianity.”  Likewise, Thomas Paine: “Where, say some, is the king of America? I'll tell you, friend, He reigns above.” 

Still the school board thinks its fiefdom trespassed by a single sentence from the mouths of babes.  As they meet this Monday to re-evaluate the ban, Madison would do well to consider whence we’ve come and where we’re headed.  Divorce America from her Christian past and reap a civilization unworthy of terrorists’ attention.  Divide her into squabbling factions, and we’ve done their work for them. Crisis exposes our colors, and the country’s impulse in the wake of the attacks proved twin instincts:  divine dependence and national interdependence.  Denying either will do disservice to Wisconsin’s smallest citizens and delegitimize the board that claims to act in their interest. 

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