Thursday, July 04, 2002

Still one nation

Thank your lucky stars and stripes

        On this Fourth of July, the first after 9-11, we are engaged — to quote Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg — in a great civil war.

        One side believes “under God” must stay in the Pledge of Allegiance. The other side feels it can salute the flag without those two words.

        Both sides don't know how lucky they've got it.

        Without the Declaration of Independence, whose 226th anniversary is celebrated today, without the soldiers who fought and died to protect what that document calls “certain unalienable Rights” — including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — no one would be bickering over keeping or cutting a phrase from the pledge.

        A federal appeals court ruled last week that it was unconstitutional for public school kids to recite the pledge because it contained the words “under God.”

        Take cover if that ruling had come down in a nation without the Declaration of Independence. Shots, not words, would have been exchanged.

        Angry mobs would have stormed the courthouse and hanged the judges by their robes.

        Or, the army would have left its barracks on the orders of some all-powerful El Presidente. Troops would have hunted down the judges and seen to it they were summarily shot.

        All in the name of protecting our one nation, under God.

        The judges' defenders would have rushed to avenge the executions. Barricades would have been erected and war declared. Each side would enlist God's help.

        But that's not the way we do things in America.

        Shooting off our mouths, not guns, we are free to protest any court's decision.

        And it's all because of a piece of paper, the Declaration of Independence, dated July 4, 1776.

Church and state

        One protest against the ruling was staged in Columbus and starred Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.

        “There can be little doubt,” he said, “that God was on the minds of our Founding Fathers.”

        Right you are, Big Bob.

        In the Declaration of Independence, the deity goes by the names “Nature's God,” “Creator,” “Supreme judge of the world” and “divine Providence.”

        Somebody upstairs was on their minds as they hammered out the Declaration. But, the nation's founders also believed in the separation of church and state. They incorporated this belief into the Constitution.

Point, counterpoint

        Time, history and the facts fuel the “under God” debate.

        Written in 1892, the pledge did not contain “under God” for 62 years. Congress — a sorry bunch that couldn't carry the Founding Fathers' quill pens — inserted the two-word phrase between “one Nation” and “indivisible” in 1954.

        That was 48 years ago.

        Between 1892 and 1954, Americans saluted the flag and worshiped as they saw fit. The United States fought and won two world wars to defend, among other rights, religious freedom.

        The day the words “under God” entered the pledge, all Americans' freedom of religion remained intact.

        The day of the federal court ruling, church spires in Cincinnati still pointed to heaven. Downtown, the Isaac M. Wise Plum Street Temple was still standing. The Stars and Stripes still flew from a flagpole outside the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati in Butler County.

        We are, still, one nation.

        Whether we are a nation under one god, many or none, remains open to debate.

        That debate can rage loud and long. Everyone can speak out until they turn red, white and blue. That's our right. This is a free country. That's why we celebrate Independence Day.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail


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