One of the best essays I’ve read on the whole Pledge debate in general and the recent Supreme Court case in particular is from The New Republic Online titled Under God and Over. Leon Wieseltier does a great job of pointing out the ridiculousness of the government’s arguments for keeping the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge; that it’s essentially devoid of any religious meaning and is actually only a historical reference. He also points out how this attitude is actually hostile toward religion even though those who promote it like to think they’re being friends to religion in doing so. He touches on a lot of points that most atheists already have a pretty clear understanding of. In short, it’s a good read. I’m going to quote part of the last two paragraphs as they’re my favorite part.
There is no greater insult to religion than to expel strictness of thought from it. Yet such an expulsion is one of the traits of contemporary American religion, as the discussion at the Supreme Court demonstrated. Religion in America is more and more relaxed and “customized,” a jolly affair of hallowed self-affirmation, a religion of a holy whatever. Speaking about God is prized over thinking about God. Say “under God” even if you don’t mean under God. And if you mean under God, don’t be tricked into giving an account of what you mean by it. Before too long you have arrived at a sacralized cynicism: In his intervention at the Court, Justice Stevens recalled a devastating point from the fascinating brief submitted in support of Newdow by 32 Christian and Jewish clergy, which asserted that “if the briefs of the school district and the United States are to be taken seriously,” that is, if the words in the Pledge do not allude to God, “then every day they ask schoolchildren to violate [the] commandment” that “Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord in vain.” Remember, those are not the Ten Suggestions. It is a very strange creed indeed that asks its votaries not to reflect too much about itself.
For this reason, American unbelief can perform a great quickening service to American belief. It can shake American religion loose from its cheerful indifference to the inquiry about truth. It can remind it that religion is not only a way of life but also a worldview. It can provoke it into remembering its reasons. For the argument that a reference to God is not a reference to God is a sign that American religion is forgetting its reasons. The need of so many American believers to have government endorse their belief is thoroughly abject. How strong, and how wise, is a faith that needs to see God’s name wherever it looks? (His name on nickels and dimes is rather damaging to His sublimity.)