Thomas More Law Center's Latest Silliness

I love getting these "action alerts" from religious right legal groups. At least once a week I get a breathless, hyperbolic email designed to push the emotional buttons of their followers and get them worked up into an unsightly froth. The Thomas More Law Center's latest news alert takes aim at an obscure California college's student government, which decided recently to stop opening their meetings with the pledge of allegiance. The news alert is titled Thomas More Law Center Condemns California College's Ban on Pledge; Calls for Action By the Supreme Court, and it is practically bursting at the seems with logical fallacies.

The Student government of Orange Coast College in California, voted 3-1 this week to eliminate recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance from its weekly meetings. According to news accounts, student Board member Jason Ball, a self proclaimed atheist, called the flag salute" irrelevant to the business of the student government, and referred to a 2002 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on a possible "church -state conflict." Ball, wearing black boots, a beret and a hammer-and-sickle pin, was quoted as saying, "Nationalism is something that divides people."

The last part is a textbook attempt to poison the well; he's a dirty rotten commie, you see, or at least he likes to dress like one, and therefore there is no need to actually think about anything he says. And once they start that, you know the weepy-eyed emotional appeals to our troops can't be far behind:

Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan; commented, "It is outrageous that some students see no reason to pledge any loyalty to this nation while American soldiers are sacrificing their lives for the freedoms these students enjoy. The God-given freedom recognized in the Pledge is what protects Mr. Ball's right to express his opinion there is no God. Further, it is shameful and disrespectful for Orange Coast College to act in such a manner during the same week as the 231st birthday of the Marine Corps and our national Veteran's Day holiday."

One wonders whether Thompson believes that the pre-1954 pledge, which did not mention God at all, likewise protected Ball's right to express his opinion; evidently not. Note also that nowhere in the article does it say anything about Ball's belief or non-belief in God. This is the standard false dichotomy offered by demagogues like Thompson. All "godly" people are on his side in debates about separation, you see, and only dirty atheists (and commies, of course) are on the other side. Never mind that a great many Christian leaders, from the revolutionary period to today, are staunch supporters of separation; they simply aren't Real Christianstm, you see.

Let's also not fail to note the giant non-sequitur in that paragraph. The argument is this: soldiers are dying abroad, allegedly for our freedom, and therefore we must diminish that freedom by requiring official declarations of orthodoxy and loyalty oaths. They go on to make yet another non-sequitur:

Continued Thompson, "Simply because the Pledge contains the phrase 'One Nation Under God,' does not represent an establishment of religion. Hopefully, this time the Supreme Court will decide the Pledge case on the merits in accordance with Justice Thomas' legal analysis so that 'separation between church and state' will no longer be a pretext for government anti-religious policies."

But even if we grant that they are correct that the pledge is not itself unconstitutional, that doesn't mean that requiring that people recite it is not unconstitutional. For crying out loud, this was settled by the Supreme Court over 60 years ago in Barnette. Does the TMLC think that case was wrongly decided? They don't say, of course. Going into that kind of detail exposes agendas and gets in the way of their careful framing of the issue as good people against dirty rotten commie atheists.

Naturally, STACLU responded to the same situation by piling on yet more absurdity. Their ridiculous distortions begin with the very title of the post:

College Students Ban The Pledge Of Allegiance

Uh, no, they didn't. They stopped requiring that it be said at the beginning of student government meetings at that college. That's not a ban. Every single student is absolutely free to recite the pledge with every waking breath if they choose to. Then they moved on to the same well poisoning engaged in by the TMLC:

It will most likely come as no surprise that the student trustee that proposed the ban was an atheist and admitted socialist.

There are two things that make this amusing to me. The first, as stated above, is that it's a very obvious logical fallacy - the fact that it was initiated by an atheist and socialist has absolutely nothing to do with whether it's a good idea or not. If that atheist socialist student likes pizza, I doubt that the STACLU crowd would give up pizza. Secondly, and more importantly, it's the historical ignorance that shows just how silly this claim is.

Who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance? A man named Francis Bellamy. Who was Bellamy? Well, he was a Baptist minister. And a socialist. And his original pledge, the one used in schools after 1892, did not include the phrase "under God" at all (that part was added in 1954). And Bellamy wrote that his purpose in writing the pledge was to teach children the importance of obedience to the state, a socialist ideal if ever there was one. The pledge written by a socialist to inculcate socialist values is now being promoted by conservatives who are outraged that a socialist would object to saying it. Yet another irony meter down the drain.

STACLU links to this article from Reuters that repeats the lie that the school "banned" the pledge of allegiance, and it includes some hilariously idiotic quotes from the uber-patriots who delight in such empty symbolism:

"America is the one thing I'm passionate about and I can't let them take that away from me," 18-year-old political science major Christine Zoldos told Reuters.

Well yes, Christine, because if other people don't recite the pledge of allegiance by rote every time they meet, then "America" has been taken away from you. Seriously, are you that stupid? They also link to this delightfully idiotic post from someone named Dan Riehl on the same subject. Here's my favorite part:

And you can thank a ruling from a San Francisco court for kicking this off. Now, who is it that comes from San Francisco? Oh. that's right, the new House Frau, Nancy Pelosi.

Ah yes, he has cleverly connected the dots here, has he not? He might as well have said, "And you can thank a group of higher order primates for kicking this off. And who else is a higher level primate? Oh yes, Osama Bin Laden." And remember folks, these people can vote.


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And remember folks, these people can vote.

And they can procreate.

I'm glad you pointed out the entire point of the pledge was to inculate socialist values. As a firm believer in democracy, I find the very idea of having an oath to support a government reprehensible.

Oaths should be important, not something you recite by rote every time you turn around. What does this oath mean? If you say it in school are you bound forever to stay in the United States? To support whatever the government does regardless of morality or sanity? What? If you're not bound by it, it's not an oath. If it means nothing, it's not an oath.

There is nothing more patriotic than telling the government to go shove itself. There is nothing less patriotic than mindlessly reciting an oath of obedience.

By Michael Suttkus, II (not verified) on 14 Nov 2006 #permalink

You've only just come across Dan Riehl? He's a certifiable loon. Amazingly he gets invited on Fox News as serious pundit.

Hopefully, this time the Supreme Court will decide the Pledge case on the merits in accordance with Justice Thomas' legal analysis so that 'separation between church and state' will no longer be a pretext for government anti-religious policies"

Eh? What has this got to do with government anti-religious policies?

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 14 Nov 2006 #permalink

First, I agree with what you are saying. There are just two problems in your post.
His name is Jason Bell, not Jason Ball (according to the Reuters article). Also, in both the Reuters article and the email sent out by the TMLC Bell is either described as a "self-proclaimed atheist" (which is found in your first quote), or in the Reuters article quoted as saying "I am an atheist and a socialist, and if you know your history, you know that 'under God' was inserted during the McCarthy era and was directly designed to destroy my ideology." So your argument that they are attempting to "smear" him as an atheist without proof is incorrect.

By neuralsmith (not verified) on 14 Nov 2006 #permalink

There is nothing more patriotic than telling the government to go shove itself. There is nothing less patriotic than mindlessly reciting an oath of obedience.

I think there also has to be something between these two extremes.

A woman in the LA Times a few months ago was commenting on the changing demographics of her town, which is now mostly made up of immigrant families. What disturbed her is that at a High School football game, the majority of students, even though born in the United States, refused to stand for the presentation of the flag and Pledge of Allegiance. They said it wasn't "their" flag. So whose flag was it? Has the United States, in its entire history, never done anything worthy of respect? When did it become wrong to like America?

As some one who is BOTH a left-leaning liberal atheist who has protested both the Iraq War and Vietnam, AND someone who proudly considers himself a patriot because of these attitudes, I've always considered this sort of 'pledge recitation' nonsense abhorrent.

I can and do proudly recite the 'pre-54' pledge on appropriate occasions -- simply remaining silent at the addition. But when I do, I do it with meaning, thinking about what I am saying. Even in school I hated the idea of doing it as an empty ritual. That cheapens the flag, the pledge, and the country.

Ginger Yellow said -
You've only just come across Dan Riehl? He's a certifiable loon. Amazingly he gets invited on Fox News as serious pundit.

That's amazing to you? That is thee FOX news your talking about right? My four year old son would make a better pundit than most of the ones they have on FOX news. Not that they would welcome his somewhat liberal bent.

It only amazes me because Riehl makes Fox's usual pundits look like paragons of reason and decency.

By Ginger Yellow (not verified) on 14 Nov 2006 #permalink

Prup -

I agree whole heartedly. I wasn't much of a patriot at five, as my patriotism developed, it was in spite of the rote recitation of the pledge - certainly not because of it. Really, it had a lot more to do with the immense sacrifice, so many people made to allow me to live with the freedom I have today - and a profound love for that same freedom. Really it took learning about the people who live without our freedom for me to truly appreciate what we have.

I can only think of totalitarian states that has otherwise required their people to make a pledge of allegiance. Shouldn't the US think about the symbolism in that?

Please note, I don't call the US totalitarian, but point out that requiring people to mae a pledge of allegiance is something that is otherwise only found in totalitatian states, to my knolwdge.

By Kristjan Wager (not verified) on 14 Nov 2006 #permalink

The problem that may be arising in the States is one we have had over here in England for a while: the misappropriation of patriotism by loonies makes it a bit unpalatable for normal people.

Over here, when I see anyone flying the St Geroge's Cross I immediately think of the British National Party (borderline neo-Nazis, basically) and find it all a bit sinister.

In the States the religious nutters and the uber-conservative flag-waving isolationists have taken such a stranglehold on all but the most modest, introverted patriotism that it seems difficult to express pro-America sentiments without being in danger of being lumped in with them. This is just a guess of course, so correct me at will!

I am fairly patriotic, in a casual, cynical sense, but I would never fly a flag or pledge anything or any of that stuff over here because that's pretty much the exclusive territory of football hooligans and little Englanders these days.

"Nationalism is something that divides people"

So is religion.

There was an interesting article yesterday from Der Spiegel's English language service (Der Spiegel being Germany's news magazine of record):

POLISH EXCHANGE STUDENT IN US: My Half-Year of Hell With Christian Fundamentalists

When Polish student Michael Gromek, 19, went to America on a student exchange, he found himself trapped in a host family of Christian fundamentalists. What followed was a six-month hell of dawn church visits and sex education talks as his new family tried to banish the devil from his soul. Here's his story.

Much more here.

The story is actually a little worse in the original German version, but this is a good translation.

Aren't these fundies good advertising for American culture?

Orange Coast STUDENT TRUSTEE SAYS: "THE FLAG REPRESENTS GENOCIDE" The issue is not the pledge. There is room for discussion on whether or not a student government meeting needs to begin with a recital of the pledge.

The issue is that the majority of the Student Trustees hate America and they are trying to use their position as elected student government leaders to spread this hatred. How do we know? Because at a meeting of Student Government, one of the Student Trustees explained the reason for opposing The Flag.

He said: "The Flag Represents Genocide"

By Art MacArthur (not verified) on 24 Nov 2006 #permalink