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Leaders didn’t think before pledging

Tora Chung
Wednesday July 03, 2002

To the Editor, 

The media frenzy regarding the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling on the Pledge of Allegiance has been an embarrassment. Where is the sober reporting of facts and informed commentary that viewers so desperately need, especially in the midst of a controversy? 

Within hours of the court ruling the U.S. Senate condemned the decision, the President declared it “ridiculous,” and the members of the House defiantly recited the pledge in front of hoards of news cameras. 

Meanwhile, news commentators were voicing their opinions and pollers were pounding the pavement. Are we to believe that all those who are sworn to represent the people and report the hard facts had actually read and digested the 32-page decision and were informed enough to make these decisions in so short a time? 

Upon closer review of the court’s actual decision, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is not declared illegal. However, the California statute requiring teachers to lead the compulsory recitation each day is. For those who believe this is unprecedented, it is important to note that the court reached a similar decision in 1943, declaring the compulsory recitation a violation of the First Amendment. 

Unlike the oaths taken in courtrooms across the country, there is no alternate pledge in schools without the words “under God.” And though the U.S. currency contains the words “In God we Trust” – which does seem out of place on money, of all things – no one is forced to pledge those words every time he or she receives or spends money. And if any member of Congress feels that his or her rights are being violated by having to recite a prayer before each session – which has always seemed out of place to me in a supposedly secular government – then he or she has the right to take the issue up at the next session.  

What is at issue here is not only the separation of church and state, but the freedom of conscience. A state cannot force its citizens to say or do anything that goes against his or her conscience. Freedom of conscience is at the heart of all our most precious freedoms. If only our fearless and overzealous leaders had taken the time to read the court’s decision, perhaps they would have realized this. But they forgot that leading doesn’t always mean speaking or taking action before anyone else. Sometimes it requires actually thinking first.  


Tora Chung 

San Francisco