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2002-06-28 | 8:21 a.m.

I stopped saying "under God" years ago, in high school. Not that I am called upon to recite the Pledge very often nowadays, but since the girls have been in school we've gone to a few events where everyone stood up to recite it. Whenever we get to that clause, Duff and I usually exchange glances. We don't invest the glance with anything particularly expressive; it's just a reflexive glance that fills in the empty space with our shared unbelief.

For some time now I have known that "under God" was added to the pledge in 1954. This offends my literary sensibilities. I say "offends" though I mean it in the mildest possible way. I'm not shrieking. I'm not foaming at the mouth. It just seems tacky to me.

One thing I did not know was that the pledge was written by a Baptist minister who called himself a "Christian socialist." Francis Bellamy was his name, in case you need it for your book report.

Reciting the pledge every day doesn't make us into patriots. Children become patriots from reading history (some, if not all, of which will be inaccurate, simply because--thanks in part to Texas conservatives--that is the nature of history textbooks written for children) and following the lead of their parents and the larger society around them. Compulsory patriotic exercises may bring some people of like mind together, but they will also alienate others, especially the little atheists who are learning right now that politicians in this country merely pay lip service to the idea of freedom of religion. Which is, of course, one of the greatest ideas that ever happened to a country. I'm starting to cry just thinking about it.

Having said all that, I have a warm place in my heart for the Pledge of Allegiance. It is one of a long list of things, including Walt Disney World, Barcaloungers, and scrapple, for which I find I have a schism between my intellectual and my emotional response. It makes me think of plaid cotton dresses with pleated skirts and hiding under our desks during bomb and earthquake drills. Do they still have those in California schools? I'm not sure.

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