I live under God and a bridge; I know this because the Pledge told me so.

The Supreme Court waited until Flag Day to tell Michael Newdow (and the rest of us) that they weren't going to change the Pledge of Allegiance. This wasn't a great shock to me: many earlier analyses of the case had pointed the weakness in Newdow's case: he doesn't have custody of the child he's suing on behalf of. The Court essentially dodged making a real decision by using that technicality to throw out the case.

Incidentally, Newdow may have missed a way around that technicality when he pursued the case strictly as a matter of controlling his child's education. While the U.S courts have always held educational decisions are the purview of the custodial parent, they have occasionally enforced a non-custodial parent's right to influence the religious education of a child. If Newdow had played up the religious angle, he might have gotten farther. But I doubt that, too, because the courts probably wouldn't have considered the Pledge as a serious enough infraction on Newdow's non-religiousness. In cases where the courts have intervened on such grounds, it usually involved some form of religious extremism or risky ritual.

I am, unfortunately for guys like Michael Newdow, proof that the Pledge of Allegiance isn't an especially dangerous rite: I'm a born atheist who learned about God from public schools.

I learned the Pledge of Allegiance from Mrs. Fox, my second-grade teacher. Mrs. Fox was considered old-fashioned even in 1978; she made us start every day of classes with the Pledge. (No teacher I had before or after took the Pledge quite so seriously; for them, the Pledge was a twice-a-year event, if that.) Being raised by the World's Most Casual Atheists™, I had zero idea of who "God" was supposed to be, and an even less clear notion of why he was mentioned in the Pledge of Allegiance. When the other kids tried to explain the Almighty to me, the story struck me as making less sense than most comic books.

The ensuing theological discussion with my parents led to a new rule in the Bauser house: "Don't make fun of people who believe in Santa Claus or God." We're not a humble lot, we Bausers, but we mean well.

Anyway, I eventually learned to just skip "One nation under God" when I recited the Pledge, because I felt guilty faking it. (Skipping that line is no great inconvenience; having grown up around Christians, I know exactly how long it takes them to say four words, and I'm perfectly capable of rejoining the crowd after a pause.) Nobody in my hometown ever begrudged me this. In fact, I seldom had to tell other students I was an atheist, because they all assumed it. Apparently, you can only be so much of a science nerd before people assume you're one of the Godless. (Godlessness was never an issue in my hometown, which like many upper-middle-class towns, downplayed such things. Trust me, it was a different situation when I moved to Ohio for college.)

Anyway, Michael Newdow (or somebody like him) will get his day in court again, and quite possibly win. Or quite possibly lose, depending on which political party gets to pick the next few Supreme Court justices. I'm not too worked up about the case either way, because there are far bigger issues for atheists (like, you know, anything involving Roy Moore) I do think it eventually had to go (it's the principle of the thing, people; just because Christians are the majority doesn't mean they get to make everyone else into faux deists), but I also think schools should be teaching the state pledge of allegiance, too.

Michigan's pledge is a nice pledge, as far a pledges go, and it proves you say something nice (progressive, even) without invoking divine providence for everything. Try saying it out loud a couple of times; you might even feel good about using a pledge that doesn't have all the devisive baggage to enforced Godliness and anti-Communist rhetoric. At the very least, you'll remember that Michigan has two pennisulas, which is more geography education that most of the kids reciting the national pledge ever get....

Posted at 11:35:47 PM EDT on 14 June 2004 from Trenton, MI