Next year, the US Supreme Court has it in its power to strike a blow for religious tolerance. It will decide if the phrase “One Nation, Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the constitutionally-mandated separation between church and state. Even right-wing Opus Dei extremist Justice Antonin Scalia has recused himself from the case because he has already weighed in on the side of religious zealotry and intolerance in public comments. Before 1954, the “Pledge,” originally written in 1892 by a Socialist Baptist Minister named Frances Bellamy, did not contain the phrase “One Nation, Under God.” It was only amid the scourge known as McCarthyism that the Congress included the phrase at the behest of the Catholic fraternal organization, Knights of Columbus.
The Supreme Court sans Scalia can help restore the concept that the United States is a secular nation founded on the principles of equality under the law. They can fire a shot across the bow of American religious extremists like John Ashcroft, who has let it be known that to advance career-wise within his Justice Department, staff attorneys better be seen at his morning Pentecostal prayer meetings and Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, who, while in uniform before evangelical Christian congregations, lambasted Muslims for worshipping idols and suggesting that God put George W. Bush in the White House.
Even more alarming is the fact that Congress somehow managed to appoint a unformed flag -rank officer like Boykin to head up a civilian political office within the Pentagon –tossing aside America’s long-standing tradition of having the military under civilian control.
The Bush administration is in no place to criticize people like Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed, who voiced some patently anti-Semitic comments at the recent meeting in Kuala Lumpur of the Organization of Islamic Conference. At the just-concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Bangkok, Bush told the Malaysian leader that his remarks about Jews “controlling the world” stood “squarely against what I believe in.” This is where the world can see through the phoniness of Bush. While Bush rightly criticizes a world leader for offensive remarks made about one religion, he stands by those made by one of his top policy-making generals about another. Boykin’s remarks about Muslims were as offensive as Mahathir’s comments about Jews. Bush had a chance to condemn both. But he did not and, consequently, Bush’s own brand of smug Texas-nurtured racism and xenophobia came across loud and clear to a world rapidly falling into an endless abyss of fratricidal religious conflict.
Bush is used to getting a free ride from the Supreme Court (just look at his own selection as President). But the Court has never shied away from taking a stand on important issues that later spurred history’s course to take a sharp detour. The Court’s landmark decisions on school desegregation helped spur the civil rights movement. A similar hallmark decision on the separation of church and state can drive home the point that America is a nation founded upon the principles of freedom of religion and secularism in government. It is not a nation obliged to cater to the fears and fanaticism of hate mongers like Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Bob Jones, Tom DeLay, Richard Perle, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, or Frank Gaffney.
It is time for the American people to realize that the United States will never defeat terrorism as long as apocalyptic and suicidal “End Times” cultist Christians reign supreme in the corridors of the White House, Congress, Pentagon, and the Old Executive Office Building. General Boykin has demonstrated that his knowledge of Islam is about as shallow as that of Bush’s. In suggesting that Muslims worship idols, perhaps this Christian purveyor of religious hatred and intolerance forgot about the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan a few months before the 9-11 attacks. In fact, Islam is based on the rejection of idolatry. Not only should Boykin be fired form his present position because he violates the tenet of civilian control over the military, he should be cashiered for his lack of knowledge about a critical aspect of his job — the history of Islam and the Middle East.
The Supreme Court must take note of the Religious Right’s intolerance and injustices when it takes up the issue of the “Under God” oath. Scrapping it will send a clear message to the likes of Boykin, Ashcroft, Bush, Mahathir, and Osama bin Laden. That message is that there is no place in the 21st Century for extremists, be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or quasi-secular and neo-conservative promoters of a racism-imbued Project for a New American Century.
WAYNE MADSEN is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and columnist. He wrote the introduction to Forbidden Truth. He is the co-author, with John Stanton, of “America’s Nightmare: The Presidency of George Bush II.”
Madsen can be reached at: WMadsen777@aol.com