Wednesday, September 24, 2014


"I prayed for freedom twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs."
--Frederick Douglass

"Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?"
--James Madison

In new-hire training meetings at the mental health care facility where I work, staff are instructed not to talk to patients about their personal religious beliefs. There have been a number of occasions where I have witnessed staff break this admonition. Some times they are verbally reprimanded, but more often the predominantly Mormon culture of the facility means that a blind eye is the standard. Still, as a medical facility the rule is no pushing religion on patients.

As an atheist I see the benefit for all parties inherent in this rule and have never told my patients what my personal beliefs are, even though there have been several instances where I super-duper wanted too. It is not my place, nor is it in any way appropriate for me to use my position and professional relationship to influence my patients religiously. They are here for psychiatric medical care--not church.

You can imagine my surprise when this morning, for the first time ever since my tenure at this facility, an academic supervisor ordered via loudspeaker that all patients stand and recite the pledge of allegiance, which has in it the phrase "one nation under god". I suppose that legally I may not have a basis to request that the practice be stopped, especially if it is not compulsory (a detail which I do not yet know but I am determined to find out). However, a patient may have such a legal basis for a complaint as this can be seen as pushing religion on them by the facility, which is a cause often taken up by the Freedom From Religion Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union. Perhaps I should warn my supervisor of a potential lawsuit should the pledge continue...

At the very least I would like to hear their reasoning for suddenly mandating the pledge while I am still expected to remain quiet about my atheism. Why should I keep my beliefs in my pocket when others around me wear their beliefs prominently on their sleeves? After all, a subtle nudge towards one religious belief over another is still a religious endorsement and it is more than this facility officially allows its staff. By the way, this is not a privately owned, religiously affiliated facility. We are owned by a parent company which oversees 200 or more mental health care facilities nation wide. So it is unclear to me exactly how the first amendment would apply here since it is a prohibition on the government to not respect one establishment of religion over another. But we are not a 501c3 non-profit organization, therefore, it may still apply in some way.

I used to think this view was little more than cynically splitting hairs. It seems like such a minor thing. But the phrase "under god" was not even part of the pledge until the 1950s--the same time frame as when congress changed our national motto from "E Pluribus Unum" (out of many, one) to the anti-communist mantra "In god We Trust", in typical McCarthy-era "red-scare" fashion.

Additionally, this acknowledgment of god was never intended to be inclusive of Allah, the multiple Hindu gods (Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh, etc.), Buddha (who is not a god), Thor, Zeus, Apollo, The Lord Xenu (Scientology), any of the European pagan gods, any of the Native American gods, any of the Aztec or Mayan gods, any Wicca gods, any cult leaders, any Demi-gods, any messiahs (except for Jesus, of course), any deistic non-intervening gods, any alien prime movers (Raeliens, look it up), or my personal favorite, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was only ever meant to reference the Christian god, and arguably only the mainstream Protestant three-in-one god (take that Mormons).

The pledge is inherently divisive and I strongly doubt any of the minor patients at my facility (which is all of them) have any idea that they have a legal, constitutional right to refuse to participate in its ritualized recitation. Most of them are likely to just follow the crowd, which is its own kind of coercion. And don't get me started on how ridiculous it is to pledge your allegiance to a flag, of all bloody things, in the very first place!


Edward Current converts to every religion:

Glenn Beck "rebuts" my arguments:

Fox News debate on the subject with Micheal Newdow:

No comments: