Pledge of Allegiance Blues
(A documentary beyond belief... )
A film by Lisa Seidenberg
Distributed by: alive MIND
Production year: 2005
DVD release date: July 18, 2008
Copyright: 2005, Metro Video Inc.
Total running time: 72 min.
Review by Jim Walker
You may remember Dr. Michael Newdow, the atheist who became infamous for his legal case against using the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance that eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court in March 2004. He pursued the case because he observed his daughter reciting the pledge with the words "under God," which meant that the school had indoctrinated her with a religious concept, clearly an unconstitutional act. This film by Lisa Seidenberg documents Newdow's legal journey.
Considering the majority of Christians in the U.S. who favor what they think of as their supernatural deity imposed into the Pledge, you may wonder why anyone would want to make a documentary about this case. According to Seidenberg, "I first saw Mike Newdow the night he was on TV talking to Connie Chung. He just won his first victory in the 9th circuit to have the words, 'under God' taken out of the Pledge. The country was outraged. I wondered who this guy was and why he was being treated like Public Enemy Number One. . . I wanted to know what makes someone wake up one morning and decide to sue the congress and the president before breakfast. I also wanted to know why it bothered people so much."
I first heard Michael Newdow, a doctor turned lawyer, speak at the Godless Americans March on Washington held on November 2, 2002 (see my photos of the event here.) His talk made a lot of sense and I have supported him ever since. He even once contacted me to get my permission to use a photo of a Nazi belt buckle engraved with the German words Gott Mit Uns (God Wish Us) to use in his Supreme Court case. I don't know if he ever used it but I suspect he wanted it to show the judges how imposing religion in government can lead to problems.
So although most religious Americans may not have an interest in the film, it certainly should appeal to freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, or even Christians who do not want to see other dominations overtaking their particular brand of worship. After all, the American framers invented the concept of separation of church and state in order to protect religion, freethought, and government.
Unfortunately, many people have completely misconstrued Newdow's legal campaign. They believe that Newdow wants to get rid of the Pledge of Allegiance entirely. He never held that position. He only wants the words "under God" taken out. The rest of the Pledge would remain as it did in its original wording.
Watching the film, I felt saddened when Christians threw so much hate at Newdow. One Christian woman remarked, "He should be shot." Indeed, riding this wave of hate might lead one to sing the blues. Yet despite this vitriol, Newdow's cheery and free-spirited outlook delighted me (although I thought his singing a bit annoying). At no time did he resort to name calling or malicious tactics. And what courage!
Lisa Seidenberg also interviews other notable characters such as, Alan Dershowitz (the famous civil liberties lawyer), Sandy Rios (talk show host), Larry Flint (everyone knows him), and Dave Kong (the atheist who challenged the constitutionality of a 103 foot high cross on public land).
I found it revealing that Dershowitz thinks of Newdow as, "a courageous man who is pushing the principle very, very hard of separation of church and state," but that he thinks of him as a substandard lawyer. According to Dershowitz, "any lawyer who has a pulse on the future of America would realize this is the wrong case to bring to the wrong court at the wrong time." Well then, I thought, just when should the case come before the court? And why didn't Dershowitz help Newdow out?
In any case Newdow did not win or lose his case before the Supreme Court. On June 14, 2005 the court dismissed the Pledge case saying Newdow did not have legal standing to bring the case because he did not have custody of his daughter. The court did not rule on the constitutionality of having "under God" in the Pledge.
Regardless of the outcome, Seidenberg's documentary shows the decisiveness of the issue of religion in America and how just one person can make a difference in government even in the light of a stalemate result. Newdow brought the subject to the public for discussion. His campaign made people think. It also revealed the people who don't know how to think. This leaves open others to continue the battle, and maybe someday even a lawyer like Dershowitz might gain the courage to bring the case before the court again.
A few quotes from Pledge of Allegiance Blues:
The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.
"You atheist piece of Sh*t!"
"You sick summabitch"
"You can f**king go to hell"
"You idiot most stupidest [sic] man!"
"You f**king unpatriotic f**k face!"
"You're one giant a**hole"
--messages left on Newdow's phone recorder
The Constitution says the congress will make no laws respecting an establishment of religion which means that the Supreme Court says, and as you have said, nobody should be made to feel like an outsider. And I would only ask everyone of those people to ask themselves, if they had to say every morning when they pledged allegiance to the flag, that we were one nation under Sun Myung Moon, or one nation under David Koresh, or one nation under Jesus, or one nation under Mohammad, how would they feel?
--Michael Newdow (in an interview with Connie Chung)
To me, it's so clear, and it's so correct. We don't want government getting involved in religion. It's a very dangerous thing to do. People get hurt. Look at the Taliban. Look at all the wars. It's really a bad idea. The framers were very wise to make sure we don't do that. And people have misinterpreted the case. They think I'm not patriotic. I'm not totally wild about the Pledge, but I'm not against the Pledge. If the government chooses to have a pledge, that's fine. I'm against sticking religious dogma in the middle of the Pledge which is a totally different thing.
It was a very deliberate decision to leave "God" out of the Constitution.
A Pledge is an invitation to hypocrisy.
If religion helps you get through the day, fine. I don't have a problem with it. But my personal opinion is, I think that religion has caused more harm than any other idea since the beginning of time.
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