The Playground
A conversation about "under God."


William F. Buckley Jr.

“Excuse me, sir. Are you Maureen’s father?”

John Dickson looked over at the children playing on the school playground. He ducked, but the football grazed his questioner, bloodying his nose. “Can you use my handkerchief?” Dickson brought it out from his pocket.

”No. No thanks. I’ll be okay. I’m a doctor, by the way.” He extended his hand.

“If you mean her,” Dickson pointed at the girl on the swing, “yes, that’s Maureen Dickson, my daughter.”

“Well, John — may I call you John? — you saw the newspapers this morning, the Supreme Court refusing to take my case against the school our kids attend.”

“Yes, I read the whole story here” — he pulled the paper up from his bicycle bag. “You’re mad because the Court refused to forbid the recitation of the pledge with the phrase, ‘under God’ in it.”

“Yes. What I’m wondering is, would you be willing to enter the case as a plaintiff, since your little girl there, Maureen, has to recite the same pledge?”

“I forget. Why wouldn’t the Supreme Court see your case through?”

“Because Sally — my daughter — can’t be represented by me.”

“Why not? You’re the father.”

“Well . . . I don’t live with Sally’s mother. And under the law, if the parents aren’t married, the mother has legal rights, and her mother is — a Christian.”

“You don’t live with Sally’s mother, you’re divorced — “

“Actually, we were never married. By the way, I’m also a lawyer.”

“And you’re against the pledge of allegiance because it includes, ‘under God’?”

“Right. None of that business of a state invoking God!”

“You took a pledge when you became a doctor?”

“Yes, of course, the Hippocratic oath, modern form.”

“The Hippocratic oath has you saying you ‘must not play at God.’ Are you going to ask the Supreme Court to declare that oath unconstitutional?”

“Now wait a minute, Dickson, I just wanted to know if you would agree to serve as a plaintiff on behalf of your daughter, Maureen — “

“But I have to figure out what you’re trying to do for your girl, before I decide whether I want to help you.” John Dickson reached for the newspaper. “You said when interviewed after you presented your case that appearing before the Supreme Court had been a great experience but . . .” — he looked down at the text — “‘But the experience of a lifetime is to love your kid and be with her.’ But it isn’t the court that’s keeping you from the experience of a lifetime. What’s keeping you is you have yet to marry the mother.”

“The fact I didn’t marry Sandra has nothing to do with the pledge of allegiance.”

“But you’re attempting to take the pledge of allegiance away from all the students at your daughter’s school, and all students everywhere. And it says here that your wife — I mean, the mother of your child — is in favor of her little girl reciting the full pledge, and of course that California law gives her, not the absent-from-the-house father, standing in a court trial. Are you trying to get that law changed too? And while you’re at it, Newdow, you intend to do something about the Hippocratic oath?”

“What about the Hippocratic oath?”

“The provision in it that says you mustn’t play God.”

“Who says I was trying to play God?”

“I say it. You impregnate a woman who gives birth to the child, you refuse to marry her or live with her, you protest the policies of the school the girl goes to, and you want to impose your values on the school. So that all the little boys in that school will grow up like you, a doctor who violates his Hippocratic oath, and refuses to live up to the responsibilities of a father? I call that playing God.”

They both ducked, avoiding the speed ball that whizzed by.


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