The Corner

Offends V. Harms

From a reader:

Dear Mr. Goldberg,

Your argument for leaving the pledge alone is that removing the words now

would do more harm than good. Who is harmed by removing ‘under God’? 90% of the American people may oppose altering the pledge, but are they actually harmed by the words being removed? If so, how? Certainly, the removal of ‘under God’ does not make the pledge contradict anyone’s religious beliefs. At most, it removes an affirmation of their religious beliefs – but to say

that is harmful is as absurd as saying the pledge’s current omission of the

phrase ‘under God, washed of sin by the sacrifice of Christ’ is harmful to Christians as it doesn’t affirm those beliefs either.

The appeal to tradition works if there is no particular reason for the

change. Tradition is a perfectly valid argument against exchanging the

meanings of the words ‘down’ and ‘up’. However, it is quite clear that the

pledge as is manifestly harms atheists. They are forced to swear a pledge

containing words which contradict their beliefs. In light of this, your

appeal to tradition simply does not apply.

ME: I think this is just flat wrong. First of all, if tradition can be overturned because of a “particular reason” then tradition can always be overturned because there will always be “particular reasons” for overturning it. There needs to be a “good reason” for overturning tradition (indeed, isn’t that the whole logic behind stare decisis?). This reader sugggests that that good reason is the “manifest harm” done to atheists. Wrong again. The pledge does not harm atheists, it offends atheists — a much lower standard. And, again, if offense alone can overturn tradition then tradition has no power whatsoever.

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