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Church and State in America, by Lapham’s Quarterly


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"Recognizing the disastrous effects of enforced uniformity of opinion has been an admirable constant of the American political character. To my mind the finest modern expression of it can be found in Justice Robert Jackson’s 1943 opinion—written when wartime pressures to conform to America’s patriotic ideal were predictably strong—that struck down a law requiring the uniform recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette); this passage from it ends with one of the greatest sentences in all of American jurisprudence:

Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard. There is no mysticism in the American concept of the state or of the nature or origin of its authority. We set up government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent…If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

Hmmm, so as kids in school we were all reciting the Pledge of Allegiance by choice?

Sure didn't feel like we had a choice. 

It was about the third grade in elementary school when I got my first true dose of pride in America. The entire class, but one boy, was standing for the Pledge. Obviously his family didn't want him to... and he didn't have to.

Wow that's brave. I really don't feel like I ever had that option. 

I did that one year as an experiment. 

And it turned out okay for you?

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