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To pledge or not to pledge

Some Lawrence County residents are not saluting the ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California.

This court's July 26 ruling declared that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance violates separation of church and state.

"It's very pathetic that we would have a higher court take away the right to say the pledge," Thomas Ben, superintendent of the Symmes Valley Local School District, said. "We ought to look at what our country was based on We left Europe for religious freedom.

"Atheists have the opportunity to practice what they believe. Why should anyone condemn the Christian part of our society? There was no concern about communism when our country was founded."

Even though some atheists may agree with the court's ruling, Jerry Smith, commander of VFW Post 8850 in Ironton, said they are outnumbered.

"A lot of blood has been spilled because of that flag," Smith said. "Atheists are the minority in the country."

Theresa Adkins, director of federal programs and curriculum for the Chesapeake Union Exempted School District, said during her 18 years of teaching middle school, she had one student who opted out of the pledge recitation.

"When it was time to say the pledge, the student would leave the room," Adkins said. "I didn't make a fuss, and neither did the other students.

"We've already set a precedent. This is something that's quite controversial, especially after Sept 11 when people are turning back to God."

Members of the religious community are also disturbed.

"Taking out 'under God' would be denying the Christian heritage of our country," said Alan Tison, pastor of Central Christian Church. "That Christian heritage goes back to the 1600s and 1700s."

However, at least one atheist disagrees with these views.

"We support this ruling 100 percent," said Joe Zamecki, office manager of the American Atheists Center in Cranford, N.J. "We've been advocating for this for decades."

Zamecki said the phrase "under God" was added to the pledge in 1954, during the Red Scare.

"It created a litmus test for Americans," he said. "When they showed their patriotism, they also needed to show their faith."

Zamecki said atheists are just as patriotic and love their country just as much as Christians. However, he believes that government institutions, such as schools, are not the place for declarations of faith.

"The government is supposed to take a neutral position when it comes to religion," Zamecki said.

Zamecki's seven-year-old daughter attends a public school where the pledge is recited daily.

"We have educated her on what the pledge means and have allowed her to do what she wants to do about it," he said. "She says everything in the pledge except for 'under God'. No one else makes a fuss."

However, he fears this will not be the case when school starts this fall.

"Michael Nudow, the man in California who brought this case to the court, and his daughter have both received death threats," he said. "They have been forced to relocate. I don't want my daughter to suffer retribution from either teachers or her fellow students."

Zamecki added that one phrase in the pledge is "hurtful."

"All our lives, that pledge has had that phrase in there. It tells us that we're not Americans. We vote, we give blood, we pick up trash on the side of the road. We love our country. We also have nothing against Christians. Most of them are wonderful people. However, there are some who want to impose their beliefs on us.

"The pledge was good before 1954. It was a secular pledge. Now, the idea of unity is being ripped out." Amelia Pridemore/The Ironton Tribune