By Tom Duley

I am writing this article at an odd time in the schedule of Speaker's Corner. Thirteen candidates and about 90 people attended October's Mayoral Forum, including Mayor Kincaid and rival Carole Smitherman. The line of the night had to go to Willis "Buddy" Hendrix, he concluded his stump speech with the line, "I don't really want this job, it is too complicated." Speaker's Corner applauds an honest politician.

On Oct. 24, a debate on the Death Penalty was held. It was fun and well attended. Both sides made excellent points and I would like to thank all who attended.

Since I don't officially have an upcoming event to write about, I am going to use this time and space to write a purely opinion piece. The views expressed in this article from this point forward are my views alone. They do not represent the views of Speaker's Corner, or any member of Speaker's Corner.

Recently the Supreme Court decided to review the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on the constitutionality of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. I absolutely believe they should confirm the lower court's decision, which effectively removes that phrase from the pledge. And yes, I also believe it should be removed from money, and all other government-issued documents.

My reasons for believing this are two-fold. First, everyone in this country must be free to practice whichever religion they choose, or no religion if that is their choice.

The government should have no opinion in the matter. Second, and equally important, is that the non-interference of the government is absolutely essential for freedom of religion, and for religion to flourish.

In order for people to be free to practice any religion, the government must remain completely neutral on the idea of religion. Government should have a "don't ask, don't tell" policy for all citizens concerning religion. They should not ask us what religion we practice, nor should they tell us what religion they prefer. The phrase "under God" does endorse specific religions. It endorses a patriarchal, monotheistic, religious ideal. This is found almost exclusively in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Many of our citizens do not follow or believe in these religions, and their tax dollars should not go to endorse them. Some people believe that there are many gods. The largest religion in the world, Hinduism, is a polytheistic religion. Hindus who live in America should not be forced to endorse a religion that is opposite their beliefs. Neither should the Wiccans, who are not only polytheists but also believe in male and female deities, be forced to endorse a religious ideal with which they do not agree. There are atheists and agnostics among us, and I hate to sound like a broken record but they should not be forced to endorse religion by having their tax dollars used to support a belief in God.

In order for religion to remain free, citizens must fight to keep religion separate from the state. In this country, about 90% of the population says they believe in some sort of god. In Europe, where there is state sponsored religion, that number is closer to 70%. In order for religion to flourish, it cannot be seen as a tool of the government. People must choose to find religion on their own. It cannot be forced on them from the outside. This only creates resentment, not deep abiding faith. Churches should fight the hardest to remain free from the shackles of the federal or state government. When government creeps too far into religion, it begins to subvert it. What if the Catholic church were forced to abide by anti-discrimination laws and allow women to become priests? What if the Southern Baptists had to allow homosexuals to be ordained ministers? Such mandates would drastically change those institutions. In addition, this would effectively do away with the autonomy of the church. Conversely religion will subvert government if it creeps in too far. My grandmother always told me that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case she is absolutely right. I agree with Thomas Jefferson who said, "The First Amendment should be interpreted as a wall between church and state." This is the only way to guarantee freedom of religion, and the independence of both the church and the state.

Many people have argued that it is a minor thing to have "under God" on U.S. money and in the pledge, but it is not. It reveals our hypocrisy and weakens the freedoms upon which this country was founded. Also don't fall for the lie that this is an old tradition, or what the Founding Fathers intended. This phrase was not added to either the pledge or currency until 1954. It was added as an attempt to unite God-fearing Americans against the atheistic Communists. We should also view this in the light of the current war on terrorism, and the assault on our civil rights under the Patriot Act. Just as we cannot allow the government to erode our civil right to privacy under the guise of fighting terrorism, we should not have allowed the government to intrude into our civil right to religious freedom in the name of fighting Communism. It is time to remedy this mistake. This is the only way to guarantee our religious freedoms, and to prevent government from taking over and distorting religion. If we begin the process now, hopefully it won't take 50 years to get the government out of our private lives completely.

On Friday, Nov. 31, we will have our first "Open Gripe" night. The idea is for you to come and have the opportunity to address whatever issue you like. This should be really fun so I hope to see you there. Remember, the cure for apathy is involvement!