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When Atheists Attack

First, it was San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom greenlighting gay marriage and Ralph Nader announcing that he's running again for president that were being touted as election-year wedgies.

And now it's self-professed atheist Rev. Dr. Mike Newdow's arguments for deleting "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance that are being viewed as the next potential election-year bombshell--at least that's the tip from Santa Cruz-based law professor Paul Sanford, who'll be holding Newdow's hand, so to speak, on March 24, when Newdow will appear before the U.S. Supreme Court to argue that his daughter should be able to attend school "free from daily theistic indoctrination, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution."

As Sanford points out, the way the pledge is currently worded, by the time kids graduate from high school, they'll have recited "under God" an amazing 2,350 times. All of which, Sanford says, adds up to a walloping dose of indoctrination--or humiliation, embarrassment and ostracization, depending on what a kid decides to do about the pledge.

"What choice does a third-grader whose parents believe that a monotheistic approach has devalued humanity--and as such is morally abhorrent to them--have when faced with the extraordinary pressure within elementary school to conform?" Sanford asks. "Especially given that their teacher is required by law to lead the class in the pledge, which includes the words, 'under God.' Expecting young school kids to leave the room, sit down or simply not say these words puts them in a horrible position, while denying them a way to express their patriotism."

Nüz could also argue that asking people who aren't old enough to vote to make daily expressions of patriotism is also indoctrination, but that would be just silly, now wouldn't it?

Anyway, Sanford believes that "if four justices, or more, agree with Mr. Newdow's position, then the next day the president will stand in front of the American flag and ask for another constitutional amendment, to put God back in the Pledge."

But can Newdow win? That question certainly got a little more interesting when Justice Antonin Scalia, in a delicious case of duck hunters getting their just deserts, had to recuse himself from the case after he criticized the U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals for ruling in Newdow's favor--criticisms he made at a Religious Freedom Day event sponsored by the Knights of Columbus. The Knights are of course the very same organization that led the campaign to add "under God" to the pledge in 1954, at the height of McCarthyism.

Fifty years later, the number of adult Americans who are godless has grown to 14.1 percent, according to the latest American Religious Identification Survey, which assumedly means that the other 85.9 percent are under one god or another, though which one is a can of worms the conservatives don't want to get into.

All of which leads Sanford to believe that if Newdow prevails, "a substantial number of people in every community across America, including Santa Cruz, will be outraged and polarized in the same way they are around gay marriage and abortion--while topics like world hunger, poverty and war on Iraq won't be being discussed."

Forget Me Nots

With the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq only days away, a newly formed chapter of Veterans for Peace has installed a memorial flag garden for the Iraqi dead around the Collateral Damage sculpture that sits next to the Town Clock. The memorial consists of 600 individual red or white flags, each inscribed with the name of a coalition soldier who has died in Iraq, with each flag also representing about 20 Iraqis who have also died as a result of this war. On March 13, people will gather at 11am at San Lorenzo Park for a meditation for peace, followed at noon by a procession of mourning for the dead in Iraq and a commemoration of U.S. and Iraqi dead. Call 831.423.1626, ext. 103, or check www.RCNV.org.

Cleaning Your Clock

After visiting the above mentioned installation last Friday, Nüz glanced up at the Town Clock to check the time--only to find that the clock's face was entirely blank. Had a time-space discontinuum been triggered by Martha Stewart's conviction, Mel Gibson's Passion or the decision of County Clerk Richard Bedal not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Santa Cruz County?

A call to Tom Kemp at the city's Parks and Recreation Department revealed a more mundane answer, namely that one of the clock's four faces had broken, causing all four sides to freeze.

"So, we sent up our big-giant-clock repair man, and he was able to disconnect one face from the others, so now we have three faces running and just one face frozen in time," said Kemp, who assured Nüz that all four faces should soon be up and running--at least until the city repaints the Town Clock, at which point all four dials will be taken off and, says Kemp, "no time will be available."

Left Hook

Later on Friday, even as Dubya was demonizing Dems as being "bitter and full of partisan anger," two guys by the name of James and Dave showed up at our office with an 5-foot-high bright-blue inflatable Commander in Chief punching doll. Nüz couldn't help noticing that this doll was rather phallic, thanks to its bright-pink head. Luckily, however, any potential arousal value this might have had was fully destroyed by the pair of ears sticking out from either side of the Bush doll's face.

Besides, the stated purpose of the punching dolls, according to BopBush inventor Hank McCormick's press release, "is to catalyze in people behaviors of resistance and rejection and to manifest public images of a collective desire to rid our country of corrupt leadership."

Asked if the sight of people bopping Bush, albeit an inflatable version of him, will lead to further accusations of "partisan anger," James loyally defended the integrity of his dolls, noting that Cruzans have been most receptive to them, with one guy even jumping out of his car in traffic just to throw a punch.

"BopBush punching dolls are positively healthy for you," James declared. "They're good for your abs and leg muscles, and they also work the dialect. And we think anger is warranted when you're invading sovereign countries on false pretexts and taking advantage of democracy. Calling Dems angry is like calling people unpatriotic. It's just a tactic to keep us apathetic by encouraging us to be docile." Nüz found this convincing enough to inspire a left hook that, not to brag or anything, took that doll down.

Nüz just loves juicy tips: Drop a line to 115 Cooper St, Santa Cruz, 95060, email us at , or call our hotline at 457.9000, ext 214.

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From the March 10-17, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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