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Is it time to counter religious bullying?

Religious Right bombards NBC over Pledge wording

If ever you needed evidence of the Religious Right's impressive organization and zeal, take a look at the gross overreaction of the American Family Association to NBC's decision last weekend to run the "Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag" without the "under God" wording at the start of the U.S. Open golf tournament broadcast. Someone in the NBC chain of command decided to edit out those words, not just once but twice, although it's not clear whether the edit was done by mistake, for reasons of time limitations, or as some kind of religious-political statement.

Whatever the reason, NBC apologized during the U.S. Open broadcast, apparently having received complaints immediately after the edited Pledge was aired. So you might think that the whole issue would go away quickly.

Not so fast. Dissatisfied with the apology, the right-wing American Family Association issued an action alert to its members this week urging them to "demand an explanation" by bombarding NBC with phone calls and emails. The AFA even gives "talking points" to its members, advising them to tell NBC, "I am furious with NBC for leaving 'under God' out of the Pledge," that "NBC's on-air apology is completely unsatisfactory, because NBC did not admit which part of the Pledge has been removed," and that "I am calling to insist on an explanation from NBC for this grossly unpatriotic act."

Of course, since the "under God" wording was added to the Pledge in 1954 during the McCarthy era, and since the "under God" wording unnecessarily excludes millions of Americans who don't believe the nation is under a deity, one could argue that utilizing the God-free version of the Pledge is actually more patriotic. After all, the God-free version was used during the victorious First and Second World Wars.

More importantly, however, the AFA's religious bullying highlights the need for an organized, zealous Secular American demographic to counter the Religious Right's aggressive tactics. Wouldn't it be nice if Secular Americans could offset the AFA's actions with a massive grassroots campaign telling NBC that the pre-McCarthy Pledge was perfectly acceptable? Or even thanking them for airing it?

The Secular American demographic is huge - at least 15 to 20 percent of the population, arguably more - and this issue calls out for its emergence. The AFA, by throwing its weight around like this, convinces the media, the public, and politicians that most Americans approve of anti-secular sentiments and actions. Because the Religious Right is so organized and active, they can convince corporate and government interests that they are more powerful than they really are. Perhaps it's time for Secular Americans to provide some balance?

Dave Niose's new book, Nonbeliever Nation, will be released by Palgrave Macmillan in July.

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