In his letter published Oct. 4, Frank Russo very nicely demonstrates the dangers of making a display of "In God We Trust" in our public schools. He impugns the integrity and patriotism of individual school board members by asking whether they feel "inner repulsion and disgust" when they say the Pledge of Allegiance. This is a shabby rhetorical device exactly equivalent to the classic example of asking Mr. Russo "whether he is still beating his wife."
Personally, I have not made up my mind about whether it is wrong to display "In God We Trust" in the schools in the context of its being our national motto. As Ian Marcellus suggests in his excellent and courageous letter, why don't we also display other mottoes, such as "In America We Trust" or "In Democracy We Trust" or "In The People We Trust" along with the "In God We Trust" plaques in order to stimulate thought, discussion and, yes, controversy among the students?
I've written before to the Port News of my concern about expressions of distrust of democracy and outright attacks on our liberties and democratic institutions. Many of these attacks are made under the banner of patriotism linked to a narrow view of piety. We've seen calls for prayer in our schools and support for book banning. Several months ago, the Commander of the American Legion attacked as "ungrateful ... malcontents" those who disagreed with his view that the only place to build the World War II Memorial was in the middle of The Mall in Washington, DC. His biggest complaint was that people who thought the Memorial should be erected on another site had gone to court seeking a decision to settle the matter!
Today, our country is in great peril. People have died. Our president has called us to war. Everything that makes America worth defending seems more precious - and more fragile - than ever. It hurts to see it attacked in the name of such a banal view of patriotism. And it pains me greatly that the defense of our liberties, our rights and our individual consciences is so often reduced to platitudes and nervous fears of creating "controversy." This is a time for courage and for marshaling all of our intelligence, strength and creativity. It's a time for unity of purpose, not attempting to impose uniformity of thought and beliefs.