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One Nation Under Vulcan

When Congressman Jim McDermott dropped the words “under God” in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before the House of Representatives, some were shocked.  Even Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi admonished McDermott.  But many on the liberal-left want to eliminate that phrase and have expressed that sentiment about court cases on the matter.  Some in the media have done so, too.

When the New York City Board of Education unanimously adopted a resolution requiring public schools to lead students in the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of every school day, the New York Civil Liberties Union strongly objected.  It said that students who are not American citizens might be “scapegoated or targeted for harassment” if they did not participate.  Groups supporting removal of the phrase “under God” in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court included American Atheists, the Anti-Defamation League, the Council for Secular Humanism and the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

In the media, New York Times columnist William Safire wrote a column objecting to the words “under God.”  He said it was a mistake for Congress to have included them.  In a column in USA Today, Tony Mauro, Supreme Court correspondent for American Lawyer Media and Legal Times, declared, “In your heart of hearts, you know, and the court likely knows, that deleting ‘under God’ from the pledge is the right answer in a nation that is supposed to respect those who believe in no God or believe in other higher beings with other names.  As the lower court suggested, if you would object to the words ‘under Zeus’ or ‘under no God,’ then you should also have problems with ‘under God.'”

His reference to “under Zeus” raises another sticky problem.  Zeus was the most powerful of the Greek gods.  While a statue of Zeus is not being erected in the city of Birmingham, Alabama, a statue of Vulcan, the Roman God of fire, has been restored there.  The March issue of Smithsonian magazine has an article about it.  This Vulcan is 55-feet-tall and the largest cast-iron statue in the world.  It was conceived by city leaders as a symbol of Alabama’s mineral and manufacturing resources.

But if a monument of the Ten Commandments has to be removed from the Alabama Supreme Court because it is religious, should the Roman God of Fire stand as an official symbol of Birmingham?  The question might strike some as bizarre, but that’s only because many are not familiar with the history of how the Romans regarded Vulcan as a real God and actually worshipped him.  They believed that if he stoked his furnace too hard, volcanoes would erupt on earth.

Christians were arrested, charged with treason, thrown into prison and tortured for not worshipping the Roman gods.  Valentine’s Day was originally a holiday in honor of a priest named Valentine who helped Christians escape from prison.  He was himself imprisoned and then killed for declaring the Roman gods false gods.  Few people today know about St. Valentine.  On the other hand, Cupid became a symbol of the holiday.  He was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love and beauty.  Presumably, that aspect of this holiday wouldn’t offend people like Congressman McDermott.