The latest GOP "jihad" on free speech was triggered at a high school graduation ceremony on Thursday, when the student body president at Justice High school in Fairfax County, Virginia recited the pledge of allegiance and replaced “God” with the word “Allah” — as in one nation “under Allah.”
Among those on the far right who took offense at the substitution was a panel of commentators on conservative media outlet Newsmax, whose members extensively decried the student's choice of words on air.
I’ve developed an adage in the past few years: “Every time we trigger a Trump supporter, an angel gets their wings.” So I have to applaud the student for causing a panel of Trump-loving Newsmax guests to freak out by uttering a single harmless word.
In fact, this article should come with a trigger warning for right wingers, because they will read the word “Allah” many times. Even my own last name might cause conservative blood pressure to rise, given it contains the word "Allah.” (My last name translates from Arabic into English as “little servant of God.”)
Of course, the word Allah is simply the word for God in Arabic. Allah is not the name of the “Muslim” God, as the far right wants you to think, but the same God worshiped by all three Abrahamic faiths: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Indeed, the word "Allah" is used for "God" by both Christian and Muslim Arabs alike.
But facts don’t matter when it comes to the right wing’s culture war — all that matters is outrage so that people watching can forget for a moment that former president Donald Trump got crushed in the 2020 election. Hence, the Newsmax freakout.
One Newsmax panelist, Melanie Collette, said that uttering “Allah” in the Pledge of Allegiance was “an absolute disgrace." Republican strategist Amanda Makki slammed the use of "Allah" because, as she put it, “We're a Judeo-Christian nation.”
The message, of course, is that Muslims are not part of this nation’s founding. In reality, nearly 30 percent of the enslaved Africans brought to North America were Muslim. So Muslims were here before United States and in fact helped build it.
Makki went on to blame President Joe Biden, declaring, “President Biden has just made it so easy for people to just do whatever they want and say the things that they want.”
The word "Allah" is used for "God" by both Christian and Muslim Arabs alike.
But the winner of the conservative freak-out Olympics was GOP strategist Mark Vargas, who slammed the student as “un-American” and “unpatriotic,” ominously stating that there “needs to be consequences for this.” Vargas suggested that this “young student perhaps serve a year serving in the military, and I think that would change her perspective."
But by Friday, Vargas was back on NewsMax following the lead of his beloved Trump, doubling down on his comment. This time Vargas falsely accused the high school student of having committed a crime by saying “Allah,” and demanded that “the state attorney general to look into this.”
First, Vargas is 100 percent wrong — there’s no criminal violation for saying the word “Allah” in the Pledge of the Allegiance instead of God. Just as it’s no crime to replace “God” with “Dios,” the Spanish for God — or saying any other word you want to say. The federal law that lays out the pledge of allegiance includes no penalties. And in the bigger picture, the student can’t be prosecuted for saying “Allah” because that’s protected by the First Amendment.
This event simply exemplifies yet again the instincts of some in the GOP to silence anything they don’t want people to say — even by threat of criminal prosecution. This is the same mindset driving the current slew of GOP-championed laws banning teachers — at the possible risk of losing their jobs — from teaching students about critical race theory and systemic racism.
The GOP appears to be literally taking a page from the Chinese Communist Party, which has mandated a “patriotic” curriculum that bans what the government has deemed the “wrong ideas and ideology” — meaning ideology that the state perceives as threatening to its regime. Both the Chinese Communist party and the GOP want to indoctrinate students only with the “facts” that help them remain in power.
The real question that should be asked here is why the word “God” is even in the pledge of allegiance in the first place. When the pledge was original drafted in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a socialist and the son of a Baptist minister, it did not contain the word God. That was added later, in 1954, when then President Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, encouraged Congress to add the words “under God” to distinguish the United States from the “godless communists.” (The irony should not be lost on the fact that today’s GOP is now mimicking the Chinese Communist party they once strived to differentiate themselves from.)
The word “God” should not be in the pledge in any language. It’s not that I’m an atheist — in fact, my relationship with God is very important to me. But it’s clear from Thomas Jefferson, the founding father who wrote the Declaration of Independence, that there should absolutely be “a wall of separation between church and state,” explaining “that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God.” Jefferson would be appalled that Congress included the word “God” in our pledge of allegiance.
I probably just triggered another panel on Newsmax with that argument. And I’m glad. We can’t self-censor and allow the extreme forces on the right to silence us. And I vow never to allow that — so help me Allah.