Vol XLIX, No. 3             March 2003

Buddhist association supports removal of

'God' from Pledge

A secular Pledge ofAllegiance offers

more liberty, the group says

By Mary Adamski


Members of Hawaii's largest Buddhist denomination voted last month in support of restoring the original text of the Pledge of Allegiance, minus a reference to God.

"The surest way to protect the rights of every citizen and the integrity of religion in America is to keep the government neutral on religious matters", said the resolution approved at the Hawaii State Federation of Hompa Hongwanji Lay Associations convention Sept 14 in Hilo.

A secular Pledge of Allegiance does not mean that we are a nation hostile to'vards religion; it means we have a goveinment that respects our freedom of conscience and allows Americans to make up their own minds about matters of faith," the measure said.

The resolution was supported by 130 delegates from 36 Hongwanji temples in the statce, said Mitsuo Murashige of Hilo, outgoing president of the federation. It was sent to President Bush, Hawaii’s congressional delegates. the goven,or state legislators, the state Board of Education and local and national Buddhist groups.

"What the delegates wanted was to support separation of church and state." Murashige said, and to restore the Pledge of Allegiance to the words of its 19th-certury composer, Francis BeIlamy. Congress inserted the phrase "under God" in 1954.

The Buddhist group endorsed a June 26 ruling in which the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the reference to God amounts to an endorsement of monotheism. The fedoral court put the 2-

I decision of a three judge panel on hold after explosive negative response in Congress and throughout the country.

"Buddlists are pacifists; we usually just keep quiet." said Bob Asato, a member of Mililani Hongwanji. He and his wife, June, drafted the resolution because "we felt we need to remind people that Aineirica is for everyone, even an atheist."

"People with other beliefs forget; they are not aware;" Asato said.

June Asato said: "Deep in our hearts, we know we are included. I don't like to make waves, but some people need to be reminded."

She said the change to the Pledge of Allegiance was made when she was in elementary school. "Suddenly we were told we had to say 'under God," the retired public school teacher said. "My father said, 'If you don't want to say it you don't have to. ' I have never said it."

She added: "My daughter was an activist in high school. She said, 'Mom, why did you let it happen?’ These kind of things .. we just let it happen.

"I was offended when Congress reacted the way they did. When Mazie Hirono said that was big rnistake, I was offended," she said.

"LOYALTY TO COUNTRY has nothing to do with religion," said Roy Miyamoto of the Hompa Hongwanji Betsuin in Honolulu. He cited the many Buddhists who fought in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and other units during World War II.

"The Hawaii group their patriotism was not dependent on religion," Miyamoto said. He said the convention delegates discussed that history, recalling in that war there were only three designations for religion on dog tags: Protestant, Catholic or Jewish.

"During the Korean War they could put a B there," he said

It was the second year in a row that the Buddhist organilzation took a stand on a controversial issue. Last year, the Hompa Hongwanji convention urged the leadershipof the Boy Scouts of America to reconsider its policy on sexual orientation even though ejection of a gay adult Scout leader in New Jersey was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Scouts' policy "would deny individuals their rights, as well as some sponsonng organizations their respective rights of expressive association mid may favor certain religious organizations over others," the 2001 resolution said. It pointed out that the Boy Scout bylaws state the organizatton "is absolutely nonsectarian in its attitude toward religious training, that it does not define what constitutes duty to God or the practice of religion, leaving the matters to parents arid religious Ieaders."

'Miyamoto, former Hongwanji federation president, said delegates were suggesting that the issue of excluding gays is something the Boy Scouts should leave to the sponsoring churches and other organizations. The Honolulu temple has sponsored a Boy Scout troop for 50 years, he said, one of several Buddhist organizations to do so.

"We believe in inclusiveness," Miyamoto said. "The Buddha made 48 vows in achieving enlighitenment. No 18, titled the primal vow, is to include all sentient beings. The concept is that we should not be excluding anyone.

"We know not all churches have the same attitudes," he said. "We appreciate the differences. Our ideal is that there would be some new forum at least to discuss the issue.

The 2001 resolution pointed out that the Boy Scout’s federal charter authorized the organization to adopt rules "not inconsistent with the laws of the United States of Arnerica or any state" and that Congress has the right to repeal or amend the charter.

The measure was sent to the Boy Scouts of America, the Aloha Council of Boy Scouts, the US. Supreme Court and Hawaii congressional members.

"There is a Buddhist chant, 'Barn bara de issho,' that translates, 'fiom diversity there is harmony or unity,"' Miyamoto said. "It is the same basic concept as 'E pluribus unum' -- 'one from many-"'

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