The column by Charles R. Kesler ("Pledge Issue Reveals Rift of America's View of Itself," Op-Ed Page, Oct. 3) takes the distortion of the Pledge of Allegiance issue, initiated by the Bush campaign, to new heights. He not only condemns those of us who oppose the mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance as unpatriotic, as George Bush has, but has also questioned our morality. This is hogwash and garbage politics at its worst! True patriotism is not merely the love of the symbols of this country, but of the ideals on which it was founded.
One of those ideals is freedom of religious beliefs as embodied in the First Amendment. There are those who believe that to pledge allegiance to anything other than God is to indulge in idolatry. The Massachusetts bill, that Bush says he would have signed, would have put some of these people in a position of choosing between violating their sincerely held religious beliefs or violating the law. This is not patriotism. It is religious bigotry.
Kesler takes this a step further by suggesting that those of us who object to the phrase "one nation under God" are somehow seeking to destroy the moral fiber of this country. I am an atheist. I do not believe that we are "one nation under God." Yet I am a highly moral person and I am just as much a citizen of this country as are Bush and Kesler. If they think that they should be able to force me, and others like me, to recite a pledge in which I do not believe then, I submit, I am more moral and have a greater love of the founding ideals of this country than do they.
If this issue points to a rift in America, it is between true patriots and religious bigots. Bush and Kesler are not on the side of those who love the Constitution.
STEPHEN B. HUNTER