Twilight of the running back

Last week, the highest state court in Massachusetts ruled that public schools can require recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance because "under God" is patriotic, rather than religious, in nature. "Under God" is a powerful concept in religion, natural law and American civic history. It may be right or wrong in any of these contexts. But the Massachusetts high court seems to think that what makes the phrase OK is that people are just mouthing it, nobody really believes it! Many Founding Fathers were churchgoing agnostics, which was not unusual in the 18th century when "agnostic" lacked the anti-religious subtext it has today. (Your columnist is a churchgoing agnostic.) The Founders didn't like empty phrases. Why do backers of the "under God" aspect of the Pledge of Allegiance?

Beyond that is the question of what the Founders would think of a public requirement to "pledge allegiance" to civic authority. They pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to a refusal to state allegiance to British government. In the Founders' view, governments must earn the allegiance of voters, rather than demand it.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote the dissent in the Supreme Court's public prayer case. Here is another dissent, from an itinerant preacher named Jesus: "When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." (Matthew 6:5-6, KJV.)

The "corners of the streets" today would mean "at public events," while "the synagogues" in today's context is any place of worship or televised worship event. "Thy closet" means "in private" -- at the time, people were fortunate if they had a closet-sized area in which to be alone.

Jesus disliked public prayer, considering it an affectation, like thumping your chest. True prayer is between you and the divine -- being observed while you pray is antithetical to the whole concept. Because his disciples thought their rabbi's view quirky, they pressured him for an example of proper prayer. Jesus responded with the Lord's Prayer, the only public prayer he is known to have offered. The whole public-prayer issue could be resolved rather simply if the Supreme Court simply endorsed Jesus' teachings on the subject.

Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney has been an athletic celebrity since he was a junior in high school. This happens to basketball players, but is rare for football players. Clowney has incredible gifts. But change just one play, and would he have been the consensus first choice?

His big hit in the Outback Bowl came against an unusually small player, 175-pound Vincent Smith, whose chinstrap wasn't buckled -- and a botched line call meant Clowney was unblocked. In every game of 2013, Clowney made a highlight-reel quality stop but also took many downs off, especially when the ball was headed the other way. Successful NFL defenders are guys who really want it and are willing to pay the price. Clowney doesn't have that vibe.

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