“I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” This is the Pledge of Allegiance as it was originally written (Greenberg, 2002). It is easy enough to tell that the pledge contains no reference to God, or even to the United States. The insertion of the phrase “under God” is a direct violation of the establishment clause, encroaches on freedom of speech, and contradicts the basic principles of our nation’s founding. Our constitution specifically states that the government may not endorse any religious opinions. Even aside from the establishment clause, such cases have been ruled violations of the right to free speech, or the right to remain silent. Mandatory recitation of the pledge, which is still practiced in some states, is clearly an encroachment on the right to freedom of speech. Not only is this phrase unconstitutional but it is counter-productive to the original goal of the American colonies: religious freedom. There is yet another point of interest in this matter. What would the original writer think if he saw what had been done to his poem long after his death? This pledge, in respect for the laws and principles of this nation, and equally in respect to its author, should be returned to its original form.
This issue was originally brought about in 1953, when George Docherty, a Scottish immigrant, first heard the pledge. Docherty later said “It struck me that it didn’t mention God.” (Gibb, 2002) He recommended the idea to Dwight Eisenhower, who supported it. About 50 years later, Michael Newdow made a challenge to the pledge. His claim that the addition of “under God” to the pledge was an unconstitutional endorsement of monotheism was supported by a district court’s ruling. However, calls to repeal the ruling were made, and were answered by the Supreme Court. The Justices dismissed the case.
The inclusion of the words “under God” in an official government document is a violation of the first amendment, which specifically states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Even voluntary student-led recitation of religious phrases places students not in agreement with these views in a position where, as stated by the Supreme Court, they must either acknowledge these beliefs or publicly protest. Some would argue that the pledge of allegiance is not a law, but a law must be made to change the text or accept it as an official document. Many would-be protectors of the pledge argue that very few Americans are non-religious or polytheistic, or even that those already small numbers are dropping. These numbers are, in fact, increasing at a phenomenal rate. Between 1990 and 2001 this number grew from 10% to 18% (Wikipedia, 2007). These statistics show that nearly 1 out of every 5 Americans does not believe in a single God.
An interesting and much overused claim of those who wish “under God” to remain in the pledge is that Abraham Lincoln supported Christianity in government. This may be true, but why does it matter? Has Abraham Lincoln become the deceased dictator of our nation? True, Abraham Lincoln used the phrase “under God” in the Gettysburg address, but the main point of his speech was to question whether our nation is strong enough to hold true to its basis. He questioned whether “any nation so conceived can long endure.” Lincoln may have supported Christianity, but he definitely supported our nation obeying the constitution. He also claimed that the vast majority of his political ideals were based on Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was adamantly opposed to any kind of institutionalized religion. Some even claim that the framers of the nation wanted institutionalized religion. The only passages in the constitution that refer to religion are these:
1. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” (Constitution, Amendment I)
2. “But no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office,” (Constitution, Article VI)
3. “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven,” (Constitution, Article VII).
Clearly these passages do not imply that the founders of our nation supported government endorsement of religion.
Previously, the Supreme Court had ruled that even voluntary student led religious activities at school-affiliated events were unconstitutional (Greenberg, 2004). So why did they rule that the pledge was constitutional? The answer is one known by very few people: they did not. The Supreme Court has never ruled that keeping “under God” in the pledge is constitutional. Because the plaintiff used poor reasons for suing, the court was able to dodge the attack on the beloved pledge by noting that Michael Newdow, the plaintiff, had no legal basis for bringing the case to court. Many people use as an argument the false claim that the Supreme Court found the phrase constitutional, and has ruled many similar phrases constitutional. This is a combination of misunderstanding and lies; the Supreme Court has never ruled the pledge constitutional and has traditionally been opposed to institutionalized religion. In fact, Congress has tried to overstep the checks and balances system by proposing a bill that would prevent the Supreme Court from hearing any case involving the removal of “under God” from the pledge. Such types of acts by Congress and the Administration are growing more and more frequent and creating a very disturbing foreshadow of future America (Hamilton, 2004). The “Patriot Act” is another example of Congress attempting to overrule the freedoms on which the U.S. is based.
However some claims of the opposing side are true. It is true that most people want “under God” to remain in the pledge. Still, the way we could exercise democracy to maintain this phrase is by amending, not ignoring, the constitution. Although this fact is largely irrelevant, there is a vast Christian majority. Here is another way to look at the fact of the Christian majority. If an 80% Monotheist majority makes it okay to say that they are superior, then is it acceptable, since 75% of our population is Caucasian (Wikipedia, 2007), to say that Caucasians are a superior race? Hopefully most people realize that this would be unacceptable. Still, most people would agree with the first statement but not the second. The question is, why? Some people, specifically on matters of religion, tend to have a hard time grasping the concept that they could be wrong. It is true that our legal systems dismissed the case, but this was not because the claims were invalid, it was because the basis of the specific case was invalid. This means that a case based on a more solid example could succeed in removing the phrase “under God” from the pledge.
The very purpose of adding “under God” to the pledge has been a failure. The addition of this phrase was an attempt to claim Christianity as an asset usable only by the United States, and to attack “godless communists” because the founders of communism were atheists. How is it any different from communism or fascism to ask students to agree or remain “respectfully” silent? Is this not a violation of our freedoms of speech and expression? Contrary to many claims of the opposing side, the founding fathers did not support the institutionalization of religion. This specific example of institutionalized religion is minor, and I do not believe it will have any effect in and of itself, but it needs to be made clear to this nation that religion has no place in government, and this could be done in Supreme Court. If this phrase can not be removed from the pledge, at least let the Constitution be amended, rather than disregarded. The phrase needs to become an example showing Abraham Lincoln what he really wanted, not that we are capable of inserting religious phrases into a pledge but that a nation founded on these principles can endure, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
- “Demographics of the United States.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 7 May 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_the_United_States
- Gibb, Tom. How the Pledge got God. 28 June 2002. Post-Gazette. http://www.post-gazette.com/nation/20020628undergod0628p3.asp
- Greenberg, David. Why We’re Not One Nation Under God. 28 June 2002. Slate. http://slate.msn.com/?id=2067499.
- Greenberg, David. One Pledge, hold the ‘under God’. 25 Mar. 2004. Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0325/p09s02-coop.html
- Hamilton, Marci. Lunacy of Pledge Protection Act. 23 Sept. 2004. CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2004/LAW/09/23/hamilton.pledge/index.html
- United States Constitution