Top 10 Reasons the Words ‘Under God’ Must be Removed from The Pledge of Allegiance
All American Citizens know the Pledge of Allegiance. As children we stand, at the start of the school day, hands on hearts and say ‘I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’. This shibboleth of American culture introduced in1892 has incited controversy for years.
Critical citizens have argued that the pledge amounts to Idolatry, that forcing people to recite it stands in direct opposition to the founding principles of the Nation, that it ignores those who do not have liberty or justice (whether because they are in prison or have been falsely accused), and that it fails to promote an active love and practical support for America but allows people to take comfort in jingoistic patriotism.
However, it was the addition of the words ‘Under God’ in 1954 that has caused the most enduring objections. It is a debate that generates much passion but should the words ‘Under God’ be removed? Here are our top 10 Reasons why they should.
10. The Words ‘Under God’ Were Not Included in the Original Pledge
The original pledge was somewhat shorter. Written by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy in 1892 it read ‘I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all’. The pledge was written for the magazine, The Youth’s Companion to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the New World.
Some years on from the Civil War patriotic feelings amongst American Citizens were at a low level. The Columbus Day celebrations were set to reverse that, a program was designed to allow schools to celebrate the day in a dignified fashion – the key event was the raising of the Flag of the United States and the Pledge of Allegiance.
In subsequent years the Pledge underwent some minor changes to include the words ‘The Flag of the United States of America’, the idea being that it would prevent immigrant citizens from feeling confusion when considering what was meant by ‘my’ flag. It was only in the 1950s that a movement started to add the words ‘under God’ when the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization started to include these words when they made the Pledge of Allegiance. The idea spread in popularity through the organization and resolutions to make the change more general were sent to members of the Government in Washington DC. As a result of this campaign several resolutions were put to the vote in the House of Representatives and the resolution was adopted by the President (Eisenhower) in June 1954.
9. Dr Michael Nedow’s Appeal Did Not Settle the Issue of Constitutionality
Michael Nedow sued his daughter’s school district on the basis that the words ‘Under God’ were unconstitutional. On this basis the school was wrong to require the daily recitation of the Pledge as it inhibited his ability to instruct his daughter in his religious beliefs. When his initial case was unsuccessful he appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
The appeal was initially successful and the Ninth Circuit ruled the words ‘Under God’ to be in contravention of the First Amendment (although one of the three judges felt that the religious content was so small as to be trivial). When the decision was made public there was significant negative reaction and the Senate passed a unanimous resolution approving the use of the words ‘Under God’.
The decision was overturned by the Supreme Court on the basis that Nedow did not have legal custody of his daughter at the time he brought the suit. Nedow filed suit in the District Court shortly after on behalf of some other parents. Based on the previous Ninth Circuit ruling the Judge ruled the Pledge unconstitutional. In yet a further case in 2010 the Ninth Circuit reversed their decision and held the words to be constitutional as the recitation of the Pledge was voluntary. The Court further ruled that Nedow had no standing to file suit.
At the present time there are two conflicting Ninth Court decisions and a decision of the Supreme Court that relates to procedure but not to the question of the constitutionality or unconstitutionality of the use of the words ‘Under God’. The question of constitutionality cannot, therefore, be said to be settled at this time.
8. While the Pledge is Voluntary it Amounts to Coercion When Young Children are Required to Recite it in Schools
As early as 1963 challenges to the constitutionality of the Pledge on the basis of religious coercion were brought before the courts. Before a decision could be made the relevant board of education said that it would not require the plaintiff in the case (a history teacher) to recite the Pledge. In 2003 the question of coercion was decided by a District Judge who opined that the state of Colorado does not have the power to compel anyone, whatever their positon, to recite the pledge. Many other similar rulings have been made at State level. And the Supreme Court has ruled (when considering school prayer) that there is a need to protect the exercise of conscience from ‘subtle coercive pressure’ from schools.
Several states have laws that require students to recite the pledge but allow exemptions if they are excused by their parents on religious grounds. Nevertheless students have been exposed to public ridicule for refusing to stand and say the Pledge. One student from Florida was ridiculed as un-American and removed from his class by a teacher and vice-principal. A student in California claimed to have had his grades docked and was given detention for omitting the words ‘Under God’. Another student claims to have been repeatedly harassed for refusing to say the Pledge as a political protest against the situation in Puerto Rico. She has repeatedly been told that she is disrespecting the military.
The United States of America is supposed to be the ‘Land of the Free’. District courts have repeatedly ruled that people cannot be compelled to recite the Pledge yet, when they stand up for their rights by refusing the recite the pledge or by omitting the words ‘Under God’ they are pilloried and lambasted, in effect denied the very freedoms the flag is meant to represent. The net effect is that the requirement to recite the pledge amounts to coercion.
7. The Use of the Words ‘Under God’ Introduced School Prayer by the Back Door
The prohibitions against school prayer are well established and there have been a number of legal decisions on the constitutionality or otherwise of this practice. In 1962 the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional to require a mandatory daily prayer and a subsequent case ruled that any mandatory requirement for prayer (in the case at issue it was the Lord’s Prayer) in schools must be for a secular purpose and must not, as its primary effect promote or inhibit any particular religion. Prayers cannot take place at graduation (or other similar ceremonies) even if attendance at such events is voluntary or if the prayers are authorized by a prior vote of the student council.
When the bill introducing the words to the Pledge was signed into law by President Eisenhower he said ‘millions of school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty’. What President Eisenhower was effectively saying was that every day pupils would be required to make a declaration to God, in essence, praying.
6. The Use of the Words ‘Under God’ Impinges on the Proper Separation of Church and State
President Eisenhower, when signing the bill to add the words ‘Under God’ into law made the statement referenced and quoted at point 7 above. He also said ‘we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future…we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource’.
The United States of America is a nation that was initially founded by the desire to escape religious persecution, a nation that enshrines in the First Amendment the protection for the free exercise of religious freedoms and prevents the making of laws establishing a state religion. In this quote we see a president of the United States actively seek to put religion, specifically Judeo-Christian religion, at the heart of what it means to be an American.
5. The Words ‘Under God’ Were Added to Separate the USA from Communist Countries, This is no Longer Necessary
The addition of the words ‘Under God’ to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 should be seen against the context of the time. The Cold War was at its height, the McCarthy hunts were at the forefront of the public consciousness – there was a communist around every corner.
The Soviet Union was relentlessly secular so by adding the words ‘Under God’ to the Pledge of Allegiance the USA was able to differentiate itself. Citizens who were not communist, so the thinking went, would, of course, be happy to speak the words ‘Under God’. Anyone who objected could be seen as supporting a communist outlook. This motivation was directly referred to in President Eisenhower’s speech on changing the wording of the pledge quoted above.
4. The Use of the Words ‘Under God’ Impose A Christian Pledge on Citizens Who Follow Other Religions
While a significant majority of American citizens identify as Christian (78%), almost 5% follow another religion (many of whom are polytheist and do not relate to the Judeo-Christian concept of God) and more than 16% do not identify with any religion at all. That means that there are more than 6 million Americans for whom the inclusion of the words ‘Under God’ may pose a concern.
3. The Supreme Court has Ruled the Pledge to be Secular – This is an Affront to Those People Who Have a Genuine Religious Belief
When considering the question of School Prayer the Supreme Court has made specific reference to the Pledge of Allegiance and the use of the words ‘Under God’. The court considered that it was possible for the words to loose their religious meaning over time, merely referring to the fact that the founders of the United States believe that they were founding a nation ‘Under God’. The Court considered it was possible for the Pledge of Allegiance to be considered the recitation of historical fact rather than a religious statement.
This statement is deeply upsetting and insulting to those citizens who have a very real and deep religious belief in God and for whom references to God have significant meaning and this view has been upheld by Supreme Court Justices. To equate the use of such words with a mere historical fact calls their beliefs (and their right to such beliefs as enshrined in the First Amendment) into question.
2. The Words ‘Under God’ in the Pledge are Different From the use of the Words ‘In God We Trust, and ‘God Save this Honorable Court’
People who wish to defend the use of the words ‘Under God’ often mention the references to God on the currency and at the opening of court sessions. While the Court has said that references to God can lose their religious meaning over time (as mentioned above) and are used as an exercise in tradition with little (if any) present day religious relevance. This can be said to be true for the use of the words ‘In God We Trust’ on the currency or ‘God Save This Honorable Court’ as these statements have been in use in their present form for many, many years.
The words ‘Under God’ were added to the Pledge of Allegiance for a specific religious purpose in 1954 – the change took place within living memory. The Pledge is repeated, collectively, on a daily basis in a manner not dissimilar to a prayer, it calls for active participation. This again sets the words in the Pledge apart from the other references to God which are just statements, if you do not want to say ‘In God We Trust’ you are still allowed to spend your Dollars, disagreeing with the statement ‘God Save This Honorable Court’ does not prevent anyone from accessing justice.
1. The Use of the Words ‘Under God’ is Contrary to the First Amendment
The First Amendment specifically prevents the passing of any laws that relate to the establishment of religion (this part of the Amendment is called the Establishment Clause) or prevent the free exercise of religion. As mentioned previously the practice of school prayer has been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Given the inclusion of the words ‘Under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance it is difficult to distinguish the requirement to recite the Pledge with a requirement to say prayers. The inclusion of the words ‘Under God’ does not allow a patriotic polytheist or nontheist to engage in this popular daily affirmation of patriotism with any clear conscience. This is a direct violation of the First Amendment. This unconstitutionality has been formally recognized by the Florida District Court.
Were the words to read under Allah, Jesus or Buddha the conflict with the First Amendment would be clear –the use of the word God in place of a specific named deity (and arguably the reference to God not god is a named reference) does not make the position any less unconstitutional.
The United States of America is a nation founded on the concept of liberty and the belief that all men are created equal. The USA is also, at its heart, a fiercely and proudly patriotic nation. The Pledge of Allegiance was designed to foster this patriotism and love of country. The Pledge as initially worded contained no reference to God.
While students are, in theory, permitted to abstain from the recitation of the pledge (with parental permission) many who have done so have faced ridicule. It is, moreover, very difficult for a young child to be seen to be different from their peers. The inclusion of the words ‘Under God’ therefore amount to religious coercion for those who do not believe in one God or any god.
The specific words ‘Under God’ were added in the 1950’s due to a campaign by a religious fraternity and in a climate of McCarthyist suspicions and the desire to prove that the ‘good’ United States was different from the ‘bad’ atheist Soviet Union. In changing the wording of the Pledge President Eisenhower made specific references to these religious motivations by referring to the ‘daily proclamation’ of the dedication of the Nation and people to ‘the Almighty’ and the ‘transcendence of religious faith’ in America. Effectively the President endorsed daily school prayer.
The purpose for inserting the words was plainly religious. As such the inclusion of the words ‘Under God’ is in contravention of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment while attempts to justify the use of these words as mere historical tradition is insulting to those Americans who possess a deep personal belief in the existence of God.