'Under God' should go
March 28, 2003
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The first 16 words of the First Amendment clearly states our governmental
policy on religion. As Thomas Jefferson stated in 1802, the United States
was to set out a "wall of separation" between church and state.
Why, then, does the Pledge of Allegiance contain the words "under
Ever since a June 27, 2002, ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
that deemed reciting the phrase in schools unconstitutional, there has been
a public outcry on both sides of this argument. The battle over the Pledge
has intensified with the wave of patriotism washing over the United States
as we enter the second week of war in Iraq. The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance
was written by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, in August of 1892. After
minor revisions, the U.S. Government officially recognized the Pledge of
Allegiance in 1942.
In 1954, religious leaders, who were uncomfortable that pledges similar
to the Pledge of Allegiance were being used by "godless Communists,"
lobbied lawmakers to insert "under God" into the Pledge. President
Dwight D. Eisenhower, in response to the escalating fear of an atomic war
between the United States and the Soviet Union, backed the lobbyists, convincing
Congress to add the phrase.
Eisenhower said: "From this day forward, millions of our 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."
This was a clear endorsement of one faith by the President of the United
States of America: the belief in the Judeo-Christian God as the Almighty.
Clearly, Eisenhower was establishing the belief in monotheism as the national
religion, which is blatantly unconstitutional.
This idea had already been addressed by the Supreme Court prior to the
addition of the phrase. Just seven years earlier, in 1947, the Supreme Court
clearly laid down a basis for keeping the separation of church and state
in the decision of Everson vs. the Board of Education. Justice Black, a
major proponent for the "strict separation" of church and state,
in history's first attempt to clearly define the establishment clause, delivered
the opinion of the Court.
He said that the establishment clause, the section of the First Amendment
that states the government has no right to establish a national religion,
"means at least this: Neither a state nor the federal government can
pass laws, which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion
Eisenhower's addition to the Pledge of Allegiance obviously violates
the opinion of the Court, the American voice of the Constitution. It is
unconstitutional. He was attempting to establish monotheism as the law of
the land. He was making an official preference of the federal government
of one religion over all others. But, until June of last year, Congress
and Eisenhower's addition to the Pledge, however unconstitutional, stood.
The Ninth District Court in San Francisco, which holds jurisdiction
over Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon
and Washington, finally ruled the phrase unconstitutional.
In the 2-1 decision, the Court delivered its opinion, "To recite
the Pledge is not to describe the United States; instead it is to swear
allegiance to the values for which the flag stands: unity, indivisibility,
liberty, justice and since 1954 monotheism."
This is not an issue of patriotism. The Pledge of Allegiance can and
should be recited proudly with the purest dignity, but without the words
"under God." One can still absolutely and truly support the United
States in a pledge free of religious bias. This is not an atheist view;
one can believe in God and the Constitution. One can be Christian, celebrate
his or her faith and still be committed to the founding fathers' value of
the separation of church and state. "Under God" was unconstitutional
from the start because it imposes Judeo-Christian monotheism as the country's
religion. There is no way around it.
Striking "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance does not
make our country a haven for heathens. It simply shows a dedication to the
document that binds us with every American who has ever lived.