“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”
The original wording of the Pledge of Allegiance is credited to Francis Bellamy, a socialist, ex-Baptist minister and magazine editor in Boston at the end of the 19th century. In 1923, the words “my flag” were changed to “the flag of the United States of America” to avoid ambiguity. In 1954, the words “under God” were added after the phrase “one Nation.” The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case from the 9th U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals after the Appellate Court refused President George W. Bush’s request to reconsider its ruling in favor of removing the words “under God.” The case was brought by Dr. Michael Newdow, the father of a student in the Elk Grove, Calif., public school system. Dr. Newdow brought the lawsuit because he is an atheist and says that the words “under God” not only offend him, but are unconstitutional.
I agree with Newdow, as did the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, that the words “under God” are an unnecessary infusion of religion into the public school system. It seems to me that few people understand the specific context in which the words “under God” were added to the Pledge, and I am confident that many will be surprised to hear the truth. As for the constitutional question, both the wording and intent of the Constitution seem to be enough to convince any reader of the unconstitutionality of the phrase in question.
The words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 for the sole purpose of exposing supposedly godless communists at the height of the Cold War communist scare. Here is what Congress signed into law: “The inclusion of God in our pledge therefore would further acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon the moral directions of the Creator. At the same time it would serve to deny the atheistic and materialistic concepts of communists.”
According to this, every single citizen must share a system of morality that comes directly from God — this seems to run counter to the very notion of individuality the lawmakers were trying to prevent communism from undermining. The explicit attempt to deny atheists a right to pledge their allegiance to the flag, regardless of whether their atheism stems from their belief in communism or from a myriad of other reasons is unconstitutional. It should be clear that the removal of the phrase “under God” from the pledge will not weaken it in any way and may actually make it stronger.
Whether the Supreme Court should remove the words because they are unconstitutional is another important question. The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … ” The idea of a “wall of separation” between Church and State does not actually come from the Constitution, although it was written by Thomas Jefferson. Regardless of the extent of a “separation” between cChurch and sState, the Constitution states very clearly that the government shall not promote any one religion over another (“no law respecting an establishment of religion”).
Yet, when the words “under God” were inserted into the Pledge, the government was explicitly promoting religions that believed in a God over other religions that did not believe in a single God, or any God for that matter. Thus the phrase, “under God,” is unconstitutional precisely because it promotes some religions over others, and especially over atheism.
The Pledge of Allegiance as it stands now, serves only to conflate the idea of patriotism with God. According to the Pledge as written, one cannot pledge allegiance to the United States if he or she does not believe in God or believe in an alternative conception of spirituality.
What is more American than people having different conceptions of life and religion?
Michael Littenberg-Brown, Brown Daily Herald, Brown University