Does “Under God” Have a Place in the Pledge of Allegiance?


Photo by Getty Images/iStockphoto

USA flag. American flag. American flag blowing wind. Close-up. Studio shot.

Emily Welp and Madison Hubbard

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

In 1892, Baptist minister John Bellamy’s composition was published as a marketing scheme. The recitation promoted weekly magazine The Youth Companion’s commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to America.

The oath was a symbol of patriotism used within schools and legal proceedings. However, our modernized Pledge of Allegiance fails to represent all Americans. After the introduction of the phrase “under God,” the pledge has narrowed its inclusiveness, and it no longer accurately reflects the spiritual diversity of our country today.

“Under God” isn’t needed to remind us of our freedoms. The original oath accomplishes just the same level of patriotism, without a religious reference.

The two-word phrase made its debut in 1948, when the Illinois Society of Sons of the American Revolution recited the pledge with the inclusion of “under God” as a commemoration to Abraham Lincoln, who improvised the line in his 1863 Gettysburg Address.

All of this took place in the midst of the Red Scare and its Christianity-based alarm surrounding “Godless Soviets” during the early 1950’s, which turned the federal recognition of God into patriotism. The Cold War was regarded as a spiritual struggle between faith and atheism— having religious values became fundamental to Americanism.

What began as a simple tribute to Abraham Lincoln turned into a religious movement when the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus petitioned the government to make the revision universal, culminating in a 1954 law signed by President Eisenhower that officially added “under God” to the pledge of allegiance.

The association many Americans saw between atheism and communism during the Cold War era spurred the government to reject atheism and agnosticism definitively and on a scale that would condition American schoolchildren to accept a blurred line between church and state for decades to come.

“Under God” served a similar purpose in the White House as a political weapon to differentiate the good, deity-revering American citizens from nations under communist rule. A report authorized by the House of Representatives following the passage of the law stated, “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 communism with its attendant subservience of the individual.”

The White House thinly veiled its reference to God by treating it as a nod towards the nation’s religious heritage rather than an imposition of certain religious beliefs on any American.

In reality, the move was both a philosophical political weapon by the government and a theological maneuver made in part by Christians promoting their own worldview.

The federal government’s endorsement of the Bible is an affront to the range of religious and non-religious Americans that comprise our culture, as it violates the uncompromising line between the church and state by opting for the Bible as the “Word of God” in place of all other spiritual and religious teaching.

So, what does this mean for the impressionable schoolchildren in our public school districts?

A child’s non-participation in reciting the pledge comes at a cost — it can be confronted with the ill will of teachers, administrators, and peers. Even if “under God” was always meant to serve solely as a reminder of Christianity’s presence in our rich American history, paying tribute to any religion relevant within the political community attaches patriotism with the affirmation of religion.

By pledging “allegiance to one nation under God,” students are inherently being told to affirm their beliefs in God.

To a non-believer in God, the Pledge of Allegiance appears to be enforcing monotheistic ideals.

The inclusion of “under God” in a patriotic text such as the Pledge of Allegiance does not shield its expression of a religious belief — rather, this only further magnifies its violation of the Constitution in terms of the Establishment Clause, which restricts any “adherence to a religion relevant in any way to a person’s standing in the political community.”

“Under God” is no longer of relevance to America, and should be omitted for the sake of inclusiveness and diversity.