Should 'under God' remain in the pledge of allegiance?
- On May 9, 2014, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance “does not discriminate against atheists,” asserting that the words 'under God' represent a patriotic, not a religious, exercise.
- Thirty-two states have laws that allow students to opt out of the pledge, while 15 states delegate the choice to local schools or parents.
- The Pledge of Allegiance was originally written by Francis Bellamy in 1892, and finally adapted for the United States in 1923.
- The words “Under God” were first used at internal meetings of the Knights of Columbus in 1951; in the following years, the Knights campaigned for the phrase to be added to the pledge.
- President Eisenhower signed a law making the words “under God” a permanent addition to the Pledge of Allegiance on Flag Day on June 14, 1954.
The Pledge of Allegiance has been a part of American history since the late 1800s, a staple in public school routines, and a salute to our nation. With the recent trends of society rejecting religion while encountering increased political polarization, opposition to using the phrase ‘under God’ remains. But as America is the great melting pot, the phrase is a tribute to our nation's theological and patriotic underpinnings.
America was founded on the belief in a higher power and a moral code by which we abide as “a moral and religious People,” and from which we derive our God-given rights. Because the founding fathers worked out of the Christian worldview, the Declaration of Independence is based on that religious framework. The influential document references 'Nature's God' and 'their Creator,' which integrates sound theological perspectives with an authority that gives citizens the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is not necessarily pointing to any specific Christian doctrine of God by providing citizens with this foundation of equal worth 'under God.' These words point to a Being who increases the intrinsic value of citizens since a citizen's value transcends even government. This can be taken as a symbol of religious inclusivity for all Americans.
For the benefit of a child, the Pledge of Allegiance is essential to learning the foundational backstory of American history. Even though it is a part of the routine in public schools, a child can always opt out of reciting the words or can view it through the lens of their religion or secular view of loyalty. With the First Amendment, any child should be able to express their faith as they see fit. With this in mind, there is no need to alter the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Under God” was first used in 1951 at internal meetings of the Knights of Columbus. They lobbied to add it to the official pledge and succeeded in 1954. These words are Christian in origin and effectively alienate Americans who believe in multiple gods, no god, or a god different from the Christian God. In fact, as children growing up with a different religion at home, having to say 'under God' every day can lead to a feeling of disenfranchisement.
There have been reports of bullying and social isolation in cases where children have refused to say the pledge, so the argument of it being a choice is rarely accurate. Most public schools do not even indicate that the pledge is optional.
Those arguing the words 'under God' are patriotic should understand that 'once patriotism becomes rote and unthinking, it's not really patriotism—it's robotic,' as Kent Greenfield of Boston College Law School rightly asserts. Do we really believe a rigid routine will produce real patriotism? Moreover, do we want children from different religious backgrounds to feel less patriotic than their Christian peers?
These words are often applauded as a homage to American history; however, most of history can and should be taught in classrooms without having to force words upon children. Therefore, as the President of the American Humanist Association, David Noise, states, 'No child should go to school each day to have the class declare that her religious beliefs are wrong in an exercise that portrays her and her family as less patriotic than believers.' To avoid alienating children or forcing compliance with an ideology they might reject, the phrase 'under God' has no place in our current age and culture.