Why do public school children pledge their allegiance to “one nation under God” every morning despite America’s separation of church and state? In our nation’s schools, children say these words while placing their hands over their hearts, paying for their school lunches using currency stamped with the words “In God We Trust.” How has this unconstitutional endorsement of monotheism been sustained?
Surprisingly, the Pledge of Allegiance did not originate with the nation’s founding. Rather, it was an invention of the socialist minister Francis Bellamy, who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892 to be used as an expression of patriotic devotion. The original pledge was written as follows:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Notice anything missing? Yes, you’re right, there is no mention of “God.” However, it was not always that way. Rather, it was a product of the anti-communist, anti-atheist hysteria surrounding the Cold War.
In 1948, Louis Bowman, an attorney from Illinois, altered the wording to include “under God” at a meeting of the Sons of the American Revolution. In the midst of a culture rife with fear over the atheist Soviet Union, further bolstered by the rise of McCarthyism, the mention of God served as a way to differentiate the United States and reaffirm its values. As a Cold Warrior and a devout Presbyterian, President Eisenhower heavily pushed a bill through Congress under Michigan Republican Charles Oakman to make the modification official. On June 14, 1954, “under God” became part of our nation’s pledge.
Some find this history surprising, but also troubling. Many irrational things happened during the Cold War. Joseph McCarthy gained popularity by wildly naming off lists of supposed communists. The country was caught in a witch-hunt hysteria. We now realize that many of the actions that took place during the Cold War era were wrong and unnecessary. But somehow, we maintain a law from this time despite its disregard for the separation of church and state. Why? I believe it is because many people are completely unaware of the history that I have just laid out.
In a recent survey conducted by LifeWay Research about the public’s perception of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, only 8 percent of respondents favored removing the phrase. However, when the American Humanist Association conducted a similar survey asking the same question, but also including a brief history before the question, the results vastly differed. By including the phrase, “ ‘under God’ was only added as recently as 1954 in response to the Cold War and that some Americans feel that the Pledge should focus on unity rather than religion,” 34 percent of respondents said they favored removing the words.
Many claim that non-believers can simply ignore the Pledge and choose to opt out. However, this creates an opt-out system rather than an opt-in one. In doing so, those who choose not to participate in the pledge make themselves stand out. As an impressionable high schooler who may fear being marginalized, it is easy to go with the flow instead.
For instance, one of my friends in high school announced that he did not stand because of the reference to God. Every day, while the rest of us stood with our hands over our hearts, he sat alone in silence, becoming a disobedient outsider in the process.
By including “under God” in the pledge, an associative chain is created that links liberty, justice and patriotism to religion. Children are indoctrinated from a young age to believe that you cannot have one without the other. They are led to believe that to be patriotic is to be religious. Many children may believe that if they do not believe in an Abrahamic God, it isolates them from the other ideals of the pledge. American children should be able to express their patriotism without having to segregate themselves on the basis of their religious beliefs.
I am not suggesting a war on religion. Neither is this a crusade against Americans who believe in God. Practicing one’s own private religion freely is fully acceptable and Constitutional. However, it is not acceptable to force others to publicly pledge their allegiance to someone else’s religion and someone else’s God. Removing “under God” from the pledge would not undermine the lives of millions of proud, religious Americans. Neither does it violate any of their rights. Rather, it restores rights to those who do not believe. It also protects Christians, who are the current religious majority, from having other religions potentially forced down their throats in the future. In this way it actually would be beneficial for Christians to embrace this change.
The United States is not an institutionally religious nation. While the majority of the country’s citizens may be religious in their private lives, the United States is a nation with not only freedom of religion but also freedom from religion, ever since the pilgrims fled to this country to avoid Anglicanism in England in the 1600s. The Cold War was a hysterical time, and tradition should not be used to prolong an inappropriate and antiquated phrase. The Cold War is over; let’s bring separation of church and state back to America and back to our schools.
Coy Ozias is a freshman fromChristiansburg, Va. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.