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Debate: "Under God" in the American Pledge of Allegiance

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Is "under God" in the American Pledge of Allegiance appropriate or should it be eliminated?

Background and Context of Debate:

The American Pledge of Allegiance has been embroiled in controversy ever since the phrase "under God" was added by Congress in 1954, following a campaign by the Knights of Columbus to change it. The Pledge, as it was conceived initially by Francis Bellamy in 1892, did not include the phrase. It read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to*) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
From 1954 onward, the pledge would read: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

The debate regarding the phrase "under God" revolves around a number of questions. Mainly, the debate regards whether it is consistent with the separation of Church and State, or the Establishment Clause in the United States Constitution? Does it establish or favor a particular form of religious belief? Does it give favor to believers over non-believers? Should we allow for leniency here? Is the phrase consistent with the use of religious wording by the Founding Fathers in certain founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence? Is it legitimate to consider our rights as endowed by a creator, and include this interpretation in everything that follows in the US Constitution and things like the Pledge of Allegiance? Is the Pledge more of a cultural or historic expression than a religious expression or prayer? Is it more about affirming the historic place of faith in American history and in the lives of the Founding Fathers? Is it an important expression of patriotism, or can such patriotism be sufficiently expressed without "under God"? Does "under God" put inappropriate pressure on citizens and Children in school to profess a belief in God? Is it coercive? Would getting rid of "under God" eliminate the controversy, or would it worsen it? What is the overall balance of pros and cons? Should "under God" remain, or should it be eliminated from the American Pledge of Allegiance?

See Wikipedia's article on the Pledge of Allegiance for greater background.


Separation of Church and State: Is "Under God" consistent with this principle?


  • "Under God" complies with separation of Church and State The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), a nonprofit legal center specializing in constitutional law, wrote the following statements in the Jan. 12, 2004 article "ACLJ Position Paper on the Pledge of Allegiance," published on its website "Recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is fully consistent with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The words of the Pledge echo the conviction held by the Founders of this Nation that our freedoms come from God. Congress inserted the phrase 'One Nation Under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance for the express purpose of reaffirming America's unique understanding of this truth, and to distinguish America from atheistic nations who recognize no higher authority than the State."[1]
  • "Under God" affirms individual rights as divine and inalienable American Center for Law and Justice. "ACLJ Position Paper on the Pledge of Allegiance". Jan. 12, 2002: "Recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is fully consistent with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The words of the Pledge echo the conviction held by the Founders of this Nation that our freedoms come from God. Congress inserted the phrase 'One Nation Under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance for the express purpose of reaffirming America's unique understanding of this truth, and to distinguish America from atheistic nations who recognize no higher authority than the State."[2]
  • "Under God" is neutral between faiths Antonin Scalia, LLB, Associate Justice for the United States Supreme Court, made the following comments during a speech he made on Religious Freedom Day, Jan. 23, 2003: "'In God We Trust' on currency, chaplains in the military, 'nondenominational' prayer before public school sporting events and use of the phrase 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance... [These practices] reflect the true tradition of religious freedom in America - a tradition of neutrality among religious faiths. Government will not favor Catholic, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, but the tradition was never that the government had to be neutral between religiousness and non-religiousness."[3]
  • "Under God" does not mandate or coerce religious belief The Common Good Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the primary goal to "foster Christian service in America," wrote the following in a Dec. 2003 amicus brief for the United States Supreme Court case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Michael A. Newdow: "The Pledge of Allegiance does not mandate a religious belief in God, establish a religion, or constitute a government endorsement of a religion. Rather, it is an affirmation of allegiance to a nation which describes itself as being 'under God.' If an individual does not believe in God, they can still be a loyal citizen of a republic that does."[4]
  • Boundary between Church and state should not be too rigid. Barack Obama, US Senator (D-IL). "Call to Renewal" Keynote Address. June 29, 2006: "A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation -- context matters."[5]


  • "Under God" endorses faith; violates separation of Church and State Michael Newdow, JD, MD, founder of the First Amendmist Church of True Science, wrote the following position on his website (accessed Jan. 30, 2009): "The First Amendment states 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.' As I understand it, this resulted from the Framers' awareness of the persecution and animosity that inevitably accompanies state religions. With this in mind, they made the decision to ensure religious freedom by keeping the government out of that sensitive area. Personally, I think this was a good idea. And even if I didn't, it's one of the fundamental rules of our society. Thus, when I see our Pledge of Allegiance containing the words 'under God,' I see a gross violation of one of our foremost Constitutional mandates."[6]
The James Randi Educational Foundation wrote the following in its June 2002 online newsletter Swift: "Some readers have commented on my objections to the 'God' inclusions in the Pledge of Allegiance, and on U.S. currency. Quite simply, I regard it as the intrusion of religion into government, a blatant attempt to establish a one-god, Christian philosophy on Americans, many of whom have no belief in, nor allegiance to, any deity - or who choose to worship another, different, deity. In my opinion, it's a direct violation of the 'separation of church and state' principle, something I highly value, as do so many others."[7]
Rob Sherman, founder of Rob Sherman Advocacy, wrote the following position in a May 18, 2007 email to "The First Amendment prohibition against government establishing religion precludes the government from deciding what religious belief is true. 'One nation under God' is indisputably a statement of religious belief. By including 'under God' in the Pledge, the government is unconstitutionally using patriotism as a secular cover for proselytizing that particular religious belief."[8]
  • "Under god" is unconstitutional even if majority want it. Michael Newdow, Attorney and Plaintiff in Newdow v. US Congress. Interview in American Jurist. Nov. 25, 2003: "We have a democratic process, and the majority should do whatever it wants. But when we're talking about fundamental constitutional rights, we're in a different ballgame. In those situations, it doesn't matter what the majority wants. If the majority wants to enslave blacks, too bad. You can't do it. If the majority wants to have the government implicating a religious belief, too bad. You can't do it. [Our Constitution] doesn't allow you to."[9]
  • To be Constitutional, "Under God" must be read in a way insulting to faith American Civil Liberties Union Press Release. Mar. 24, 2002[10]: "Removing ‘under God’ from the Pledge is not anti-religious [...] just the opposite is true. The only way the religious reference in the Pledge can be upheld is for the Court to conclude that the words ‘under God’ have no religious meaning, which is far more insulting to people of faith."

Religion in politics: Is religion in American politics generally acceptable?


  • Statements such as "under God" exist throughout government Pat Robertson, Founder and Chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network. Press Release, June 26, 2002: "Every constitution of the fifty states which make up our union contains a reference to God. Oaths sworn in court use the phrase '…so help me God.' The Supreme Court convenes with a prayer, 'God save this honorable court.' We are, and have continued to be, a religious people since our founding."[11]
  • "Under God" acknowledges that religion is essential to government. Patrick Henry, Founding Father. Letter to Archibald Blair. Jan. 8, 1789: "The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone that renders us invincible."[12]
  • America was founded on religious principles expressed in "under God" Joseph A. Zavaletta, JD, Director of the Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, wrote the following statements in a June 29, 2005 email sent to "I do support the words 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance. The American founders referred to God three times in the Declaration of Independence, the founding document of the United States...The Pledge of Allegiance is a reference to God as Creator, not Redeemer, and does not establish a religion, but only an historical acknowledgment of His Providential role in the founding of America."[13]
  • "Under God" is an uplifting expression of faith Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States, made the following remarks during his Flag Day speech on June 14, 1954: "From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country's true meaning. [...] Especially is this meaningful as we regard today's world. Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war."[14]


  • Pledging allegiance to America should not require religious belief. Ed Buckner, PhD, Southern Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, posted in July 2002 the following position on the Council for Secular Humanism website, "Expressing fealty to a god should not be a condition of citizenship. Love of country is not, nor should it be, measured by a citizen's religious belief or lack thereof. Many secular humanists, atheists, and agnostics have laid down their lives for this country. It has been 200 years since Thomas Jefferson's letter made famous the phrase 'a wall of separation between church and state' approved of by 'the whole American people,' and yet there is still controversy over the idea. There should not be. The choice, despite what some say, really is between having a free country and having an officially religious nation. You can have one or the other, but not both; and religious believers should join me in choosing freedom, as the framers of our Constitution did and as logic dictates, not just for my sake but for their own."[15]
  • "Under God" wrongly mixes allegiances to country and God American Atheists, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to "secure our freedom from religion," stated the following position during congressional testimony given on Sep. 14, 1988: "When the government of the United States sees fit to place the value of patriotism or adherence to constitutional principles predominantly in a religious context, whether on coins or in the form of a pledge, an oath, or an invocation, it serves to weaken the bonds that hold all citizens of this country in common."[16]
  • "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance trivializes God Dan Fink, Rabbi. "Would God Side With an Atheist?" 2004: "To have kids expressing a theological principle at 7 A.M. over the loudspeaker is not a serious way to do it...It is not that we don't want God in our lives. We just don't want [Him] trivialized."[17]
C. Welton Gaddy, PhD, President of The Interfaith Alliance, wrote the following in an Oct. 14, 2003 Interfaith Alliance press release: "When the phrase 'under God' is included in the Pledge of Allegiance, it is not only a violation of the Constitution but its mere presence demeans religion. 'God' is not a name to be used by a government to advance its political causes."

Cultural: Is "under God" merely a historic/cultural (not religious) expression?


  • "Under God" affirms the religious heritage of America Alberto Gonzalez, Attorney General of the United States. Press Release. Sep. 15, 2005: "For more than two hundred years, many of our expressions of national identity and patriotism have referenced God. The Supreme Court, which opens each session by saying 'God save the United States and this honorable Court,' has affirmed time and again that such official acknowledgments of our Nation's religious heritage, foundation, and character are constitutional. The Department of Justice will continue vigorously to defend the ability of American schoolchildren to pledge allegiance to the flag."[18]
  • "Under God" is a cultural/patriotic, not religious, pledge Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization that broadcasts two daily syndicated radio programs, wrote the following in a 2003 amicus brief for the United States Supreme Court case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Michael A. Newdow: "Voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by public school students is a patriotic exercise that acknowledges the religious principles upon which this country was founded. Inclusion of the phrase 'under God' in the Pledge, simply recognizes the historical fact that our founders declared independence and established this nation based on principles that transcend man made laws. The Pledge is not a prayer or any other type of religious exercise. A public school district policy that requires teachers to lead willing students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is therefore constitutional under all of the tests this Court uses to analyze Establishment Clause claims."[19]
  • "Under God" is too ingrained in US culture to get rid of it. Sandra Day O'Connor, LLB, former Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, wrote the following statements in her June 14, 2004 concurring opinion of the judgment made in the United States Supreme Court case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Michael A. Newdow: "Fifty years have passed since the words 'under God' were added, a span of time that is not inconsiderable given the relative youth of our Nation. In that time, the Pledge has become, alongside the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner, our most routine ceremonial act of patriotism; countless schoolchildren recite it daily, and their religious heterogeneity reflects that of the Nation as a whole. As a result, the Pledge and the context in which it is employed are familiar and nearly inseparable in the public mind."[20]


  • "Under God" is not a passive cultural expression; it's prayer Douglas Laycock Associate Dean for Research, University of Texas at Austin School of Law Debate at the National Press Club: "Under God? Pledge of Allegiance Constitutionality". Mar. 19, 2004: "People don't get angry at a recital of historical and demographic facts. People get angry because they know what it means; it's plain English. They believe what it means, they want people to say what it means, they want their kids to say what it means. And I'll tell you a dirty little secret: They want to coerce other kids to say what it means and what they believe to be true. They know that 'under God' means under God."[21]
  • Most are unaware of cultural/historical meaning of "under God". While there may be some legitimate cultural and historical meaning underlying "under God", this is made irrelevant by the fact that those that state the pledge of allegiance - the citizens of America - are probably unaware of the details of this larger cultural and historical meaning. The only meaning, therefore, they are able to intuit from "under God" is its face value endorsement of faith and of America as a nation of faith.
  • "Under God" is simply unnecessary in a patriotic pledge. Jon Carroll, writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote the following position in the June 27, 2002 San Francisco Chronicle article titled "Atheists and Pantheists May Take a Moment to Bask in Victory": "As a matter of common sense, the court's ruling is both sensible and obvious. 'Under God' is intrusive and unnecessary in a pledge of patriotism; we're not speaking as believers; we are speaking as citizens."[22]
  • "Under God" was rashly added to patriotic Pledge in 1954. Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "Interview with Rev. Barry Lynn (speaking), Rev. Jerry Falwell". CNN American Morning with Paula Zahn. June 27, 2002: "I happen to like the Pledge of Allegiance. I like the original one, written back in 1892 by a minister who didn't feel it was necessary to use the word 'God' because he was writing a patriotic statement for the country. Back in 1954, we got a little politically correct during the McCarthy era. Everybody had to prove not just that they loved America, but that they also loved God. We got patriotism and religion confused."

Coercion of children: Is "under God" voluntary or is it coercive in schools?


  • Pledge and "Under God" are voluntary, not coercive The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit legal and educational organization, posted the following position on its website: "[O]ur system of government schools should not inculcate any particular faith. But neither should those schools prohibit (or even discourage) students from non-disruptive, voluntary, religious expression, such as moments of silence or the Pledge of Allegiance. Indeed, whenever possible, public schools should accommodate whatever religious education and observance students and their parents choose in conscience to pursue."[23]
  • "Under God" is cultural; no religious coercion of Children. William J. Federer, speaker, author, and president of Amerisearch, Inc., wrote the following in a 2003 amicus brief for the United States Supreme Court case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Michael A. Newdow: "It is not a violation of the Establishment Clause for our school children to acknowledge our religious heritage or to share in our religious identity by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with the words, 'under God.' To the contrary, the public and patriotic affirmation of God is the best of our national traditions, dating back to Christopher Columbus, continuing with our Founding Fathers, and persisting today."


  • "Under God" wrongly coerces Children to believe in God The Humanist Society, a nonprofit religious organization, wrote the following statements in a Feb. 12, 2004 amicus brief for the United States Supreme Court case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Michael A. Newdow: "The use of the current version of the Pledge in public schools violates this Court's coercion analysis. Reciting 'under God' is a religious act. Children, while theoretically having the right to opt out of reciting the Pledge, may not do so because of fear of exposure as outsiders, because they do not have the capacity to do so, or because they wish not to appear unpatriotic to their teacher and classmates. Furthermore, the wish of parents for their children not to recite the Pledge may be ignored, indoctrinating them against the parents' will."[25]
Anti-Defamation League. "Jewish Organizations Split Over Pledge Case Strategy". Forward. Nov. 14, 2003: "We're dealing with schoolchildren and with role models in schools who are required to lead it. The circumstances are inherently fraught with compulsion or coercion and we feel that's a violation of church-state separation."[26]
  • "Under God" teaches children they must be faithful to be patriotic. American Civil Liberties Union. Press Release. Mar. 24, 2002: "The government should not be asking impressionable schoolchildren to affirm their allegiance to God at the same time that they are affirming their allegiance to the country."[27]

Non-believers: Is "under God" fair to non-believers?


  • Non-believers need not feel excluded by "under God" Noah Feldman, JD, PhD, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, wrote the following information in a July 3, 2005 article titled "A Church-State Solution," published by The New York Times: "Atheists will doubtless maintain that any public religion at all - like 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance - excludes them by endorsing the idea of religion generally. But this misses the point: it is an interpretive choice to feel excluded by other people's faiths, and the atheist, like any other dissenter from a majoritarian decision, can just as easily adhere to his own views while insisting on his full citizenship."


  • "Under God" alienates atheists and nontheists The Council for Secular Humanism, a nonprofit educational organization, wrote the following statement in its Spring 2004 quarterly newsletter Secular Humanist Bulletin: "What we want is a society, and a Pledge, that is equally inclusive of both believers and us. This can be accomplished by simply having the Pledge fall silent with respect to God."[28]

Ending controversy: Would removing "under God" end the controversy?


  • Removing "Under God" would cause resentment and division. By eliminating "under God" from the American Pledge of Allegiance it would not only be eliminating a couple of words it would be changing a part of American history itself. A sense of nationalism would be destroyed when Americans want to change something knowing it would only be splitting up a country further.


  • Removing "under God" would end the controversy. Atheists and Other Freethinkers, a nonprofit educational organization, wrote the following statements in a Dec. 19, 2003 amicus brief for the United States Supreme Court case Elk Grove Unified School District v. Michael A. Newdow: "Return of the Pledge to its pre-1954 form would remove the phraseology, the dilemma, the divisiveness, and the harm for this segment of the population."[29]

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