One nation under scrutiny

Posted Mar 24, 2004 in Miscellaneous.

CNN (Cable News Network) reports that the Supreme Court appeared skeptical that the Pledge of Allegiance was an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. I have been following this debate with some interest, because I have always been a strong believer in the separation of Church and State. In order to understand the controversy, it is necessary to know the history behind the wording of the pledge.

In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison sought a way to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister (and a strong proponent of socialism), created a program of events with the assistance of James B. Upham, and arranged for President Harrison and Congress to announce a national proclamation which centered around an American flag ceremony and flag salute. Bellamy's original words for the flag salute where "I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

In 1923, the words "my flag" were changed to "the Flag of the United States", and the following year "of America" after "Flag of the United States" was added. This version of the Pledge was codified into Public Law in 1942, because previously it had just been a popular adoption. If the Pledge had remained that way, none of the current controversy would have happened. Unfortunately, the paranoia and hysteria created from Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's hearings prompted a change.

In 1954, Louis C. Rabaut put forward a resolution that proposed the addition of the words "under God" as "one nation, under God" to distinguish Americans from the Godless communists. After a debate about the comma, the Library of Congress reported the following recommendation:

"...Under the generally accepted rules of grammar, a modifier should normally be placed as close as possible to the word it modifies. In the present instance, this would indicate that the phrase 'under God,' being intended as a fundamental and basic characterization of our Nation, might well be put immediately following the word 'Nation.' Further, since the basic idea is a Nation founded on a belief in God, there would seem to be no reason for a comma after Nation; 'one Nation under God' thus becomes a single phrase, emphasizing precisely the idea desired by the authors..."

So the Pledge had become both a patriotic oath and a public prayer. This was a deliberate act on the part of Congress. Legislation to add the motto "In God We Trust" to all coins and currency was passed in 1955; and the national motto "E Pluribus Unum" (out of many, one) was changed to "In God We Trust" in 1956.

It seems to me, therefore, that these amendments came at a time when cooler heads were certainly not prevailing. I am forced to question the wisdom of these changes, especially when you consider that the country was founded on the belief that the separation of Church and State was so important. It also seems strange to me that a religious Pledge of Allegiance to our flag has become the institutionalized form of patriotism in our country, rather than a Pledge of Allegiance to our secular Constitution.

So I think that "under God" should simply be removed from the Pledge. I cannot see any harm coming from such an action, and it would certainly do a lot to promote America's inclusivity. I would argue that the currency and the motto should also be changed, but these are perhaps less troublesome than the Pledge itself.

Obviously this is a controversial topic. Feel free to post comments from one side or the other, but please follow the comment-posting rules. Flames will not be tolerated.


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    I say put it to vote, add it to the ballot. I do not care about it, personally. I think I will write about this on my weblog, too bad you do not have trackback capabilities, otherwise I would ping this entry when I am done.

    Posted by David on Mar 25, 2004.

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    I'm not really bothered with track/ping/*back things, and I wouldn't have a clue how to integrate such mechanisms into my hand-rolled content management system anyway.

    Putting it to a vote probably wouldn't work, because the vast majority would vote to keep the words. Although that may be democratic, it is by no means inclusive. It is America's acceptance of the minority that made it the country it is today, and such words undermine that.

    Posted by Simon Jessey on Mar 25, 2004.

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    So, you are saying we should do what the minory wants? Other than a vote, what do you recomend then? A governmental decision?

    I believe a public vote is as good as it gets and if the majority wants to keep "the words", so be it. As simple as that.

    Posted by David on Mar 25, 2004.

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    I really have no strong opinion on this issue. On one hand I firmly believe in the separation of church and state and that saying "under God" violates this. On the other hand, I think it's just a little phrase, what harm can it do.

    I don't think that putting it to a vote would do much good and it would only serve to splinter this country even more. Can you imagine the tv ads that would be aired trying to get people to vote one way or the other?

    Posted by Todd on Mar 25, 2004.

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    The country is already divided on the issue, just not equally divided. What about taking it to vote and no adds allowed? ;-)

    For those who want "the words" removed, a simple phrase is no such. If someone tells me "you are an idiot", isn't that a simple phrase. Still bothers, right? Semantics...


    Posted by David on Mar 25, 2004.

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    "For those who want "the words" removed, a simple phrase is no such. If someone tells me "you are an idiot", isn't that a simple phrase. Still bothers, right? Semantics..."

    Good point David. I'm still not swayed one way or the other. I think this might be because I haven't actually said the pledge since probably 3rd grade. Before that we used to do it every morning but for some reason just stopped. It's strange to read it and actually think about what it means.

    And no ads allowed? I wish that American politics disallowed all ads...that would be great! :)

    Posted by Todd on Mar 25, 2004.

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    Believe all you want in the state and church separation fantasy. But if you want it in USA government then get enough states to ratify it as an amendment to the Constitution. Otherwise get over it.

    Please note: The URL has been removed from bluegirl's username. I have found that bluegirl's website link was responsible for directing a great deal of pornographic site referrals to the si-blog.

    Posted by bluegirl on Mar 25, 2004.

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    In a way, this discussion demonstrates why it would be pointless to put such a decision in the hands of a democratic vote, or national referendum. The majority of this country want "under God" to remain, not seeming to realize how uncomfortable and awkward it can be for the minority.

    Consider what would happen if the majority were of a different faith. If it doesn't matter, would you be happy to say "one nation under Allah", or "one nation under Shiva", or anything like that? I suspect not. The argument that "God" is a generic term is ridiculous, because it clearly isn't, and it was never intended to be. Lowercase "god" would be more generic, but that still alienates those with many gods, or no gods at all.

    Bluegirl makes a valid point. Full separation of Church and State probably is a fantasy, because it is impossible (and probably unreasonable) to expect State officials to divorce themselves from their faith while they conduct public affairs.

    Of course I'm not even a US Citizen yet (the process of naturalization takes years), so this isn't really any of my business; nevertheless, I am already proud to be a part of this nation, and I am keen to see it heading in the "right direction" (whatever THAT means LOL).

    I am glad I took the time to build commenting into the si-blog. I like hearing the views of other people. Thank you all for contributing, and please feel free to continue.

    Posted by Simon Jessey on Mar 26, 2004.

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    Law is not made to protect the majority. They are the ones in control, the ones that get to make most of the decisions, and the ones that get the spotlight. Law is made to protect the minority from the majority. Putting every nit-picky detail to a vote isn't practical and would just further contribute to the 'rule by mob' that seems to be growing popular in post-9/11 American society.

    The majority isn't always right nor do they always know what is best for the rest of the country (or themselves for that matter). As Simon already pointed out, the words "Under God" and "In God We Trust" were deliberately added. It goes way beyond semantics when a child is forced (under threat of punishment) to recite the pledge every morning with the current wording. I personally don't think it's ethical to send these kids the message that their beliefs and families are irrelevant because they don't have a sufficient voter-base to protect them.

    Posted by Eryk on Mar 27, 2004.