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.