Many venues, including the Religion News Service, have reported on this story, involving a Massachusetts challenge to the U.S.’s “Pledge of Allegiance.”
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in August 1892 by the socialist minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931). It was originally published in The Youth’s Companion on September 8, 1892. Bellamy had hoped that the pledge would be used by citizens in any country.
In its original form it read:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In 1923, the words, “the Flag of the United States of America” were added. At this time it read:
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In 1954, in response to the Communist threat of the times, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God,” creating the 31-word pledge we say today. Bellamy’s daughter objected to this alteration. Today it reads:
“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.”
I used to recite this last version, facing the U.S. flag and holding my hand over my heart, in my elementary school classroom each morning. I’m not sure whether it’s still done in schools, or obligatory, but I think so, for it’s being challenged in Massachusetts as a violation of the First Amendment.
The RNS explains:
Since the addition of the phrase “under God” in 1954, the pledge has been challenged repeatedly as a violation of the separation of church and state. In 2004, one case reached the Supreme Court, but ultimately failed, as have all previous challenges.
But the current case before the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, is different because lawyers for the plaintiffs, an anonymous atheist couple, won’t be arguing about federal law but rather that the compulsory recitation of the pledge violates the state’s equal rights laws. They argue that the daily recitation of the pledge is a violation of their guarantee of equal protection under those laws.
This change of tack in pledge challenges is modeled on a successful precedent laid down in the same court on gay marriage. In 2003, Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court ruled 4-3 in favor of a same-sex couple seeking the right to marry under the state’s equal rights laws. Their win led to similar successful challenges in other state courts — something that could happen here if judges rule for the plaintiffs.
“You would then see a rash of state court lawsuits challenging the pledge all over the country,” said Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is arguing for the defendants. “A win for us would completely avoid that unnecessary harm. And it would affirm that it is not discriminatory to have the words ‘under God’ in the pledge.”
Well, it’s certainly discriminatory against atheists, and even if reciting it is not obligatory, any child who refrained would become an outcast. So making the “God” pledge optional isn’t a good solution—any more than is the recitation of a mandatory prayer in school with children given the right to opt out. I’m not sure, given that prayer in schools is forbidden under the U.S. Constitution, why pledging allegiance to God is “not discriminatory.”
A bit more history of the case:
The plaintiffs are represented by the American Humanist Association, a national advocacy group for humanists and other secularists. David Niose, the plaintiffs’ attorney and president of the AHA, could not be reached for comment.
The defendants won the first round in June 2012 when a lower court judge ruled that daily recitation of the pledge did not violate the Massachusetts Constitution, the school district’s anti-discrimination policy or state law. The upcoming oral arguments address an appeal of that decision.
I’m betting the state will win, and “God” will stay in the pledge. I’m hoping otherwise, but the wall between church and state in the U.S. has slowly been eroding. I don’t understand what the arguments are for not going back to the pre-1954 version (indeed, I object to any recitation of “allegiance” in school!), nor how any rational person can construe “one nation under God” as a nonreligious statement.