In the U.S., many school classrooms, particularly those harboring younger kids, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, an official government “creed,” every morning. (I did this for many years.) You’re supposed to stand, face the flag, and put your hand over your heart, and say the words in the box below.
The pledge has gone through a lot of changes, including the addition of the word “God” in 1954 to distinguish our proudly religious nation from the Godless Communists during the Cold War. Here, from Wikipedia, are its various incarnations:
Two series of court rulings have established some ground rules. First, no child can be forced to recite the Pledge, or stand and salute the flag. (That’s the only good thing the Jehovah’s Witnesses ever did.) Second, the words “under God” have been repeatedly affirmed to be Constitutional, though of course they’re not. And now the highest court in Massachusetts has buttressed the latter stand, ruling that the use of “under God” does not constitute discrimination against atheists.
The highest court in Massachusetts ruled Friday that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools does not discriminate against atheists.
The Supreme Judicial Court said the words “under God” in the pledge reflect a patriotic practice, not a religious one.
“We hold that the recitation of the pledge, which is entirely voluntary, violates neither the Constitution nor the statute,” Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote, later adding “it is not a litmus test for defining who is or is not patriotic.”
“Although the words “under God” undeniably have a religious tinge, courts that have considered the history of the pledge and the presence of those words have consistently concluded that the pledge, notwithstanding its reference to God, is a fundamentally patriotic exercise, not a religious one.”
An atheist family from Acton sued in 2010 claiming that the daily recitation of the pledge in classrooms violated their three children’s constitutional rights.
The family, who are not identified in the suit, claimed the ruling insinuates that nonbelievers are less patriotic.
You can see the court’s ruling here. I’m not sure about the lower-court’s ruling about the insinuation of nonpatriotism (the family had appealed), but that certainly was the case when I was a kid. Anybody who refused to stand and recite the Pledge would, at least in my classes, have been completely ostracized. But now that the right to not recite the pledge is protected by the courts, the real reason “God” should go is because it violates the First Amendment, just as the words “In God We Trust” do on our currency. (That was added in 1957, and every year at its annual meeting, the Freedom from Religion Foundation auctions off “clean money”: godless bills made before 1957.) I certainly don’t trust in God!
Of course now that courts are repeatedly affirming that the invocation of God in public forums isn’t really religion, but merely a “historical tradition,” there’s not a prayer of getting this stuff out of the Pledge or off the currency. The long-term plan of the religious Right, now supported by the Supreme Court, is to establish Christianity as a de facto official religion of the U.S. We have to fight this whenever we see it, even if the issue is as small as a cross on a courthouse lawn. For if anything is a slippery slope, it’s the creeping incursion of religion into American public life.