“One nation, indivisible,” has been split down the middle over the words “under God.”The argument over whether the words “under God” should be included in the Pledge of Allegiance has been reduced to a battle between people of faith and the atheists. This debate, however, is not that simple.
According to a CNN online time line, the contentious phrase was added into the pledge in 1954, when lawmakers in Washington decided the patriotic oath was eerily similar to the ones recited by “godless communists.”
Ironically, a socialist editor opposed to capitalism penned the original version of the pledge in 1892. The editor, Francis Bellamy, also happened to be a Baptist minister and still left God out of the oath.
For a moment, let’s forget the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Let us assume that the phrase “under God” is, as many contend, a mere ceremonial nod to our Judeo-Christian heritage.
Imagine for a moment that you are a child in an elementary school, again, and everyone stands to say the pledge. Everyone in class must recite it, no exceptions.
The previous day, you were taught in Sunday school that you must choose your actions, and, no matter what country you are from, God will judge you individually. This is true even if your government tells you to do something in defense of your homeland or shared principles. God does not take sides in conflicts among nations – no single nation is “under God.”
You now have a choice. You can pledge your allegiance to the country you love, even if you don’t believe the words are completely accurate, or you can remain silent.
Mark Toulouse, professor of American religious history for Brite Divinity School, said some people of faith view saying the words as taking God’s name in vain.
“If using the name of God is merely a ritualistic ceremony as part of what it means to be American, then that is taking the name of God in vain,” Toulouse said. “(When said as part of ritual), you are not understanding the term God to be filled with the religious content that name carries.”
Mainstream religious leaders have joined with those making the case that “under God” is unconstitutional, saying inclusion of the phrase is unfair, and, in some cases, blasphemous.
Most people probably don’t give the words this much thought, but should we ask any subset of people to take the name in vain daily?
If the pledge is used to promote unity around a common cause of freedom, isn’t it ironic that we ask certain people to exclude themselves?
If the words do carry religious meaning, however, we cannot endorse the pledge at all.
The words “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” create a separation between God’s will and the state’s will so citizens may freely criticize the actions of leaders in terms of their personal faith.
Toulouse said the founders of this nation were of a Christian background and were not as careful with religious language as is required in a much more diverse environment. He said including God in our pledge or on our money confuses what the nation stands for with the will of God.
“When you confuse Christianity with the nation, you begin to be uncritical of what your nation does as if it acts for God,” Toulouse said.
This country may be predominately Christian, but it is not a Christian nation.
The original motto of this country says it best, “E Pluribus Unum” or “Out of many, one.” We are a pluralistic nation by heritage, even if we don’t always live up to this in action. We strive to allow all views to be held without fear of repression.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the intent of Congress when it added the words “under God” to the pledge was to advance religion in an attempt to separate us from the “godless communists.” They said it was a clear endorsement of monotheism, and that is but one way to look at the world.
The real issue in this case runs deeper than the words “under God.”
Individuals have every right to affirm their faith of their own volition. Individuals can profess undying love for their country. What is at issue, however, is should citizens of any age be forced to affirm their faith in God and love of country?
Is this nation by the people, for the people still so afraid of different or subversive thought that we must force everyone to recite a few words to calm our collective nerves?
Constitutional or not, the words “under God” should not appear in the Pledge of Allegiance if we are to remain committed to pluralism.
The pledge itself begs the question: Are we expected to continue paying mere lip service to the principles of inclusion, liberty and freedom, or should we show our commitment by allowing the citizens to endorse the principles of this country on their own terms?
Opinion Editor Brian Chatman is a senior news-editorial journalism major from Fort Worth.