The Pledge and me

Recently, one of those Facebook polls was making the rounds regarding the removal of the words, “under God,” from the Pledge of Allegiance. My daughter posted in the affirmative for removal, sparking a lengthy debate.

It is true that the words “under God,” were added to the Pledge in early 1954. It is also interesting that it was originally written by a Baptist minister (Bellamy) with socialistic beliefs, for a marketing contest to sell more flags during the 400th anniversary of the Columbus landing, circa 1892. There were a few other changes made in the early 20th century, as well, but none seem as controversial as the addition of the phrase, “under God,” by Congressional resolution in 1954.

This is always a tough discussion because of the passion people have about their spiritual and governmental beliefs. It becomes even more so, given the paucity of information many have with respect to the origin of the Pledge, their understanding of the First Amendment, and historical perspective. With respect to those who say, why should we care, it has everything to do with making an informed decision. If we think we have $200 in our account, but don’t check the bank to find out that our balance is actually $150, then write a check for $175, we’ve made an uninformed decision that yields negative consequences.

For a long time, I gave it no thought, but as I grew in my understanding of God, and of the the Pledge’s history, that changed. I believe in God, and I’ve come to believe that exclusion of those words is for the common good with respect to my and others right to believe in God (or not, or any other God).

I’m not looking to offend anyone. The following paragraphs provide my take on this issue, and reflect my libertarian leanings. You know my type, both conservatives and liberals tend to find something with which they disagree when it comes to my beliefs.

I cannot express how many times I’ve had discourse regarding the religious and spiritual beliefs of the Founding Fathers with others, to discover that they have not researched it themselves and instead rely on hearsay – which is hardly reliable. Many believe we were founded as a Christian nation, and that this gives power to the applying “under God,” within the Pledge. With respect to our Founding Fathers, while many were Christian, many others were Deists (who while monotheistic, have a much different view of God than those from the Judaea-Christian world). This multi-spiritual background is underlined by words chosen and used in our early historical documents.

The Declaration of Independence only refers to “Nature’s God,” and the “Creator,” with respect to equality and basic rights. It goes on to say that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” There is no statement within the DoI that says government derives its powers from God, although in closing, lives are pledged to establish the independence of the colonies, they do so in”firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”

In the Constitution, there is no reference to God, Creator, divine Providence, or any other religious/spiritual reference. The Bill of Rights makes no mention, other than the specifics of the First Amendment. The remaining amendments do not, either. In contrast, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, of 1791, Article 11 states, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”

As I mentioned earlier, the Founding Fathers were a mixture of Christians and Deists (and also Unitarians). There are numerous quotes from Franklin, Jefferson, Paine, Adams and others regarding their beliefs and most are not Christian, but many have spiritual content. They had a mixture of religious beliefs, and thus wanted to make sure that no enmity arose between them. In that sense, it seems they believed a Power greater than themselves provided the Providence for the freedoms they sought – their so-called natural rights, but that they also took seriously a separation between church and state. To that end, I do not find a historical perspective on the founding of this nation in support of placing “under God,” in the Pledge.

So this brings us back to the addition in the early 50s of this phrase. Many attribute its addition as a response to the rise of McCarthyism. However, by 1954 Communist witch hunts were on the wain, and its inclusion had more to do with Lincoln, the Daughter s of the American Revolution, the Knights of Columbus, and a sermon that then President Eisenhower heard (who, by the way, disliked McCarthy intensely, and would not have been given to acceding to McCarthy’s witch hunts).

Louis Bowman is thought to be the first to use “under God” in 1948. It was picked up by the DAR, and the Knights of Columbus, both of which gave it widespread use in the early 50s. What codified it was a sermon by George Docherty, that Eisenhower heard, where he referred to Lincoln’s use in the Gettysburg Address of the phrase, “under God,” as showing the underlying spirit of the nation. Eisenhower liked that sentiment, worked with Congress, and signed a resolution, with Ike stating, “These words [“under God”] will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble. They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded.”

This is a profound and honorable sentiment, and I happen to agree with President Eisenhower about that sentiment. The problem is, no one remembers it when saying the Pledge. They think its there because of Lincoln or being a Christian nation (if they want it left in), or McCarthy (if they want it taken out), instead.

One last item guides me on this. In Matthew 22:21, Jesus says, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” To me, it is clear that Jesus understood separation of church and state, and that we should fulfill obligations to both separately.

Finally, there is much discussion about whether children are forced to say the Pledge in school. By Supreme Court decision in 1943, it is not legal to force children to say the Pledge. However, in many places, including certain parts of the midwest and south, it is still a routine. Children may be told that the do not have to participate, but social pressure will be strong to do so. If we are truly seeking liberty and justice for all, we should not create such artificial pressure.

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