JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy (1855-1931) in 1892 for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Western Hemisphere. The Christian Socialist Baptist Minister Bellamy started the pledge out as a simple confirmation, and at one time considered the inclusion of the word "equality" in the message, but backed away after he saw potential difficulties with the word, what with the social and legal exclusions of women and Black people getting in the way of the concept.
Bellamy's original version was non-secular, and, just like the Constitution (1) and all of its Amendments, did not mention the word "God". ("Lord" is used describing the date that the Constitution was signed, but this was another way of saying "1777 A.C." or even "1777 A.C.E.". The Declaration of Independence uses the word once, in the phrase "Nature's God".) This does not mean that the Founding Fathers were a-religious--hardly so. All it means is that they sought to differentiate religion and government, and to form a government separated from religious practice and observation, and to ensure that there was no preference to any particular religious sect. On the other hand the Framers provided security for the practice of religion, any religion, by any person, in a very elegant and succinct statement:"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" in the First Amendment, Bill of Rights. The concept is given further freedoms by the fact that "religion" is not defined anywhere in the Constitution.
I think that a concise way of viewing the matter of religion and government can be seen in the Supreme Court ruling in the (landmark) case of Reynolds v U.S. (98 US 145 ) which said that making religious rule or law superior to civil law would encourage everything and nothing, making each person a "law unto himself", meaning that there would be all law and no law, with government having no say in the matter.(2).
In 2000 a case was filed in the U.S. District Court, 9th Circuit, by Dr. Michael Newdow, on the use of the word "God" in the Pledge, and in 2002 that court upheld Newdow's case, deciding in his favor 2-1. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court which skirted the issue entirely--in their Elk Grove v Newdow ruling on March 24, 2004, finding that Newdow did not have the standing to speak for his daughter (for whom the case was originally brought) because she lived with her mother, and not with the her father who initiated the case. Case dismissed, 8-0, though the issue itself was left untouched. On the other hand (long story short) Newdow returned to the same court on March 12, 2010 with a similar argument, though the court ruled against him in a 2-1 decision...ruling on the same day, but in a different case, the court found in favor of the use of "In God We Trust" on American money.
And so it goes. And on to the Pledge:
Pledge of Allegiance, 1892
'I pledge allegiance to my Flag and (to*) the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.' [ * 'to' added in October, 1892. ]
31 years later came the adopted variation:
Pledge of Allegiance 1923/4
'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.'
The Pledge changed against the interests of Francis Bellamy by the American Legion and the DAR, replacing "my flag" to "the flag of the United States of America".
31 years after this came the "God" change, which Bellamy certainly would have objected to:
Pledge of Allegiance, 1954
'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.'
The words "under God" were added after diligent prosecution of religious and political interests by the Roman Catholic organization, the Knights of Columbus, to help fight the Communists. The change was approved on Flag Day, June 14, 1954, at which time President Dwight Eisenhower remarked: "In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war."
The inclusion of "God" in the pledge and the exclusion of "equality" seem to be the reverse of the original intention of the pledge--unless of course the necessity of counterplay against godless Communists is still a requisite for a statement of fidelity to what the American flag represents--not to mention the separation intentions of the Founding Fathers.
1. Jefferson had no hand in writing the Constitution per se, but we can see his thinking at work. For example, as a legislator from Virginia, Jefferson drafted a bill that was to stop government from proposing a tax to help pay for religious education:. "... no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."
2 Part of the ruling reads as follows:
"In the context of the Pledge, the statement that the United States is a nation "under God" is an endorsement of religion. It is a profession of a religious belief, namely, a belief in monotheism. The recitation that ours is a nation "under God" is not a mere acknowledgment that many Americans believe in a deity. Nor is it merely descriptive of the undeniable historical significance of religion in the founding of the Republic. Rather, the phrase "one nation under God" in the context of the Pledge is normative. To recite the Pledge is not to describe the United States; instead, it is to swear allegiance to the values for which the flag stands: unity, indivisibility, liberty, justice, and — since 1954 — monotheism. The text of the official Pledge, codified in federal law, impermissibly takes a position with respect to the purely religious question of the existence and identity of God. A profession that we are a nation "under God" is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation "under Jesus," a nation "under Vishnu," a nation"under Zeus," or a nation "under no god," because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion."
It is interesting to note that from the beginning of the pledge in 1892 the flag was saluted by non-military personnel by starting with right hand placed over the heart, and when the phrase "to the flag" was reached, the right arm would be extended outward, palm down, arm slightly raised. When WWII began it was decided to keep the right arm/right hand firmly over the heart.