Should the words "under God" be in the US Pledge of Allegiance?
The PRO and CON statements below give a five minute introduction to the debate over "under God" in the US Pledge of Allegiance. (Read more information about our one star to five star Theoretical Expertise System.)
PRO: "This abominable ruling [Ninth Circuit ruling in Newdow vs. US] by an imperious court is a slap in the face to all Americans and people of faith. At a moment when national unity should be of the utmost importance, two individuals chose to speak for an entire nation and, in the process, divide this country. There is no place for myopic edicts, especially during this time of national and international uncertainty - clearly neither the events of September 11, nor America's war on terrorism, was weighing on the judge's minds."
-- James Dobson
Founder and Chairman of Focus on the Family
June 26, 2002
CON: "We have a democratic process, and the majority should do whatever it wants. But when we're talking about fundamental constitutional rights, we're in a different ballgame. In those situations, it doesn't matter what the majority wants. If the majority wants to enslave blacks, too bad. You can't do it. If the majority wants to have the government implicating a religious belief, too bad. You can't do it. [Our Constitution] doesn't allow you to."
-- Michael Newdow
Attorney and Plaintiff in Newdow v. US Congress
interview in American Jurist
Nov. 25, 2003
2. Legal Perspectives of the Pledge
PRO: "Recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is fully consistent with the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The words of the Pledge echo the conviction held by the Founders of this Nation that our freedoms come from God. Congress inserted the phrase 'One Nation Under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance for the express purpose of reaffirming America's unique understanding of this truth, and to distinguish America from atheistic nations who recognize no higher authority than the State."
CON: "The government should not be asking impressionable schoolchildren to affirm their allegiance to God at the same time that they are affirming their allegiance to the country...
Removing ‘under God’ from the Pledge is not anti-religious [...] just the opposite is true. The only way the religious reference in the Pledge can be upheld is for the Court to conclude that the words ‘under God’ have no religious meaning, which is far more insulting to people of faith."
PRO: "For more than two hundred years, many of our expressions of national identity and patriotism have referenced God. The Supreme Court, which opens each session by saying 'God save the United States and this honorable Court,' has affirmed time and again that such official acknowledgments of our Nation's religious heritage, foundation, and character are constitutional. The Department of Justice will continue vigorously to defend the ability of American schoolchildren to pledge allegiance to the flag."
-- Alberto Gonzalez
Attorney General of the United States
Sep. 15, 2005
CON: "People don't get angry at a recital of historical and demographic facts. People get angry because they know what it means; it's plain English. They believe what it means, they want people to say what it means, they want their kids to say what it means. And I'll tell you a dirty little secret: They want to coerce other kids to say what it means and what they believe to be true. They know that 'under God' means under God."
-- Douglas Laycock
Associate Dean for Research, University of Texas at Austin School of Law
Debate at the National Press Club: "Under God? Pledge of Allegiance Constitutionality"
Mar. 19, 2004
4. National Interests and "Under God"
PRO: "There is nothing more American than the Pledge of Allegiance and an acknowledgement of God is at the heart of our founding principles and is our nation’s motto. The district court ruling [Eastern District of California's Newdow v. US Congress ruling] seriously undermines our ability as a nation to encourage civic pride, respect for our heritage, and much-needed patriotism in our public square.”
CON: "...it is not only the right thing for the Court to find in favor of Mr. Newdow and the principle of neutrality toward religion in the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses. It is also in the national interest to do so.”
-- Marci Hamilton
Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University
"The Court Hears Oral Argument in the 'Under God' Pledge of Allegiance Case: Why the Court Should Reject This Pledge, and Why the Department of Justice Is Wrong To Support It," Findlaw.com
Mar. 25, 2004
5. Patriotism and the Pledge
PRO: "Neither the Pledge nor its recitation constitutes a forbidden religious exercise because pledging allegiance is, by its very nature, purpose, and effect, a secular activity - an individual statement of patriotism and respect for this country and its primary symbol."
CON: "I happen to like the Pledge of Allegiance. I like the original one, written back in 1892 by a minister who didn't feel it was necessary to use the word 'God' because he was writing a patriotic statement for the country. Back in 1954, we got a little politically correct during the McCarthy era. Everybody had to prove not just that they loved America, but that they also loved God. We got patriotism and religion confused."
PRO: "A sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state. Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation -- context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase 'under God.' I didn't."
-- Barack Obama
US Senator (D-IL)
"Call to Renewal" Keynote Address
June 29, 2006
CON: "We're dealing with schoolchildren and with role models in schools who are required to lead it. The circumstances are inherently fraught with compulsion or coercion and we feel that's a violation of church-state separation."
7. Christian Perspectives on the "Under God" Phrase
PRO: "Every constitution of the fifty states which make up our union contains a reference to God. Oaths sworn in court use the phrase '…so help me God.' The Supreme Court convenes with a prayer, 'God save this honorable court.' We are, and have continued to be, a religious people since our founding.
Now, a tiny minority is using the federal court system to attempt to dismantle our entire public affirmation of faith in God. After the shocking events of September 11th, I was asked on television interviews, 'Where was God in all of this?' The court should realize that if something much more terrible than September 11th befalls our beloved nation, the answer to the question 'Where was God in all of this (?) may well be 'He was excluded by the 9th Circuit.'"
-- Pat Robertson
Founder and Chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network
Press Release, Patrobertson.com
June 26, 2002
CON: "Turning from proclamation to politics, however, requires much duplicitous testimony. In public, politically powerful preachers will declare that the nation must acknowledge allegiance to God and will contend that the public square would be naked without meaningful references to Deity. In court, slick lawyers will argue that the oath in the pledge does not establish a religion because the words 'under God' have 'no significant religious content.'
How fundamentalist Christians can so callously profane the name of their Lord -- making it legally meaningless and publicly bearing false witness about it -- reveals something about the depth of either their understanding or their spirituality, especially when they are leading a simultaneous crusade to post the Decalogue in public places."
-- Bruce Prescott
Executive Director of the Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists
"Fundamentalism's Devious Debates for Established Religion," The Baptist Studies Bulletin
8. Jewish Perspectives on the "Under God" Phrase
PRO: "The phrase 'under God,' therefore, struck me as a comforting expression of humility, that we as a nation recognized the grandeur of our universe and conceded its unfathomability."
CON: "To have kids expressing a theological principle at 7 A.M. over the loudspeaker is not a serious way to do it...It is not that we don't want God in our lives. We just don't want [Him] trivialized."
-- Dan Fink
"Would God Side With an Atheist?," Beliefnet.com
9. Court Decisions Regarding Religious Coercion and the Pledge
PRO: "Thus, the fact that indirect coercion may result from voluntary recitation of the Pledge in school classrooms is of no moment under the Establishment Clause. Because the Pledge is by its nature a patriotic exercise, not a religious exercise."
CON: "The [school's] policy and the [1954 Act adding 'under God' to the Pledge] fail the coercion test. Just as in Lee [Lee v. Weisman, 1992], the policy and the Act place students in the untenable position of choosing between participating in an exercise with religious content or protesting."
-- Newdow v. US (PDF) 64.6KB
Ninth Circuit Court Majority Opinion
June 26, 2002
10. Founding Fathers on Religion in Government
PRO: "The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone that renders us invincible."
-- Patrick Henry
Letter to Archibald Blair
Jan. 8, 1789
CON: "...I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."
-- Thomas Jefferson
Third President of the United States
Letter to a Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association
Jan. 1, 1802