1. Introduction
  2. Brief Timeline
  3. Founding Fathers
  4. Separation of Church and State
  1. Religious References in Government
  2. Legal Considerations
  3. State Endorsement of Religion
1. Introduction:

The US Pledge of Allegiance was first written in 1892 for a national public schools' celebration of the Columbus Day quadricentennial. In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a joint-party Congressional act which added the words "under God" to the text of the pledge. A 2001 lawsuit tested the legality of the phrase's inclusion, claiming the words "under God" were a violation of the First Amendment prohibition of government sponsorship of religion. Although a panel of 9th Circuit Judges sided with the plaintiff, Michael A. Newdow, in 2002, the US Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit (Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow) in 2003 without ruling on the matter. The plaintiff filed a new lawsuit in 2005 (Michael Newdow, et al. v. John Carey, et al.), in which the ruling judge sided with Newdow.

Some people have looked back to the Founding Fathers to determine if they would have approved of the words "under God" in the text of the Pledge of Allegiance. The Founding Fathers held diverse views on the role of religion in government and church-state separation, and some have made both pro and con statements on the issue. In 1791 the Founding Fathers placed what became known as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Many contend that these clauses prohibit the addition of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, while others believe that the clauses allow for specific religious expression, so long as a specific creed is not supported or mandated.

Dating back to 1948, the word "God" appears in at least 22 or laws, and many believe the commonality of the religious reference (aka "ceremonial deism") supports the addition of "under God" in the Pledge. Others believe that any reference to God in US code is a violation of each individual's right to freedom of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

2. Brief Timeline of the Pledge and the "under God" Debate:
(Click here for a more extensive history)
1892 - In Sep., the Pledge is written by Francis Bellamy, a "socialist editor and clergyman." It appears in the Sep. 8, 1892 periodical The Youth's Companion. The Pledge then reads:

"I Pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and Justice for all."

The Pledge first receives national publicity through the official program of the National Public School Celebration of Columbus Day in Oct. 1892. During the Celebration it was repeated by public school pupils in every state in the Union.
US codes

1923 - The National Flag Conference is held on Flag Day (June 14) in Washington, D.C. A Flag Code is developed, which declares the flag "a living symbol of a living nation." Bellamy's "Pledge of Allegiance" is included in the Flag Code, although the words are amended. The new pledge reads:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States, and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

1942 - The US Flag Code becomes law when Congress passes a joint resolution on June 22, 1942 (amended Dec. 22, 1942) to become Public Law 829; Chapter 806, 77th Congress, 2nd session. Exact rules for use and display of the flag (36 U.S.C. 173-178) as well as associated sections (36 U.S.C. 171) Conduct During Playing of the National Anthem, (36 U.S.C. 172) the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and Manner of Delivery are included.

1954 - A new bill to add "under God" to the pledge is supported by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Cold War concerns spur US legislators to distance the US from "godless communists." President Eisenhower signs the bill on June 14, 1954. The new Pledge reads:

"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."

2002 - On June 26, 2002, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals holds [in a 2-1 decision in Newdow v. Elk Grove Unified School District] that the phrase "under God" violates the First Amendment's prohibition of government sponsorship of religion.

2004 - The Supreme Court temporarily preserves the phrase 'one nation under God,' in the Pledge of Allegiance, ruling in June 2004 [in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow] that Michael A. Newdow cannot challenge the patriotic oath while sidestepping the broader question of separation of church and state.

The court said Newdow could not sue to ban the pledge from his daughter's school and others' schools because he did not have legal authority to speak for his daughter, as he did not have sole custody of the child."

2005 - On Jan. 3, 2005, Newdow files a new suit (Michael Newdow, et al. v. John Carey, et al.) in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California on behalf of three unnamed families.

On Sep. 14, 2005, Federal Judge Lawrence Karlton of the Eastern District of California rules in favor of Michael Newdow that it is unconstitutional to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

2006 - In July 2006, the US House of Representatives votes 260-167 in favor of the Pledge Protection ACT, H.R. 2389, to "protect the Pledge of Allegiance from federal judges who might try to stop school children and others from reciting it because of the phrase 'under God.'[...]The pledge bill would deny jurisdiction to federal courts, and appellate jurisdiction to the Supreme Court, to decide questions pertaining to the interpretation or constitutionality of the pledge. State courts could still decide whether the pledge is valid within the state." The Senate did not vote on the bill before the 109th session of Congress ended, so the bill did not become law.

2007 - On Jan. 29, 2007, Representative Todd Akin (R-MO) introduced the 2007 Pledge Protection Act (H. R. 699) to the first session of the 110th Congress. The bill is referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary, and then to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, where, as of Apr. 19, 2007, it awaits review.

3. Founding Fathers
 Did the Founding Fathers believe religion should be in government?


PRO: George Washington, the first US President, in his farewell address, published Sep. 19, 1796 in Philadelphia's American Daily Advisor, stated:


"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports...

Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice?

And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.

Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar stature, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
Sep. 19, 1796 George Washington


CON: James Madison, fourth US President, wrote in a July 10, 1822 letter to Edward Livingston (from Adrienne Koch, ed. The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society, NY: G. Braziller Press, 1965, pp. 465-466):


"[T]here remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Government & Religion neither can be duly supported... the danger cannot be too carefully guarded against.

Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance... [R]eligion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together..."
July 10, 1822 James Madison

4. Separation of Church and State
Did the Founding Fathers support a separation of church and state?


PRO: In Everson v. Board of Education, (1947), the US Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision written by Justice Black, held:


"The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between church and State.'"
Feb. 10, 1947 Everson v. Board of Education (PDF) 117KB


CON: William Rehnquist, then Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, wrote in his Wallace v. Jaffree dissent on June 4, 1985 that:


"The 'wall of separation between church and State' is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned."
June 4, 1985 William Rehnquist

Was the US founded "under God?"


PRO: Ronald Reagan, 40th US President, in his Feb. 3, 1983 Proclamation 5018, which declared 1983 as "The Year of the Bible," stated:


"The Bible and its teachings helped form the basis for the Founding Father' abiding belief in the inalienable rights of the individual, rights which they found implicit in the Bible's teachings of the inherent worth and dignity of each individual. This same sense of man patterned the convictions of those who framed the English system of law inherited by our own Nation, as well as the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution."
Feb. 3, 1983 Ronald ReaganProclamation 5018 (PDF) 4.5KB


CON: Ed Buckner, PhD, Southern Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, wrote in an e-mail to ProCon.org dated July 18, 2006:

"The U.S. was not founded 'under God.' In fact the founders went out of their way to make it clear that they believed the national government should be neutral regarding religion, explicitly to protect religious liberty for all. They wrote and adopted a godless constitution, invoking the authority of 'We the People' rather than that of any god. The Constitution was in fact the first significant governing charter in the history of mankind that did not invoke any gods."
July 18, 2006 Ed Buckner
5. Religious References in Government
Should "In God We Trust" be removed from US currency?


PRO: Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, in a Nov. 11, 1907 letter, wrote:


"My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence which comes dangerously close to sacrilege. A beautiful and solemn sentence such as the one in question should be treated and uttered only with that fine reverence which necessarily implies a certain exaltation of spirit. Any use which tends to cheapen it, and above all, any use which tends to secure its being treated in a spirit of levity, is from every standpoint profoundly to be regretted."
Nov. 11, 1907 Theodore Roosevelt


CON: William Brennan, Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, in his Lynch v. Donnelly dissent on Mar. 5, 1984, wrote:


"I would suggest that such practices as the designation of 'In God We Trust' as our national motto, or the references to God contained in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag can best be understood, in Dean Rostow's apt phrase, as a form of 'ceremonial deism,' protected from Establishment Clause scrutiny chiefly because they have lost through rote repetition any significant religious content. Moreover, these references are uniquely suited to serve such wholly secular purposes as solemnizing public occasions, or inspiring commitment to meet some national challenge in a manner that simply could not be fully served in our culture if government were limited to purely nonreligious phrases."
Mar. 5, 1984 William Brennan

6. Legal Considerations
Does public school recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance constitute undue coercion?


PRO: Michael Newdow, JD, in his 2005 brief before the California Eastern District Court wrote:


"There is no question that small children have essentially no choice but to join their fellow students when led by their teachers in a daily ritual, or that the rare young person with sufficient fortitude to display her disbelief in God would not be ostracized in today's society by exempting herself from such a routine. "
Apr. 2005 Michael NewdowBrief (PDF) 1,140KB


CON: Barack Obama, Democratic Senator from Illinois, was quoted on June 29, 2006 in the Chicago Sun-Times as saying to the National City Christian Church as saying:


"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."
June 29, 2006 Barack Obama

Does the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance violate the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution?


PRO: Jesse H. Choper, JD, Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University's of California Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, in the Fall/Winter 2003-2004 Boalt Hall's Transcript, wrote:


"As the 9th Circuit recognized, there is a strong argument that the Pledge violates the Establishment Clause under the endorsement test as well as Lemon. This is true, not in spite of, but rather because of, the Pledge's primarily patriotic intent. As an affirmation of citizenship, the Pledge defines membership in the political community. As amended in 1954, the Pledge refers to a particular belief, monotheism, that many people -- not only atheists, but members of religions such as Buddhism -- do not share. This official reference to a single God may well strike nonbelievers as an act of exclusion.

...In adding 'under God' to the Pledge of Allegiance, Congress was unquestionably motivated by a religious purpose. To dismiss the phrase as trivial or ceremonial overlooks the special compulsive influences that exist in the context of public schools, which tend to induce school children to recite the Pledge, thus meaningfully endangering their religious liberty."
2003/2004 Jesse Choper


CON: Lisa Shaw Roy, JD, Assistant Professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law, in her article entitled "The Establishment Clause and the Concept of Inclusion" published in the Spring 2004 Oregon Law Review, wrote:

"Many unfamiliar with the Supreme Court's Establishment Clause doctrine would not have supposed that being required to listen to a phrase such as 'under God' would amount to a constitutional harm. And those same persons, when posed with the question of whether they believed the Pledge of Allegiance to be a religious exercise, would have probably answered 'no.' Thus Michael Newdow's claim can be seen as doubly anomalous, resting on the feelings of a religious outsider when required to passively listen to a marginally religious message...

[T]he Establishment Clause should not be interpreted as requiring elimination of every religious message or practice. Demanding inclusion merely inverts the classifications of judicial winners and losers, but does little to promote the overall well-being of society's members."
2004 Lisa Shaw Roy

7. State Endorsement of Religion
Do the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance improperly endorse religion?


PRO: Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains in its "One Nation 'Under God' Questions and Answers," accessed on June 13, 2006:


"The Pledge was a purely patriotic exercise until Congress in 1954 made it a patriotic and religious exercise. Millions of Americans who have no religious beliefs or who object to religious-political entanglement were alienated by that change... Not all religious people agree with so-called 'generic' references to God. These references tend to reflect Judeo-Christians understandings of God that may not be shared by Buddhists, Hindus and others...

The phrase 'under God' has obvious religious meanings. It is not drained of its religious meaning merely because of frequent repetition."
June 13, 2006 Americans United for Separation of Church and State


CON: The Anti-Defamation League writes in its June 27, 2002 press release entitled "ADL Says Appeals Court Ruling on 'One Nation Under God' Was Wrong":


"The statement, 'one nation under God' does not proclaim nor endorse any religion. And we hope that it will be reversed on appeal, to return to the American people a constitutional ability to express themselves in a Pledge of Allegiance which includes a recognition of God."
June 27, 2002 Anti-Defamation League