Restore the Pledge of Allegiance to its Original Meaning

by | Mar 2, 2003

This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider its ruling striking down the Pledge of Allegiance. They were right to do so; the court’s decision is consistent with the nation’s founding principles, which are casually discarded by religious conservatives and religious liberals whenever faith is imposed by the state. In the Court’s […]

This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider its ruling striking down the Pledge of Allegiance. They were right to do so; the court’s decision is consistent with the nation’s founding principles, which are casually discarded by religious conservatives and religious liberals whenever faith is imposed by the state.

In the Court’s June, 2002 decision, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote: “A profession that we are a nation ‘under God’ is identical…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.”

Judge Goodwin’s explanation properly applies the Founding Fathers’ radical ideas about liberty to religion. The founders, who created a nation partly to escape state-sanctioned religion, defiantly opposed the mixture of religion and government. Some doubted the existence of God and others, including deist Thomas Paine, were openly hostile to religion–any religion.

A brief history of the Pledge of Allegiance is also instructive. The first organized use of the Pledge of Allegiance was 110 years ago, when millions of American schoolchildren recited the following words to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands — One nation indivisible — with liberty and justice for all.”

The first National Flag Conference voted in 1923 to change “my flag” to “the Flag of the United States of America.” Congress officially recognized the Pledge in 1942, but in the following year, the Supreme Court ruled that public school students could not be forced to recite it. The words “under God” were added in 1954 by President Eisenhower, following a campaign conducted by the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus.

The founders created an American republic based primarily on individual rights–a society in which the freedom of religion implicitly means freedom from religion. As founder James Madison, America’s fourth president, stated:

“Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

America’s Founding Father and third president–who wrote the Declaration of Independence–Thomas Jefferson, wrote in an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association:

“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 and State.” Jefferson’s stirring words provided the standard by which religion has been kept out of government.

That the only nation founded on the concept of individual liberty would dictate a theological concept — God — is the unequivocal establishment of religion and, as such, it is wrong. Any state sanction of religion — including inherently religious notions like God — is a violation of individual rights.

On the eve of America’s retribution against Iraq, a state that sponsors and promotes religious terrorism, the court’s refusal to reconsider its decision is a reminder that the Founding Fathers fought for the creation of a nation based on individual rights–which means the right to not believe in God, and the right to not participate in religion. In this sense, the Ninth Court’s decision is profoundly American and ought to be supported by the most devout believer.

As Jefferson once said: “It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”

Scott Holleran's writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Classic Chicago, and The Advocate. The cultural fellow with Arts for LA interviewed the man who saved Salman Rushdie about his act of heroism and wrote the award-winning “Roberto Clemente in Retrospect” for Pittsburgh Quarterly. Scott Holleran lives in Southern California. Read his fiction at ShortStoriesByScottHolleran.substack.com and read his non-fiction at ScottHolleran.substack.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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