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Pledge Of Allegiance

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Autor:  anton  05 December 2010
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The Pledge of Allegiance:

“Under God” in Accordance with Constitution

Dana Yormark

SPCM 111, Section L4

Professor Hals

December 7, 2005

The Pledge of Allegiance:

“Under God” in Accordance with Constitution

Do you remember reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in your grade school classroom? Do you remember all of your peers placing their right hand over their heart and directing their attention towards one corner of the classroom? Do you remember the feelings that were evoked when the teacher chose you to be the lucky student that led the entire class in reciting the Pledge? For many individuals the answer to these questions is yes. However, most of these individuals do not remember experiencing any uncertainty or feeling that their constitutional rights were violated when reciting the Pledge. The debate over the constitutionality of the words “under God” in the current Pledge of Allegiance has become an extremely heated topic. Supporters of the Pledge believe that the two words should be kept in the Pledge, while opponents are viciously arguing to have them removed. Throughout the course of my paper I will supply a brief history of the Pledge, elaborate on the differing arguments of each side, and provide reasons why the current pledge is constitutional. The words “under God” should remain in the current Pledge of Allegiance because they do not violate any clause of the First Amendment, therefore making the Pledge constitutional.

First and foremost, it is important to become educated on the history of the Pledge of Allegiance so as to understand how the Pledge and its existing debate have transpired. To begin, the Pledge was originally composed 113 years ago in 1892 because of a campaign organized by a popular family magazine, Youth’s Companion. As Haught (2005) stated, the campaign was created in order to “celebrate Columbus’ discovery of America and the country’s public school system” (p. 1). The man who won the contest, therefore becoming the author of the original Pledge of Allegiance, was named Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister who called himself a Christian socialist (Hertzberg, 2002). However, Bellamy’s original version of the Pledge has gone through many alterations and revisions since 1892. For instance, the National Flag Conference made alterations to the pledge in the 1920s, such as changing “my flag” to “the flag of the United States” and then finally to the way we recite it today as “the flag of the United States of America” (Haught, 2005, p. 2). The more important change came in 1954, after Francis Bellamy died, when a group named the Knights of Columbus added the words “under God” to the pledge (Tuccitto, 2005). As indicated by Hertzberg (2002), at the time “under God” became a part of the pledge, the United States was becoming a more religiously-based country due to the Cold War. Essentially, the two words were added so that the United States could distinguish themselves from other countries during an eruption of public piety.

This addition to the Pledge in 1954 was accepted at the time of the change, but the controversy surrounding the Pledge of Allegiance arose as time progressed. According to Hertzberg (2002), “when George Bush the elder and Michael Dukakis the hapless were running against each other for President, the Pledge got weaponized” (p. 3). Since that 1988 presidential debate, numerous lawsuits and arguments have arisen concerning the constitutionality of the words “under God”. Since this time a man named Michael Newdow has become a key player in the pledge’s controversy. Newdow won his first case filed in 2002, which argued that children like his daughter should not be forced to listen to others promote religious beliefs in schools, when the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the words “under God” unconstitutional on June 20, 2002 (“ Girl in pledge case..”, 2002). Shortly after, that ruling was overturned because the mother of Newdow’s child won her case arguing that Newdow did not have a right to sue because he did not have custody of her child (“Newdow sues”, 2005).

Many individuals fully agree with Newdow, who continues to fight for a ruling stating the pledge is unconstitutional. These opponents of the phrase claim that it violates the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment and it should be deleted because it violates the separation of church and state. By including “under God” in the pledge, the government is fostering the Christian religion, which goes against the Constitution’s intent. Individuals with this viewpoint would prefer that the Pledge of Allegiance be revised to a version that does not include the words “under God”. On the other hand, advocates for the Pledge of Allegiance are fighting to uphold the current wording in the Pledge because they do not believe that it is unconstitutional. Many of these individuals claim that the phrase “under God” is a patriotic statement, not one of religious fervor. Therefore, it does not violate the First Amendment and is in accordance with the Constitution. They argue that these words should not be tampered with because they hold much tradition and history.

The Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Constitution and should therefore remain as it is currently for a number of valid reasons. To begin, “under God” is a phrase that acknowledges the various religions represented in the United States and can refer to more than one denomination, ultimately staying in accordance with the Constitution. “Under God” does not just refer to one specific religion. Yes, the Pledge of Allegiance contains the word “God”, but it does not say which god. What God means to one person can be completely opposite of what it means to another. If the wording was different and the Pledge referred to one god specifically then there might be a violation present, but the current wording does not specifically state which god is being referenced. Therefore, “Under God” is an open-ended statement and can include a number of various religions. Just because the word god appears in the text does not in any way mean that it is fostering one specific type of religion. For instance, both the Christian and the Jewish religion refer to their higher power as “God”, but they are in fact two very different denominations with their own set of beliefs. Judaism and Christianity differ in the fact that Judaists believe in a monotheistic God, meaning that he is not separated into parts, whereas Christians believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, or trinitarianism (Conversion to Judaism Resource Center, n.d). Despite these major differences, both religions are encompassed in the phrase “under God” because both refer to their higher power as God. This proves that “under God” can relate to more than one denomination, making it constitutional.

Furthermore, as President Bush stated, “under God” serves as a collective statement for all of the religions represented in the United States. “America is a nation that values our relationship with an Almighty. You know there is a universal God, in my opinion” (Hertzberg, 2002, p. 3). “Under God” serves to acknowledge this universal God and does not distinguish or describe one particular ultimate power. The Knights of Columbus, the group who originally added “under God” to the Pledge, have a valid point in stating that every individual’s natural rights come from God, and this is the collective God that is made reference to in the Pledge’s words (Tuccitto, 2005, p. A4). Every person, not just citizens of the United States, is brought into this world with natural rights that cannot be taken away. Therefore, there must be some universal power that allows for this to happen and guarantees every person the same rights. The words “under God” demonstrate this universal concept that ties together every individual and pay respect to its greatness. Thus, because the statement “under God” encompasses a wide variety of religions and pertains to the collective higher power that guarantees each person the same rights, it does not violate any part of the Constitution making the Pledge constitutional.

Similarly, “under God” serves as a statement of patriotism for the United States. Drawing from the previous concept that “under God” encompasses many denominations, the phrase essentially advocates for the freedom of religion of which the U.S. is so proud, thus promoting patriotism. “The Pledge of Allegiance stands as a pledge for our commitment to democracy and freedom, on including the freedom of religion” (“The Pledge of Allegiance”, 2005, para. 3). By outwardly stating, through the two words, that each person is somehow linked together by receiving the same rights, people begin to feel connected with all of the other individuals who have the same rights as they do. Ultimately, the whole United States begins to feel connected on a certain level. Everyone is linked by a common ground: the natural rights they received from this encompassing “God”. Citizens begin to feel connected to other citizens because of this common ground, and a sense of unity arises. This unified sensation draws our country closer together and naturally evokes a sense of patriotism. According to Donovan (2003), even the House of Representatives is in agreement that the Pledge is a patriotic act as demonstrated by an overwhelming 400 to 7 vote in 2003. Not only is this promotion of patriotism a good thing, but it is also a necessity. Representative Jo Ann Emerson said it best when she stated, “Today, it is more important than ever to emphasize good citizenship and patriotism because there are so many negative messages out there…We are blessed to live in a great country, and efforts to marginalize the Pledge of Allegiance are nothing less than efforts to erode our great pride in our country” (“Emerson urges Pledge protection”, 2005, p. 1). To get rid of “under God” now would be eliminating one of the only verbal promotions of patriotism for the United States. The concept that “under God” promotes patriotism is yet another reason why the Pledge’s words are constitutional and should be maintained.

Lastly, the Pledge of Allegiance must remain as it is currently because changing the words would deplete a part of the United States’ history. When the words “under God” were added to the Pledge, the United States was experiencing the Red Scare of the 1950s (Manacher, 2005). This was a tough time for not only the United States, but for other countries as well. In an attempt to unify the country and pull through the rough period, Congress added “under God” to the Pledge. Not only did this addition prove to be publicly accepted, but it proved to be beneficial in unifying the United States as demonstrated by the fact that one year later the phrase In God We Trust was added to our paper bills (Manacher, 2005). If the addition of “under God” was not advantageous in encouraging unification, then Congress would have not introduced a similar phrase just one year later. Deleting “under God” from the Pledge would be erasing a crucial part of the United States’ history in which our country came together instead of letting the circumstances ruin our country. It would also be an attack against the efforts of the Knights of Columbus, who fought so diligently to add the words “under God” to the Pledge. Supreme Knight Anderson even stated, “We are so proud to have had a central role in adding ‘under God’ to the pledge 51 years ago, and we are determined to do everything possible to defend it in this court challenge” (Tuccitto, 2005, p. A4). Any change to the Pledge would rudely dismiss the critical endeavors that the Knights of Columbus endured and are so proud of. In order to pay respect to these significant years and the crucial effect that “under God” had on the country, the Pledge of Allegiance must remain with the current wording.

However, opponents of “under God” offer some valid arguments in attempts to explain why the current Pledge of Allegiance is indeed unconstitutional and should be revised. Unsurprisingly, their main attempt to prove the Pledge unconstitutional is that the words “under God” directly violate the First Amendment which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press” (“The Bill of Rights”, 1791, p. 1). They believe that this clause is violated under various pretenses. Primarily, most contend that “under God” violates the First Amendment in that the two words clearly foster one and only one denomination, thus breaching the “establishment of religion” clause. They believe the word God has and will always be associated with the Christian religion which in turn establishes it as the religion of the United States. According to Mauro (2003), reciting “under God” is equivalent to proclaiming “under Zeus” or any other higher power, which undoubtedly refers to a specific religion and would be labeled a violation of the First Amendment. Therefore, if these phrases would not be tolerated than neither should the current wording. Opponents not only believe that the Pledge of Allegiance violates the freedom of religion clause of the First Amendment, but they also argue that the Constitution as a whole makes no mention of God, therefore “under God” is undeniably not in accordance with the Constitution (Feldman, 2005).

Similarly, opponents argue that the Pledge violates the First Amendment’s “establishment of religion” clause because “under God” is said aloud for everyone to hear. Many view the current pledge as a way of insisting that everyone outwardly “bow down to a golden statute of the emperor”, which breaks the promise to have only one religion established (Cazden, 2005, p. 43). As Ebert (2003) put it, the problem is that “under God” constitutes as a horizontal prayer rather than a vertical prayer, which renders it unconstitutional. Vertical prayer, which is confidential and aimed up toward heaven, is perfectly acceptable, but the trouble comes with horizontal prayer, which is meant to be heard and engage others (Ebert, 2003). Since “under God” is said aloud in various public places, it is considered a horizontal prayer, which makes its purpose one of recruitment. Newdow (2002) argues, “The United States of America is just as much an atheistic entity as it is a theistic entity, with zero being the measure of each” (p. 15). Opponents like Newdow feel that this equal measure of being a believer or a nonbeliever becomes skewed because “under God” is recruiting individuals for a specific religion. Since this method of public recruitment favors one religion over another, it violates the First Amendment, rendering the pledge unconstitutional.

Additionally, opponents insist that “under God” violates the First Amendment because it places individuals, mostly schoolchildren, in a compromising position forcing them to question their beliefs. Cazden (2005) contends that she remembers feeling uncomfortable when reciting the Pledge in her classroom when younger because she did not necessarily believe in its words. According to Manacher (2005), “ ‘One Nation, Under God’ is a violation of the students’ right to be free from a coercive requirement to affirm God” (p. 6). Parents of schoolchildren have become heated on this issue because they feel that their children are pressured to toss aside the values and beliefs they have instilled in them by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This popular viewpoint argues that placing individuals in these positions violates the First Amendment’s clause guaranteeing individuals to be free from persuasion to verify a belief in God because it pressures children to say “God” by making them feel like outcasts if they do not participate.

Many of the opposition’s arguments appear legitimate, but when they are closely analyzed it becomes apparent that they are flawed. Yes, the First Amendment does ban an establishment of religion in the United States of America, and it does forbid anything that might prohibit one from exercising whatever it is that they believe. However, this clause is not violated because in no way does “under God” prohibit anyone from practicing any type of religion, if one at all, that they wish to practice. Look around. The United States is one of the most diverse countries in respect to how many religions are practiced. Every religion from Buddhism to Scientology is represented in the U.S., so it is unreasonable to say that the Pledge restricts various religions from being practiced. This argument from the opposition makes it sound as if the United States is under communistic rule and must follow one and only one religion, which is clearly not the case. As previously mentioned, “God” is a universal statement that pertains to more than just one religion, therefore belittling the argument that it establishes Christianity as the main religion.

It is also true that nowhere in the Constitution does the word God appear. The document is indeed free from ever mentioning religion other than in the First Amendment that is critical to this debate. However, as Feldman (2003) points out, “the words ‘separation of church and state’ also do not appear in our founding document” (p. 2). Just because the Constitution does not acknowledge a concept does not mean that it cannot be used or instilled in our current society. As hard as it is to believe, the times have changed since the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, and change means adaptation. Not necessarily everything that is proposed in the Constitution will apply to today’s society word for word, nor will today’s society relate directly to the text of the Constitution. For that reason, the argument that God does not appear in the Constitution is not a valid one.

As for the claim that the Pledge is unconstitutional because “under God” is said out loud in public places and can be heard by others, many things that people do not necessarily agree with are said everyday in public places. The great thing about this country is that everyone has the right to express their opinion. In fact, the First Amendment can be used to support the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance because it guarantees individuals the right to freedom of speech. Citizens of the United States have the right to say “under God” in public, just like they have the right to say anything else that someone might have a problem with in public. Also, the purpose of pronouncing something that can be heard by others does not necessarily have to be said with the intention to recruit others to believe in what they are saying. More often than not, public statements are uttered for the sole purpose of expressing one’s beliefs, not as a method of recruitment. Therefore, it is unreasonable to proclaim that “under God” is meant to recruit individuals to the Christian religion, hence violating the First Amendment.

Similarly, it is unreasonable to label the Pledge unconstitutional when it is not mandatory to recite. It is one thing for the opposition to claim that it is infringing upon the right to freedom of religion, but it is another thing to say that the Pledge causes individuals to question their beliefs. True, the Pledge of Allegiance is recited in almost all public schools around the country and thousands of children are exposed to it every morning, but students do not have to participate in the recitation. If children were that comfortable with their beliefs, they would not supposedly feel pressured to abandon them and recite something that they did not believe in. School teachers do not stand next to students and beat them with a stick if they do not recite “under God”, nor do they ever make any statements announcing that the Pledge is mandatory. Like most things in this country, if one does not agree or like something, they do not have to do it. If an individual feels that “under God” violates the First Amendment, compromises their beliefs, or any of the above, then simply do not say it. Cazden (2005), who is against “under God”, admits to not reciting the Pledge. “Keeping silence while it is being said around me reminds me where my true allegiance lies,” (Cazden, 2005, p. 44). That is exactly the point. If one does not like it, keep quiet. Leave the room. Cover your ears. As mentioned, choosing not to say the Pledge, or just “under God” for that matter, can prove to be more beneficial than reciting it because it reiterates one’s true beliefs. This is precisely the opposite effect that opponents claim that the Pledge has, proving that this argument does not hold validity.

To conclude, it is unreasonable to claim that the words “under God” currently in the Pledge of Allegiance are unconstitutional because they do not foster one religion, citizens have a right to freedom of speech, and the Pledge is not mandatory to recite. The Pledge of Allegiance needs to remain as it is currently because it acknowledges all of the religions represented in the U.S., it promotes patriotism for our country, and it reminds us of our durable history that brought us to where we are today. Let us go back to the grade school classroom scene in which you were standing with your hand over your heart staring at the beautiful stars and stripes representing the United States. Do you honestly remember at all feeling as if you were reciting something unconstitutional? Probably not, and most students still do not nowadays. The debate over the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance is simply another attempt to bring down the history and the unity of the United States. If the words “under God” are ruled unconstitutional and deleted from the Pledge, who knows what will be next. Will individuals try to abolish “In God We Trust” from our paper currency? We must rule the Pledge of Allegiance constitutional before other unreasonable lawsuits attempting to bring down the unity of the United States are made.



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