On the 26th of June, an order was issued that shook the United States of America. This order came in the form of a court ruling from the 9th Circuit Court. As the result of a 2-1 vote, Judges Alfred T. Goodwin and Stephen Reinhardt declared the words “under God” in the US Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. It was a victory for Michael Newdow, the plaintiff who filed the lawsuit that culminated in the 9th Circuit decision. However, the decision was later stayed. Nonetheless, the “damage” was already done.
Reaction towards the ruling was hostile. Republicans and Democrats alike vilified it. The Senate voted 99-0 against the ruling. The members of the US legislature sang “God Bless America” as a form of protest. According to President George W. Bush, the court order was ridiculous. An even harsher reaction came from the Religious Right. As an example, Concerned Women for America (CWA) called Mr. Newdow a minister of atheism ordained by the Universal Life Church (ULC) and claimed that the far left was trying to impose its agenda on the American populace.
These are fine examples of distorting the truth. Atheism is not a religion. It is simply the unbelief in supernatural beings. Mr. Newdow is indeed a ULC minister but he is not in any way acting as a missionary for atheism. Strangely, CWA ignores the facts that Mr. Newdow works as an emergency-room doctor and also holds a law degree. The ULC, by the way, is a liberal religious group that champions rationalism over devotion to God. Also, if it were true that the far left was involved, why did not the Communist Party USA issue a statement in support of the ruling? What have they got to hide? The Democrats were against the ruling, so they can be eliminated on the list of possible suspects in this left-wing conspiracy. And no, inane claims that Communist operatives are manipulating US courts will not do.
Needless to say, there are people arguing that the insertion of the words “under God” in the Pledge does not violate federal law. Let us take a look at their arguments. A point-by-point refutation will follow.
The majority of American citizens are Christian. Does that mean they can impose their beliefs on non-Christian citizens? No. The United States Constitution guarantees religious freedom and it calls for the separation of church and state. Why should Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, pagans, the nonreligious, etc., be subjected to “under God”? Simply because the majority of Americans are Christians? The Christian Right is fond of saying that the US is a republic and thus operates through the rule of law. The supporters of church-state separation can therefore trap them with their own logic. So what if most Americans are Christian? The US is a republic and the law is the law. The US Constitution is the law of the land and the separation of church and state is an integral part of it. Therefore the rule of law defeats the whims of the majority. Thus, the majority rule argument falls apart.
No specific religion is being implied
With this argument, the advocates of the phrase are trying to trivialize it. They say that the two words simply imply ceremonial deism. That was not the original intent. The insertion of the two words was meant to fight so-called godless Communism. Does that sound like deism? Deists believe that God created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life. What good is asking for a blessing from a higher power that assumes no control over life? Not only that, but deists are relatively few in number. Most Americans believe in the God of organized religion, tending to associate the word “God” with the God of the Bible. There are two religions being implied as a result of including “under God” in the Pledge: Judaism and Christianity.
The Cold War
As mentioned previously, the words “under God” were added to the Pledge in an effort to combat the spread of Communism. Much good that would do. Is American loyalty judged by belief in God and by simply saying “under God”? Since the words “In God We Trust” appear on US currency, should we assume that Soviet currency had the words: “In God We Do Not Trust,” “In Satan We Trust,” “In Lenin We Trust,” “In Stalin We Trust,” or “In the State We Trust”? Christian apologists sometimes get so carried away in bashing Marxism that they neglect that the early Church was a collectivist society (Acts 32). One has to wonder if they have also forgotten that the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Islamic fundamentalists have replaced the Communists in the current state of world affairs. Should we then say that the phrase is meant to fight the spread of fundamentalist Islam? When a new threat replaces Islamic fundamentalism shall we find another reason to protect the recitation of those words? And here is food for thought, just which side was “God” on when the 11th of September, 2001, attacks occurred?
There is no such thing as separation of church and state
This is a common argument among Religious Right supporters and leaders. Although it is true that the First Amendment did not contain the actual words “separation of church and state,” the fact is that the First Amendment does say that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . . .” A bill proposed in 1954 stating that God be inserted in the Pledge was signed into law. The word “God” is a religious term. This term is associated with Christianity and Judaism. Therefore, the addition of “under God” violates the First Amendment.
The Declaration of Independence
The Religious Right says that the terms “the Creator” and “Nature’s God” found in the Declaration of Independence point to Christianity. Thus, the US is a Christian nation. Wrong conclusion. The Declaration has no legal standing. It was meant to inform the British government that the American colonies have broken away. Also, if there was such an enormous Christian influence in the writing of the Declaration, why then did Thomas Jefferson neglect to include terms such as “Jehovah,” “Jesus Christ,” or “the Bible”?
There are people saying that the 9th Circuit Court ruling was based on political correctness. In other words, it is politically correct to attack Christianity and to erase anything that has a connection with Judeo- Christian beliefs. However, a good portion of the American public supports school prayer, thinks that Biblical creationism deserves respectability, and is steadfastly against the court ruling. Religious conservatives want to push prayer and the teaching of so-called Intelligent Design (ID) into public schools. Besides, criticism of organized religion is considered politically incorrect in the States. And the Democratic Party was, like its Republican counterpart, against the ruling.
Invalid claim of injury
The right said that Mr. Newdow’s case never should have made it to a federal appeals court. They said that Mr. Newdow’s daughter did not have to say “under God” while reciting the Pledge and therefore did not have to feel offended. A valid point, but it was a 1954 law that inserted “under God” into the Pledge. That law is unconstitutional (see counterargument #2). This argument can also be used against the Christian right. Fundamentalist Christians no doubt feel offended that Biblical creation is not taught in public schools. But their hurt-feelings claim is useless since their demand for the teaching of creationism in public schools goes against federal law. Finally, as a side note, creationists have consistently failed in gaining legal support for the teaching of creationism in public schools.
An antireligion campaign
This claim was made by John Leo in his “On Society” column published by US News & World Report, and Christian right advocates would agree. However, he fails to name the people whom he calls “the elites,” that is, the people who want to keep religion out of the public square. And just who are these people? No doubt, the first suspect would be Michael Newdow. It is certainly not a public campaign, either. Attacking organized religion is not politically correct, as was demonstrated when former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura said in a Playboy interview that religion was “a crutch for weak-minded people.” This conspiracy theory is very flimsy–unless you would consider preserving church-state separation to be a persecution of the religious.
These are eight arguments that have been dismantled. The ruling from the 9th Circuit Court is justifiable in terms of the Constitution of the United States. Those who abhor the ruling may protest it all they want but it is unmistakable that the phrase “under God” is unconstitutional.
Fineman, Howard. “One Nation, Under . . . Who?” Newsweek, 8 July 2002: 20-25.
Flank, Lenny. “The Arkansas Case: Opinion of Judge Overton.” Available as McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education: Decision by U.S. District Court Judge William R. Overton. Retrieved: 25 December 2002
Flank, Lenny. “The Louisiana Case: Supreme Court Decision.” Available as: EDWARDS, GOVERNOR OF LOUISIANA, ET AL. v. AGUILLARD ET AL. Retrieved: 25 December 2002
Jipping, Tom. “Judges Are Hijacking Culture, Democracy, and Freedom Itself,” also titled Judicial activism run amok. Retrieved: June-July 2002, 25 December 2002
Leo, John. “Folly ’round the flag.” US News and World Report, July 8-15 2002.
MacLeod, Laurel. School Prayer and Religious Liberty: A Constitutional Perspective. Retrieved: September 2000.
Quindlen, Anna. “Indivisible? Wanna Bet?” The Last Word, Newsweek, 15 July 2002
Rios, Sandy. “Sandy Rios on Pledge of Allegiance Ruling: ‘The Ninth Circuit must not be allowed to force their damnable arrogance on the rest of us.'” Retrieved: June-July 2002
Ventura, Jesse. Do I Stand Alone?: Going to the Mat Against Political Pawns and Media Jackals. Pocket Books, November 2001.
Author’s note: This article was written in the summer of 2002. Last revisions were made on the 12th of January, 2003.