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The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance

Controversy about the Pledge


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What does the phrase "under God" imply?

Considering that the phrase consists of only two words, it implies a lot:

  • That a deity exists. Traditionally, God is viewed as at least omniscient (all knowing) and omnipotent (with infinite powers). Many religions add other attributes, such as all-loving.
  • Maleness: "God" implies a male deity. There is no room in the Pledge for any female deity/deities who are normally called "Goddesses."
  • Uniqueness: The phrase implies monotheism: that there is only a single deity who one who rules over America.
  • Omnipresent: The phrase implies that God rules over all of America, and is present everywhere.
  • Control: Most Americans probably believe that the phrase indicates a God who interferes with events on earth, guiding the U.S. in the direction that he wishes.

Agreement with, and opposition, to the phrase:

One would expect that most of the approximately 88% of adult Americans who identified themselves as Christians back in 1954 would have had no objection to the Pledge. The percentage of Christians has been dropping recently and by 2001 reached about 76%. However, it still represents a substantial percentage of Americans. There are other world religions who also believe in a single male deity, including: Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. However, all four of these monotheistic faiths attribute different names, attributes, and expectations to their concept of God; they do not worship the same deity. So, the exact attributes associated with "God" in the Pledge is unclear.

However, one would expect some opposition from religious minorities. For example:

  • Atheists have no awareness of the existence of God; some actively deny the existence of any deity.
  • Agnostics are undecided about the existence of God;
  • Buddhists generally have no belief in a personal God;
  • Deists believe that God exists, created the universe, wound it up, let it go, departed and hasn't been seen since. Thus, they believe that we are not "under God" because God isn't around any more.
  • Humanists and Ethical Culturalists base their beliefs and practices on secular considerations;
  • Many Jews, who because of centuries of Christian persecution, tend to oppose all government involvement in religion;
  • Some Theists who object in principle to state-sponsored items with religious content, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, national motto, and prayers in public schools, because of the degree of compulsion which is inevitably present; and
  • Many religious liberals, and others, who rigorously defend the principle of complete separation of church and state, and would oppose religious content in the Pledge on principle.

The stand taken by Pledge of Allegiance Restoration Project: 1

  • Imagine, for a moment, that you are a Jewish student. You have the choice of
    1. Reciting a pledge that an Atheist -- a person who has no belief in the existence of a God -- wrote: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation, without God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
    2. Refusing to recite it, and leaving yourself open to being belittled, harassed, insulted, assaulted, etc.

    As the Pledge of Allegiance Restoration Project writes: "Would you repeat all the words? Would you skip over the phrase "without God?" Would it make you feel comfortable about being an American?" Or, as one person posting to a forum said, would you recite "under all."

  • Imagine that you are a Christian, and you were forced to read a pledge written by an Muslim -- a person who believes in the existence of Allah: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation, under Allah, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
  • Imagine that you are a Muslim, and you were forced to read a pledge written by an Wiccan -- a person who follows an earth-centered religion, and believes in the existence of a God and a Goddess: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation, under the God and Goddess, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
  • Imagine that you are a Wiccan, and you were forced to read a pledge written by an Christian: "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."

"That is the situation today for millions of Americans who do not believe they are 'under' God. Some find God within their own hearts. Others believe they are part of -- not under -- a sacred universe. Still others do not believe in God at all. Yet every day the religious beliefs of these patriotic Americans are violated by our government in schools, in public meetings...anywhere the Pledge Of Allegiance is led and spoken." 1

Actually, the second example is not a particularly good one, because "Allah" simply means "God" in Arabic. Those Christians in the Middle East who speak Arabic generally pray to Allah, and would probably not have any objections to this wording. However, most Americans probably associate the name Allah with the concept of deity as understood by Muslims and would object.


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Why does it all matter anyway?

There has been a lot of negative reaction to the Circuit Court's decision:
  • Why was the valuable time of the court taken up over what is truly a trivial matter?
  • If a person doesn't like the "under God" phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance, they can remain silent while the words are recited.
  • If a person doesn't like the phrase "In God we Trust" on coins or bills, they can not look at it.
  • It would cost the government a lot of money to pull all the bills and coins from circulation and replace them.
  • The group sponsoring this web site has been criticized for giving so much attention to the subject.

These are very good points that should be carefully considered. Including "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and the term "In God we trust" on coins and bills does not really have much impact of the public's religiosity and spirituality. Teddy Roosevelt expressed his opinion that putting the term on our money diminishes the idea of God. It does contribute to what is called "civil religion" (a.k.a. "civic religion") but that is a a washed-out version of real religion.

There are other considerations:

  • The phrase is "under God." It is not "under Rama," "under Allah," "under "Ahura Mazda," "under Krishna," or "under the Goddess." This implies that the full weight of the government and school system is behind the concept of the deity of Jehovah and Jesus Christ.
  • Consider the fate of children who do not believe in the existence of a personal God. These include children who are (or who are the sons and daughters of) Agnostics, Atheists, some Buddhists, Ethical Culturalists, Humanists, secularists, most Unitarian Universalists, etc.
  • Consider also the fate of children who believe in a God who is different from the Judeo-Christian deity. The phrase is telling them that the government and school board thinks that their God does not exist.
  • Consider what Christian and Jewish students will feel: that the government and school considers their God to be paramount. The result is to accentuate religious differences among students. The beliefs of Jewish and Christian students are given support; this promotes Christian triumphalism. The beliefs of other students are denigrated. This produces hurt feelings and anger.
  • As Blaise Pascal once said: "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." The potential result of supporting the beliefs of Christian students and denigrating the beliefs of others is increased harassment and violence perpetrated towards religious minorities.
  • It would cost money to remove "In God we trust" from coins and bills. But it would be minimal. As new coin and bill designs are created, the phrase could simply be left off. Old coins and bills would, over time, be replace with religiously-neutral versions.
  • We don't feel that we have given excessive attention to the controversy. This section consists of one short menu and three essays on the topic. That represents only about 0.2% of our total web site's contents.

Recent attempts to expand the use of the motto:

  • 2001-FEB: Virginia: Pledge bill defeated. State Senator Warren E. Barry introduced a bill making the recitation of the pledge of allegiance mandatory for every public school in Virginia. In doing this, Senator Barry violated his oath of office, in which he promised to uphold the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution as implying that anyone has the right to refrain from reciting the Pledge. Under his bill, any student who refused to recite the pledge, without a valid philosophical or religious objection, would be suspended. Delegate Robert G. Marshall suggested that the bill be amended to require school buildings carry the national motto. The amendments were rejected by the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Reference used:

  1. "Pledge of Allegiance Restoration Project," at: http://randomfilm.com/ This is no longer online.

How you got here:

 Home page > Christianity > Prayer > School prayer > The Pledge > here

or: Home page > Law menu > The Pledge > here


Copyright © 2002 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JUN-26
Latest update: 2007-NOV-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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