Why we're not one nation "under God."

Posted by
KB on Jul 10, 2002 at 15:31

The history behind current events.
> The Pledge of Allegiance
> Why we're not one nation "under God."
> By David Greenberg
> Updated Friday, June 28, 2002, at 1:39 PM PT
> Poor Alfred Goodwin! So torrential was the flood of condemnation that
> followed his opinion-which held that it's unconstitutional for public
> schools to require students to recite "under God" as part of the
> Pledge of Allegiance-that the beleaguered appellate-court judge
> suspended his own ruling until the whole 9th Circuit Court has a
> chance to review the case.
> Not one major political figure summoned the courage to rebut the
> spurious claims that America's founders wished to make God a part of
> public life. It's an old shibboleth of those who want to inject
> religion into public life that they're honoring the spirit of the
> nation's founders. In fact, the founders opposed the
> institutionalization of religion. They kept the Constitution free of
> references to God. The document mentions religion only to guarantee
> that godly belief would never be used as a qualification for holding
> office-a departure from many existing state constitutions. That the
> founders made erecting a church-state wall their first priority when
> they added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution reveals the
> importance they placed on maintaining what Isaac Kramnick and R.
> Laurence Moore have called a "godless Constitution." When Benjamin
> Franklin proposed during the Constitutional Convention that the
> founders begin each day of their labors with a prayer to God for
> guidance, his suggestion was defeated.
> Given this tradition, it's not surprising that the original Pledge of
> Allegiance-meant as an expression of patriotism, not religious
> faith-also made no mention of God. The pledge was written in 1892 by
> the socialist Francis Bellamy, a cousin of the famous radical writer
> Edward Bellamy. He devised it for the popular magazine Youth's
> Companion on the occasion of the nation's first celebration of
> Columbus Day. Its wording omitted reference not only to God but also,
> interestingly, to the United States:
> "I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands,
> one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
> The key words for Bellamy were "indivisible," which recalled the
> Civil War and the triumph of federal union over states' rights, and
> "liberty and justice for all," which was supposed to strike a balance
> between equality and individual freedom. By the 1920s, reciting the
> pledge had become a ritual in many public schools.
> Since the founding, critics of America's secularism have repeatedly
> sought to break down the church-state wall. After the Civil War, for
> example, some clergymen argued that the war's carnage was divine
> retribution for the founders' refusal to declare the United States a
> Christian nation, and tried to amend the Constitution to do so.
> How Our Nation Got Under God
> The efforts to bring God into the state reached their peak during the
> so-called "religious revival" of the 1950s. It was a time when Norman
> Vincent Peale grafted religion onto the era's feel-good consumerism
> in his best-selling The Power of Positive Thinking; when Billy Graham
> rose to fame as a Red-baiter who warned that Americans would perish
> in a nuclear holocaust unless they embraced Jesus Christ; when
> Secretary of State John Foster Dulles believed that the United States
> should oppose communism not because the Soviet Union was a
> totalitarian regime but because its leaders were atheists.
> Hand in hand with the Red Scare, to which it was inextricably linked,
> the new religiosity overran Washington. Politicians outbid one
> another to prove their piety. President Eisenhower inaugurated that
> Washington staple: the prayer breakfast. Congress created a prayer
> room in the Capitol. In 1955, with Ike's support, Congress added the
> words "In God We Trust" on all paper money. In 1956 it made the same
> four words the nation's official motto, replacing "E Pluribus Unum."
> Legislators introduced Constitutional amendments to state that
> Americans obeyed "the authority and law of Jesus Christ."
> The campaign to add "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance was part
> of this movement. It's unclear precisely where the idea originated,
> but one driving force was the Catholic fraternal society the Knights
> of Columbus. In the early '50s the Knights themselves adopted the
> God-infused pledge for use in their own meetings, and members
> bombarded Congress with calls for the United States to do the same.
> Other fraternal, religious, and veterans clubs backed the idea. In
> April 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut, D-Mich., formally proposed the
> alteration of the pledge in a bill he introduced to Congress.
> The "under God" movement didn't take off, however, until the next
> year, when it was endorsed by the Rev. George M. Docherty, the pastor
> of the Presbyterian church in Washington that Eisenhower attended. In
> February 1954, Docherty gave a sermon-with the president in the pew
> before him-arguing that apart from "the United States of America,"
> the pledge "could be the pledge of any country." He added, "I could
> hear little Moscovites [sic] repeat a similar pledge to their
> hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity." Perhaps forgetting that
> "liberty and justice for all" was not the norm in Moscow, Docherty
> urged the inclusion of "under God" in the pledge to denote what he
> felt was special about the United States.
> The ensuing congressional speechifying-debate would be a misnomer,
> given the near-unanimity of opinion-offered more proof that the point
> of the bill was to promote religion. The legislative history of the
> 1954 act stated that the hope was to "acknowledge the dependence of
> our people and our Government upon ... the Creator ... [and] deny the
> atheistic and materialistic concept of communism." In signing the
> bill on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, Eisenhower delighted in the fact
> that from then on, "millions of our schoolchildren will daily
> proclaim in every city and town ... the dedication of our nation and
> our people to the Almighty." That the nation, constitutionally
> speaking, was in fact dedicated to the opposite proposition seemed to
> escape the president.
> In recent times, controversies over the pledge have centered on the
> wisdom of enforcing patriotism more than on its corruption from a
> secular oath into a religious one. In the 1988 presidential race, as
> many readers will recall, George Bush bludgeoned Democratic nominee
> Michael Dukakis for vetoing a mandatory-pledge bill when he was
> governor of Massachusetts, even though the state Supreme Court had
> ruled the bill unconstitutional. Surely one reason for the current
> cravenness of Democratic leaders is a fear of undergoing Dukakis'
> fate in 2002 or 2004 at the hands of another Bush.
> The history of the pledge supports Goodwin's decision. The record of
> the 1954 act shows that, far from a "de minimis" reference or a mere
> "backdrop" devoid of meaning, the words "under God" were inserted in
> the pledge for the express purpose of endorsing religion-which the
> U.S. Supreme Court itself ruled in 1971 was unconstitutional. Also
> according to the Supreme Court's own rulings, it doesn't matter that
> students are allowed to refrain from saying the pledge; a 2000 high
> court opinion held that voluntary, student-led prayers at school
> football games are unconstitutionally "coercive," because they force
> students into an unacceptable position of either proclaiming
> religious beliefs they don't share or publicly protesting.
> The appeals court decision came almost 40 years to the day after the
> Supreme Court decision in Engel v. Vitale. In that case, the court
> ruled it unconstitutional for public schools to allow prayer, even
> though the prayer was non-denominational and students were allowed
> abstain from the exercise. When asked about the unpopular decision,
> President John F. Kennedy replied coolly that he knew many people
> were angry, but that the decisions of the court had to be respected.
> He added that there was "a very easy remedy"-not a constitutional
> amendment but a renewed commitment by Americans to pray at home, in
> their churches, and with their families.
> -----
> David Greenberg writes Slate's "History Lesson" column and is working
> on a book about Richard Nixon's place in American politics and
> culture.
> Why we're not one nation "under God."
> posted June 28, 2002
> David Greenberg

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