Two weeks ago, on Sept. 14, 2005, a federal district court in Sacramento ruled that public school districts may not require students to recite the words, “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance since it is unconstitutional, citing the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal’s ruling.
The 9th Circuit ruled in 2002 that the words, “One nation, under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is an endorsement by the federal government of religion and so violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, which prevents our government from establishing or endorsing a religion.
The parties attempting to stop school districts from reciting the Pledge include among them Michael Newdow, an atheist who objected to his daughter reciting the Pledge in school. He had already sued the federal government in 2002 in order to get the federal judiciary to eliminate the recitation of “under God” in the Pledge (he was also the plaintiff in the 9th Circuit’s ruling). His attempts were thwarted when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that he had no standing to sue since he did not have custody of his daughter at the time he filed suit.
Michael Newdow views the Pledge of Allegiance as some sort of prayer, and so reciting it in public schools is an endorsement of religion by the state and federal government, and violates his First Amendment rights. However, I disagree.
First of all, what is the first line of the Pledge? It is, “I pledge allegiance, to the flag.” Not “to God,” but “to the flag.” One is pledging his loyalty and allegiance to the flag, the symbol of our country, the United States of America, and not to a religious or spiritual being. See the difference? The fact that the line “One nation, under God” mentions a spiritual being at all does not fundamentally alter the substance and mostly secular form of the Pledge.
Second, when we say, “One nation, under God,” to which god are we referring to? Are we referring to Jesus Christ, Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu, Buddha, Gaia, or Zeus? Even if we were to buy the argument that the Pledge is a prayer of some sort, this controversial line is so ambiguous and vague that one cannot judicially determine which god, and therefore, which religion we are acknowledging.
The establishment clause of the First Amendment simply means that our government just cannot establish or sanction an official state church for whichever religion that Congress endorses. It does not restrict it from simply making the utterance or conveyance of the word “god” so long as the government is neither advancing nor prohibiting a religion in the process. Therefore, the Pledge of Allegiance, while it utters the word “God,” can hardly be said to advancing or prohibiting a religion because we do not know which god the Pledge is referring to.
Third, we should remember how the words, “under God” were added in to the Pledge. The original Pledge of Allegiance did not include these words. When there was a perceived threat of subversion of the U.S. by communist agents in the 1950’s (and which lead Senator McCarthy to begin his now infamous Senate hearings into “un-American” activities), President Eisenhower decided to include “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance for this reason:
“In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”
At first glance, President Eisenhower’s reason to include “under God” seems to be for the purpose of recognition of religion by the government.
But wait, look closely at his reasoning. He uses words like “spiritual weapons” and how they are our “most powerful resource in peace and war,” i.e., the Cold War. This means then that the real purpose and intention of including “under God” in the Pledge was to counter the perceived threat of communist takeover of the U.S., whose agents were believed to be operating covertly in the country. In short, religion was a means to an end, the end being secular, not religious.
Therefore, the intention that President Eisenhower had when he chose to add “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance was not to establish a specific religion or transform the Pledge into a prayer, but to use the Pledge as a “spiritual weapon” in the escalating tensions that the Cold War caused.
For the record, I do not believe that religion should be intertwined with government, or the law. We need look no further than the inquisitions, most notably, the Spanish Inquisition, that occurred in Europe to find compelling reasons why religion should be kept out of government.
Michael Newdow’s latest crusade against the Pledge of Allegiance, however is taking the separation between church and state too far and too extreme. He immediately believes his First Amendment rights are violated the minute “God” is uttered by a government official or body. I suppose then a Christian’s First Amendment rights are also violated the minute President Bush says “Satan,” right?
Although our government and laws emphasize equal protection for all, the reality is is that equality is striven ideal, but not a realistic goal, despite our best efforts. Decisions have to be made by our politicians in all three branches of government that will put a party, whether it is Exxon Mobil or the Sierra Club in relation to oil drilling in Alaska, at a disadvantage, even if the law was followed. That is how our system works.
In this case, one party, either the government or Michael Newdow, will be the disadvantaged party, but the government should come out victorious. Since Newdow represents a 15 percent minority of those who do not believe in God, his views should not be imposed on the rest of society via the judiciary, and therefore, should be ruled against.
This is not to say his views should not be respected or tolerated; he should be free to believe and express his views as he pleases. He should not be free, however to impose his extreme and unrepresentative-of-mainstream-society views of the establishment clause on the rest of us. Hopefully, the U.S. Supreme Court will intervene when it has the opportunity to do so, and overturn the rulings of its inferior courts, and end Newdow’s crusade against the Pledge of Allegiance.
Daniel Wurangian is a junior political science major.