“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Prior to 1954, that is how you would have said the Pledge of Allegiance. In that year, several Christian groups, led by the Knights of Columbus, successfully lobbied to insert the words “under God” between “one nation” and “indivisible” – effectively dividing the pledge with an awkward pair of pauses (one nation pause under God pause indivisible). This was during the Eisenhower presidency, near the height of anti-communist, sentiment when the United States was trying to differentiate itself from the Godless Soviets.
I can still remember saying the pledge every morning before class in elementary school, a rare occurrence among elementary school kids nowadays. I also remember saying it every week at my Boy Scout meetings where I learned that the first pause is unnecessary (“one nation under God pause indivisible,” but try to get a large group of people to go along with that). Now, I only repeat the pledge at the beginning of the Associated Students of CSU meetings I attend on the occasional Wednesday during the fall and spring semesters. My guess is that most of America pledges its allegiance even less than that.
But it was not hard to find people saying the pledge last week, after the 9th District Court in San Francisco ruled that the phrase “one nation under God” was a violation of the separation of church and state. Politicians in Washington were falling over themselves to say the pledge in the well of Senate chambers and in the House of Representatives. Children were posing for AP photographers with grins on their faces and their hands proudly over their hearts. Newsweek released a poll saying that 9 out of 10 Americans wanted to keep “under God” in the pledge. Several hundred protesters gathered outside of the 9th District Court waving flags and chanting the pledge.
By weeks end, the district court judges had backed off saying that they would review the case before a larger panel of judges, and then after that it may be on to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the atheist Sacramento man who started it all to protect his 8-year-old daughter from having to hear about a non-existent God in school everyday (he got the idea for the lawsuit when he noticed the “In God We Trust” slogan on the coins jingling in his pocket) is getting the odd death threat from the “under God”ites, and has refused police protection. So much for keeping his daughter safe…
The timing of the court’s decision seemed oddly inappropriate considering that God has been everywhere in the United States these past few months. No politician wanting to get reelected in November would end a speech without saying “God Bless America” Our president wears his faith on his sleeve, and for the most part people seem okay with that because, lets face it, most Americans believe in a higher power of some kind.
Even if the 9th District Court comes back with the same decision again and the Supreme Court upholds it, most Americans will continue saying the pledge the same way they have been for almost 50 years. Coy educators will find a way around the ruling by simply pausing between “one nation” and “indivisible,” allowing the kiddies to fill in the blank themselves. Politicians will loudly shout “under God” during the morning recitation of the pledge (which usually follows a prayer, but anyway) in our nation and state capitols. It will be the “prayer in schools” debate all over again. Never underestimate the creativity of the God-fearing masses trying to share their version of the Truth in any way they can.
Which brings me to my solution: instead of removing “under God” from the pledge the court should just put it in parenthesis, thereby making it optional. Some people just skip over parenthesis (which is sad for a parenthetical-heavy writer like myself), and my plan depends on most of these parenthesis-skipping people being atheist. So while everyone is reciting the pledge – in the odd school classroom, Boy Scout meeting or gathering of representatives – the atheists can take a breath between “one nation” and “indivisible” and stand in silent opposition, while the rest of us celebrate our beliefs by repeating the relatively benign phrase “under God.”
After grade school, many Americans have trouble remembering the words to the pledge anyway.
-Ben Koerselman is the editor in chief of the Collegian, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org