The Journal Tribune of Biddeford (Maine), Sept. 7, 2013
For those of us who grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, it might come as a surprise to learn that "one nation" was not originally followed by the words "under God."
The addition was made in 1954, by Congress and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, after the Sons of the American Revolution and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization, separately began using it nationwide, and growing support led the effort to the president's desk.
It's worth noting that the change was made at the height of the Red Scare, when the nation was united against Communists and their government-imposed atheism.
The pledge has had three other minor changes over the years, most notably to clarify that the pledge is to the flag of the United States, replacing original language that stated, "my flag."
Challenges to the pledge, and particularly to this ‘54 amendment, have been many over the years, and now a Boston-area family is asking the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to consider an appeal that would remove the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, as recited in Massachusetts schools.
This case has an interesting twist, and the ruling could have implications nationwide. Instead of challenging the pledge's "under God" phrase as a violation of the separation of church and state, as past lawsuits have done with surprisingly little success, the atheist parents are arguing that it violates the Equal Rights Amendment of the Massachusetts Constitution and is therefore discriminatory.
The pledge itself proclaims "liberty and justice for all," and through the years, we all know that has not been the case in this nation, from ethnic minorities to immigrants, women and particularly for religious minorities.
Recitation of the pledge in public school dates back to 1892 and was compulsory for many years until the Jehovah's Witnesses won a challenge against reciting it in 1943 due to violation of their religious beliefs against idolatry.
While the 1943 ruling allows any student to opt out of the pledge at school, recusing oneself from it can open a person to ridicule for lack of patriotism, and even violence.
Jehovah's Witnesses and atheists are not the only ones to object to reciting the pledge; polytheists and those who do not adhere to nationalist principles are also among those who may choose to sit it out -- and members of all groups have been documented to experience retribution for their decision.
All of these people are in the minority, but their rights are just as valid as those of the religious majority. By including "under God" in the pledge, the state is giving the explicit impression that only monotheistic believers can be patriotic.
The bulk of those who object to the current pledge, however, are as far from unpatriotic as you can get: They know the Constitution and its protections and they express their love for the U.S. by embracing those freedoms. Those citizens who reject recitation of a pledge that excludes them are not necessarily any less willing than others to defend this nation and the principles on which it was built.
If this Massachusetts family is successful in its appeal, it will be a victory for those who support religious freedom and the separation of church and state, and will hopefully extend to the federal level in coming years so our pledge can be restored to its secular, patriotic purpose, as originally intended.
It would be refreshing to see this Cold War remnant wiped out as we move forward as "one nation" and embrace our diversity.