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The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance

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Between 1924 and 1954, the Pledge of Allegiance was worded:

"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."

In 1954, during the McCarthy era and communism scare, Congress passed a bill, which was signed into law, to add the words "under God." The current Pledge reads:

"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."

The Pledge is recited, on average, tens of millions of times a day -- largely by students in schools across America.

On 2002-JUN-26, a three judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2 to 1 to declare the Pledge unconstitutional because of the addition of the phrase "under God." This decision only affects the states of AK, AZ, CA, HI, ID, MT, NV, OR and WA. The ruling stating that "the text of the official Pledge, codified in federal law, impermissibly takes a position with respect to the purely religious question of the existence and identity of God."

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Circut Court of Appeals reading. They did not rule on the basis of the Pledge violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Rather, they ruled that the plaintiff Michael Newdow did not have primary custody of his daughter and thus did not have standing to take the case to the federal court system.

It is interesting to note that this decision happened to occur one day after the 40th anniversary of the Engel v. Vitale decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which declared unconstitutional the inclusion of state-sponsored school prayer as a part of instruction in public schools. The Texas Justice Foundation had declared that anniversary a day of mourning.  1,2

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History of the Pledge of Allegiance:

The Pledge was originally written in 1892-AUG by Francis Bellamy (1855 - 1931). He was an American, a Baptist minister, and an active Socialist. He included some of the concepts of his first cousin, Edward Bellamy, who wrote a number of socialist utopian novels, such as Looking Backward (1888) and Equality (1897). In its original form, it read:

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

It was first published in a children's magazine Youth's Companion, in 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the Americas. 4 The word "to" was added before "the Republic" in 1892-OCT. He considered including the word "equality" in the pledge, but decided against it because he knew that many Americans at the time were opposed to equality for women and African-Americans. Opposition to equality continues today; a sizeable minority of American adults remain opposed to equal rights for women, gays and lesbians, and transsexuals.

By 1924, the "National Flag Conference, under the leadership of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, changed the Pledge's words, 'my Flag,' to 'the Flag of the United States of America.' Francis Bellamy disliked this change, but his protest was ignored." 3

Most Jehovah's Witness children refuse to acknowledge the flag. In 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court denied children the right of freedom of speech. The court ruled that school boards could compel their students to recite the Pledge. The court reversed itself three years later. 4

In 1953, the Roman Catholic men's group, the Knights of Columbus mounted a campaign to add the words "under God" to the Pledge. The nation was suffering through the height of the cold war, and the McCarthy communist witch hunt. Partly in reaction to these factors, a reported 15 resolutions were initiated in Congress to change the pledge. They got nowhere until Rev. George Docherty (1911 - 2008) preached a sermon that was attended by President Eisenhower and the national press corps on 1954-FEB-7. His sermon said in part:

"Apart from the mention of the phrase 'the United States of America,' it could be the pledge of any republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow."

After the service, President Eisenhower said that he agreed with the sermon. In the following weeks, the news spread, and public opinion grew. Three days later, Senator Homer Ferguson, (R-MI), sponsored a bill to add God to the Pledge. It was approved as a joint resolution 1954-JUN-8. It was signed into law on Flag Day, JUN-14. President Eisenhower said at the time:

"From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty." 4

With the addition of "under God" to the Pledge, it became both "a patriotic oath and a public prayer...Bellamy's granddaughter said he also would have resented this second change." 3

The change was partly motivated by a desire to differentiate between communism, which promotes Atheism, and Western capitalistic democracies, which were at least nominally Christian. The phrase "Atheistic Communists" has been repeated so many times that the public has linked Atheism with communism; the two are often considered synonymous. Many consider Atheism as unpatriotic and "un-American" as communism. 

Most communists, worldwide, are Atheists. But, in North America, the reverse is not true; most Atheists are non-communists. Although there are probably many Atheist and Humanist legislators at the federal and state levels, few if any are willing to reveal their beliefs, because of the intense prejudice against persons holding these belief systems. 

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review this change to the Pledge. The Court has commented in passing on the motto saying that:

"[o]ur previous opinions have considered in dicta the motto and the pledge [of allegiance], characterizing them as consistent with the proposition that government may not communicate an endorsement of religious belief." [Allegheny, 492 U.S.]

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Suggested future changes to the Pledge:

Various groups and individuals have suggested additional changes to the Pledge:

bullet Some pro-life groups have promoted the addition of a suffix to the existing Pledge so that it would read: ".....liberty and justice for all, born and unborn."

bullet Some political liberals have suggested the addition of the word "equality," so that the Pledge would read: "with equality, liberty and justice for all." This amendment probably has no chance of acceptance, until the concepts of equal treatment for women, homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals are more fully accepted by the public
bullet A visitor to this web site, who prefers to remain anonymous, suggested a further change: that the conclusion of the Pledge be revised to read: "working towards the goals of equality of opportunity, liberty and justice for all." He reasoned that:
bullet People are not equal; they differ greatly in ability, knowledge, talents, etc. They hold different religions, political philosophies, and other beliefs. It is not equality but equality of opportunity that we should reach for.

bullet Some of the original American colonies really only provided liberty and justice for white, male, heterosexual, Christian landowners. Over time, the gender, religion and land-owning status restrictions were dropped. Gender restrictions are gradually being eliminated. Special rights for heterosexuals will be the next to fall. Even if these trends go through to completion over the next decade, there will still be certain minorities that will be still discriminated against. Thus, the country has not attained "equality of opportunity, liberty and justice for all" We should recognize that we are only "working towards" these goals.

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Public opinion poll (2003):

The First Amendment Center and the American Journalism Review released the results of a poll on 2003-AUG-1. They found that:

bullet 68% of adults believe that teachers who include "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance were not violating the principle of separation of church and state.

bullet 36% said that they were.

bullet 73% of respondents said that the pledge, including the "under God" phrase is "primarily a statement related to the American political tradition."

bullet 18% said that it was primarily a religious statement.

N = 1,000. margin of error is ~+mn~3.1 percentage points. 5

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  1. Fred Jackson and Jody Brown, "In Remembrance of School Prayer: ACLU Attributes Notion of Effective Prayer to 'Radical Religious Right',", 2002-JUN-25, at: (This was only a temporary listing.)
  2. The Texas Justice Foundation is a conservative group which "provides free legal representation in landmark cases in protect individual rights, limit government to its appropriate role, and promote a better business climate for job growth in Texas." Their web site is at:
  3. John W. Baer, "The Pledge of Allegiance: A short history," at:
  4. Larry Witham, "If it says 'God,' so be it," Washington Times, 2002-JUN-28, at:
  5. "Survey: Majority of Americans OK With Ten Commandments, Pledge in Public," Religion News Service, 2003-AUG-5, at:

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How you got here:

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

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

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Copyright 2002 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-JUN-26
Latest update: 2010-FEB-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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