“Under God” Is Not All that Needs to Change About the Pledge

Sep 26, 2014

By Herb Silverman

Here’s a confession from an atheist: I would not want school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily if the words “under God” were removed. Why? Because those two controversial words at least motivate some people to examine the Pledge and reflect on what it represents.

My atheist friends should not be too alarmed, though, because I would like “under God” removed from the Pledge.

I recited the godless version until my twelfth birthday, June 14, 1954. On that Flag Day, President Eisenhower signed into law the addition of “under God,” turning a secular pledge into a religious one. These words were inserted at the height of the McCarthy era to distinguish us Americans from those godless Communists.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the phrase “under God” constituted an endorsement of religion, and therefore violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. However, this Newdow v. United States case was overruled on another Flag Day, June 14, 2004, when the Supreme Court determined that Newdow was a non-custodial parent and therefore lacked “prudential standing” to bring the case on his daughter’s behalf. (Michael Newdow was the featured speaker for the twentieth anniversary celebration of our local secular humanist group this month.)


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20 comments on ““Under God” Is Not All that Needs to Change About the Pledge

  • I pledge allegiance to my fellow countrymen and our Republic, one Nation indivisible in its pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

    But not countrymen. American can’t be co-opted for this, sadly.

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  • phil rimmer Sep 26, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    I pledge allegiance to my fellow countrymen and our Republic, one Nation indivisible in its pursuit of liberty and justice for all.

    Two cultures divided by a single language!

    When people in the UK talk about the pledge, they could well be thinking of wiping away the dust from antiquity, to provide a clearer look to things!


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  • I say take the damned thing out of the schools altogether. The European countries do not force their children to swear allegiance to anything, and the whole ritual has something rather fascistic about it. Why should anyone swear allegiance to an abstract notion and to a government with which she may disagree, simply by virtue of birth location? And what, precisely, does allegiance entail? Military service? Approval of national policies? Acquiescence to universal surveillance? F*k that. I can obey the law just fine on rational grounds, without pledging my honor (whatever that is) to something that continuously changes form.

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  • I think you are right. It would be better not done at all, but talking the US out of its obsession with badges of goodness might be achieved slowly by a subtle reformulation of the pledge every generation. (5 versions so far and counting.)

    Mine, by sleight of hand, urges allegience to fellow compatriates, and to a formal agreed process, a Republic, these together constituting a nation, and that they be indivisible only in the common pusuit of liberty and justice for all.

    I think this fairly represents the very particular motor of US culture.

    The flag fetish has to go first

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  • Olgun, nice idea, even without the Klingon element. I CAN see pledging allegiance to an ideology that preserves the quality of life on the earth, to ecological balance, to fighting pollution, sport hunting and habitat destruction. That is an oath I’d like to see people take, perhaps in front of a picture of the oath-taker’s preferred wildlife or landscape. Implicit in this, of course would be the resistance to nature-destroying industries, warfare politics (under any name), uncontrolled population, poaching, the oil and lumber industries, battery farms, etc.

    Yes, a good oath.

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  • I posted the whole thing with total respect to the eight year old that wrote it (if it really was that way?)

    Why not? Why just get rid of the god part? Why not the country, the country men, the nationalism? Devote yourself to the planet and all things therein. I get the sentiments of Herb Silverman but if we want the children to ask why then let’s get them to ask for all and not just for the country they are in. The pledge is to make them feel they belong. Let’s expand that.

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  • You must be a very clever person, Olgun. “Belonging” is really at the core, isn’t it? We are social animals and need to surround ourselves with animals we trust and can identify with. The trick is to extend that beyond your own ethnic group, language, geographic location, and species.

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  • . The flag fetish has to go first

    Agreed! I’ve never seen so much flag waving. Flags adorn shops, buildings and private homes.
    Americans are subjected to an excess of patriotism in all forms.

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  • No, it does not.
    Thanks, but no thanks for the offer of “betterment”.

    Are you being serious, or have I misjudged the tone? ( never quite sure when reading the written word).

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  • Serious.

    I’ve never seen so much flag waving…

    Yeah, I guess it would seem that way! I don’t see it as excessive patriotism – rather, as a reminder that folks living on u.s. soil, are free to fly any flag they choose (perhaps there are exceptions).

    Case in point, a California man got some heat recently for having the Mexican flag in his yard. He’s free to do that, and ain’t it great!

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  • My disagreement stems from the fact that it makes it difficult for citizens to voice criticism without seeming to be unpatriotic or ‘ Unamerican ‘. Don’t worry we do this too, with the term ‘unaustralian’ popping up with monotonous regularity whenever anyone does anything slightly questionable according to those in judgement of propeity?
    It seems like a short step from offering criticism to being a traitor.

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  • I remember Brian Eno making one of the first emailed article postings in the UK press (The Guardian) It was a piece from Berlin. He was observing two lots of young teens. Americans and Russians.

    The thing that struck Eno was how uniform and policed the play of the Americans was and how individualistic that of the Russians.

    There is a curious self concsiousness to much of American behaviour, particularly around this issue of morality flagging. I’ve spent a couple of decades working three or four times a year in some of the largest US corporations. I’ve done the same in the UK. Even in the UK military firms transgressive behaviour was notably more present. The US seemed buttoned down by comparison. (Im sure the new west coast tech companies have turned this on its head to great effect.)

    For me the US experience was a white knuckle one. Put a foot wrong and you are out…

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  • Phil. In my experience after numerous visits to the U.S. the overt display of patriotism is unparalleled. Flags waving from every vantage point and constant words of affirmation made by the residents. After a while this becomes normal and loses its power to surprise.
    Every country does this to a certain extent, but in this case it’s in overdrive. I have the feeling that we’re at more liberty to criticise the actions of our country, government and customs, though the term unaustralian is used often and drives me crazy!

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