Soap Box:  Pledge of Allegiance Unconstitutional?

July 8, 2002

Is the pledge of allegiance unconstitutional? According to a federal court in California it is. A 3 panel court ruled 2 to 1 that the phrase "under God" makes the pledge of allegiance unconstitutional. A atheistic doctor/lawyer sued because his daughter was being "damaged" by listening to other students say the pledge in class. She wasn't forced to say it herself. After the ruling, every politician came out in force against the court's ruling. They've been calling it stupid, crazy, nuts, and various other things and have pledged (pun not intended) to reverse this ruling one way or other, even if it comes down to a new amendment to the constitution. President Bush has said he will only appoint federal judges that will overrule such rulings and believes that only those that believe our rights come from God should be on the bench. So, is the pledge of allegiance unconstitutional?

Well, I'm afraid it is, kind of. Now before you get all in a huff, realize that I'm not saying that we should actually remove "under God" from the pledge. I'm not even making comment on whether it is a good or bad thing for God to be in the pledge. I'm logically looking at the wording of the constitution and trying to determine whether or not the pledge goes against it. Whether or not the little girl was being damaged or if even keeping the pledge the way it currently is might be better saved for another article. I'm going to concentrate on how "under God" got in the pledge to begin with.

And that is the problem. Putting the phrase "under God" into the pledge of allegiance was very unconstitutional. The phrase was added during the cold war days in 1954. Congress passed a law adding the phrase. Why? They wanted to specifically show that the United States believes in God and is different from the communist countries of the world. The communist were also seen as atheists. And remember that this was when senator Joseph McCarthy was at the height of his power labeling everyone that disagreed with him as a communist. This meant you were immediately "black listed" whether or not there was any proof. The 1950s saw many religious laws from Congress. In 1952 the National Day of Prayer was established. And in 1956, Congress established "In God We Trust" as our new national motto. This was a sign of the times. It was the Christians of the United States against the atheists of the communist countries.

But why were these laws unconstitutional? Because the constitution specifically says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion". Now I've seen some try to argue that it means congress can't start a religion or deed one religion as the official one of the United States. But if you look at the drafts of the wording before it was finalized, you'll quickly see that the founding father's main goal was to make sure that religion and government didn't mix. The various wordings went something like "not promoting one religion over another". Well, just by the mention of a singular God means you are discounting the religions that have multiple gods, or not the Christian God. That means you're promoting one religion over the other, a no-no when it comes to the constitution. So whether or not you believe in God or think the phrase should be in there just because it's been there for almost fifty years, I think anyone can see that according to the constitution, it shouldn't have been added in the first place.

And beware of those that try to confuse and divert your attention by saying the Supreme Court would also be in violation because it starts its sessions with a prayer. Mentioning God is not the problem. The problem is that congress can not make a law that concerns God. Prayer is certainly okay because congress didn't make a law saying there would be prayer. Part of the problem is that some people have gone overboard in their desire to separate church and state. They don't want God to be mentioned anywhere when it comes to a government institution. By the way, the phrase "separation of church and state" comes from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote while he was president. He basically said there needs to be a wall between religion and government. And while on the surface that sounds like removing all mention of God and religion from government, I only consider the mention of God unconstitutional when it is included in a congressional law. By this way of thinking, I think it's okay for a government institution to display the ten commandments. True, it is promoting a particular religion which I think the founding fathers would disapprove of, but unless the display was created by congress making a law, I don't find that it is unconstitutional. In other words, the very mentioning of God is not unconstitutional The problem is when laws are enacted in the name of God.

What about school organized prayer? The courts have ruled it unconstitutional. By the example I've given above, I don't find it unconstitutional for a school to have organized prayer. True, public school can be considered government. And true, prayer usually promotes the Christian religion. And there will be people that will be offended by it. But the constitution does not protect us from being offended. As long as no congressional law was involved, I don't think it's unconstitutional.

Now let me digress a little bit here to make some commentary regarding our political leaders. Hey, it's my soapbox, so I can do that if I want. As I mentioned above, all of our political leaders came out to denounce this federal court ruling. We had 100% participation in putting down the decision. That truly smacks of hypocrisy and political correctness. I doubt that half of them even believe there is really a God. Oh, they say they do because they realize that's what gets the votes. And although opinion polls show a majority of Americans saying they believe in God, their lifestyles demonstrate otherwise. I believe most people say they believe in God out of reflex. To say otherwise gets them labeled as an atheist, or an outsider, something that's not seen as good for the social group and is seen as fatal when it comes to one's political career. During the last presidential campaign, George Bush announced he was a Christian. But we quickly learned that he was a Christian only when he thought the microphone was on. When he thought the microphone was off, he was calling reporters names and such. And while I might agree that certain reporters might well behave like the names they have been called, what Mr. Bush did was very unlike the teachings of Jesus Christ (forgive, turn the other cheek, etc.). And our president would have us trample all over the constitution in order to reverse this ruling (read get more popular, especially for the next election). The constitution says there will be no "religious test" to hold office. Yet if Bush is only going to appoint judges that believe in God and rule against anything that is against God means that he is actually using a religious test. In other words, President George Bush is being unconstitutional!

So, should all references to God be removed from government buildings, documents, and practices? I don't think so. While it may be promoting a certain religion over others and offensive to some, unless it's a constitutional law, it should not be considered unconstitutional. Is the pledge of allegiance currently unconstitutional? I don't know. I can say that adding the phrase "under God" was unconstitutional at the time. But I'm unsure on whether or not is should now be removed. I have no problems with it being left in or removed. Although I don't think all the decisions constitutionally sound, the current tide of rulings seems to be in the direction of removing God from anything associated with government. For this to be constitutionally valid, the constitution needs to be amended to specifically say that there is to be a separation of church and state and that there should be no mention of anything religious in government. Unfortunately, this would get rid of ten commandment displays, which I see as a good thing given that most of the commandments make good social sense. It would also get rid of prayers which I also think do more good than harm. How about we leave it just the way it is and challenge congress to actually pay attention to the constitution when making laws from now on?!

Jeff Polston


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