The Pledge: ‘Under God’or overly godly? by C. Boyd Pfeiffer

By C. Boyd Pfeiffer

In the seemingly continuous and contentious kerfuffle between the secular and religious segments of society, the “under God” phrase of the Pledge of Allegiance is constantly tossed about. Today there are bumper stickers which state emphatically “One Nation Under God.” In statements and speeches, the point is made that the phrase is from the founding fathers and the formation of this country and that the “under God” part has always been in the pledge. Wrong and wrong.

The pledge was not around in the 1770s and 1780s. As many of us know, the “under God” part was not a part of the original pledge. The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 as a part of a promotion of The Youth’s Companion magazine to sell flags to schools for the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the new world. The magazine owner, Daniel Ford Sharp, thought that the country ­— then less than 30 years since the Civil War — needed a statement that would bring about a sense of unity and loyalty to the country.

The task of writing this statement that could be said in less than 15 seconds was given to editorial staff member Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, author and Christian socialist. He wanted to include the words “equality” and “fraternity” but demurred, knowing that the nation was not ready for either of these with women (the right to vote came in 1920) or blacks.

The original pledge was: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” This appeared in the Sept. 8, 1892, edition of the magazine, then with the widest circulation of any magazine in the country. Different iterations came almost immediately with “to” added in front of the “the republic” and others added up through 1924. The pledge then read as, “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.”

It remained that way, becoming the national pledge and called “The Pledge of Allegiance” by an Act of Congress in 1942. The “under God” part, which many secularists, humanists, agnostics, and atheists (myself included) want removed, was not added until 1954.

This was a time period after World War II of the Cold War and the fears of the “godless commies,” with us seeking a way to differentiate ourselves from the Soviet Communistic states. As a part of this growing anti-commie trend, on April 21, 1951, the New York branch of the Catholic Knights of Columbus decided to use the “under God” part of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as a part of the pledge, ultimately encouraging this for all 800 branches throughout the country. They continued to push for this and on Aug. 21, 1952, urged making this “under God” part universal for all of the country and sent resolutions to this effect to the president, vice president, and speaker of the House of Representatives.

Rev. George Docherty pressed this point in a sermon at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in D.C., attended by President Eisenhower. This impressed Eisenhower and the inclusion of “under God” was passed in a congressional bill and signed by Eisenhower on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

The problem with all of this is that it places a religious tone into a secular patriotic pledge, something not agreed upon by all in this country. This government of the USA is (or is supposed to be) secular, to allow everyone privately to practice their own religious preferences. The country’s and government’s official documents are secular and have nothing to do with religion of any type. The founding fathers did not try to make this a Christian nation or the Constitution a Christian document.

Most importantly, “under God” in Lincoln’s day meant “God willing” far different from “under God” of today. “God willing” means if God approves, with God’s permission, with God’s blessing. “Under God” today means that we are under the control of God, obedient to God, that God is our protector, and God is watching over us.

For those who have different beliefs and yet are patriotic citizens of the country, that is offensive. The Pledge of Allegiance without “under God’ served us well for 62 years. It is time for the “under God” part, fearfully cobbled into an otherwise perfectly good pledge, to go.

FFRF member Boyd Pfeiffer is a life-long atheist and award-winning writer with 28 books on sport fishing, along with magazine articles and newspaper columns to his credit. Recent more serious interest in religion and atheism has resulted in his 29th book, No Proof at All – A Cure for Christianity, available at book stores and Amazon. He can be reached at [email protected].

Freedom From Religion Foundation