A Freedom From Religion Foundation tutorial on the Pledge of Allegiance was so persuasive that an Indiana school district agreed to modify an incorrect display.
A concerned John Glenn School Corporation community member contacted FFRF to report that a North Liberty Elementary third-grade teacher had a Pledge of Allegiance poster on her classroom wall that featured, above the American flag and the entire Pledge, the words "one nation UNDER GOD." The emphasis on this phrase sent a clear religious message, especially with the phrase "UNDER GOD" in all caps while the phrase "one nation" was in lower case.
Public schools may not promote religion, FFRF reminded the school district. FFRF stressed that it did not object to the display of the Pledge of Allegiance, but only to the display's emphasis on a religious phrase apart from the Pledge itself.
The phrase "under God" was added very belatedly to the pledge in the mid-1950s, FFRF informed the district. The addition of the phrase "under God" unfortunately turned a secular pledge into a prayer-like religious ritual. The phrase also ironically divided the original unifying phrase: "One nation indivisible."
"Emphasizing the phrase 'under God' sends a message to students that their school not only endorses a belief in a deity, but also views this belief as the most important concept of the Pledge," FFRF Staff Attorney Ryan Jayne wrote to John Glenn School Corporation Superintendent Richard Reese. The person in question "may not use her position as a public school teacher to promote these inherently religious views on behalf of the district."
This display also excluded the school district's nonreligious students — nearly one quarter of young Americans today are nonreligious — many of whom do not believe in the existence of any deity. The message that the teacher put up was particularly impermissible, since it was presented to such young and impressionable students.
The school district found FFRF's lesson quite instructive.
"I appreciate you bringing this poster to our attention," Reese replied. "As a public school, we do not want to promote any kind of religious message. The poster in question has been altered to remove the words 'UNDER GOD.'"
FFRF is always pleased to edify.
"A lot of people do not know the Pledge's secular beginnings and how it has been altered over time," says FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We feel it our civic duty to bring this history to public attention."
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 29,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 400-plus in Indiana. FFRF's purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between state and church and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.