The Incongruity in the Pledge of Allegiance

Our country is based on the idea of liberty and equality. Yet every day millions of American students declare the foundation of our country to be something else entirely: a single God. Although "God" may be considered in many different ways, it is undeniable that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is biased toward a particular religion. This phrase transforms the Pledge of Allegiance into a contradiction against itself. A nation cannot simultaneously be "under God" and provide "liberty and justice for all." Belief in a certain God should not be a prerequisite for liberty and justice in this country. Religion-specific ideas are not a part of our national government, and they should not be a part of our pledge to it.
The Pledge of Allegiance was not always such a contradictory statement. Until 1954, it was merely a declaration of belief in the founding values of our country. As such, the pledge was a tribute to the ideas of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, and other American documents, rather than just to a piece of colored cloth.
Then the Knights of Columbus helped spread the addition of "under God," until it was finally adopted nationally. President Eisenhower explained his support of the addition by saying, "In this way we are affirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future." But religious faith has never been the predominant characteristic of America; in fact, many of the first American colonists attempted to escape the requirements of their religions. By including God, the pledge now supports the beliefs of only one part of the American populace. In a country dedicated to the ideal of freedom, including that of religion, God has no place in a nationwide declaration of patriotism.
The addition of "under God" to the pledge has not gone uncontested. In June of 2002, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional because of those two words. According to the court, the inclusion of God violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause because it implies that the national government endorses Christianity.
As Judge Alfred T. Goodwin wrote, "A profession that we are a nation 'under God' is identical, for Establishment Clause purposes, to a profession that we are a nation 'under Jesus,' a nation 'under Vishnu,' a nation 'under Zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion." This is exactly the problem with the Pledge of Allegiance as it exists today. It is impossible to allow for freedom of religion when students across the country declare the nation the realm of one particular God.
Many argue that the pledge is not a constitutional violation because it is not mandatory for all students to recite it. It may be voluntary, but schools still present the idea of "one nation under God" as their official position. Most students, rather than attempting to fight against the statement that God prevails in this country, simply recite the pledge because it is easier. Even if they do not actually say the pledge, students are often required to stay silent and stand while the rest of the class recites it. This forces even dissenting students to respect the school recitation of the pledge.
As the 9th District appeals court stated, "Although students cannot be forced to participate in recitation of the pledge, the school district is nonetheless conveying a message of state endorsement of a religious belief when it requires public school teachers to recite, and lead the recitation of, the current form of the pledge." The environment created by the schoolwide statement of the pledge results in an "unacceptable choice between participating and protesting" for the students, according to the appeals court. Despite the legal ability of students to remain silent, the Pledge of Allegiance in reality forces most American students to state the superiority of one religion.
All across the country, students repeat the Pledge of Allegiance day after day, many not even thinking about the words they say. Yet for the significant portion of students who do not believe in the Christian God, the pledge is a contradiction of everything America is supposed to signify. For the Hindi students, the Buddhist, the students of every conceivable religion or of no religion at all, the pledge is not simply a salute to a set of values and the flag that stands for them. It is an admission that their beliefs are not truly welcome in this country. It is a negation of the founding principles of America. It is a national endorsement of Christianity, which is precisely what the First Amendment forbids. It is a Pledge of Allegiance to a religion. The removal of the words "under God" from the pledge is necessary to make it truly a pledge of allegiance to a flag and to a country.
Gilene is a graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Va. Her special interests are dance and music. She plays oboe, percussion and piano, and has been dancing since she was four with ballet her "main love." She will be attending Yale University.

Additional Info

  • deck: Tie: Third Place High School Essay
  • byline: Gilene Young

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