Friday, July 04, 2008

One Nation, Under God?

I'm well aware that this blog is called "Jeremy the Skeptic," but I am also an atheist. As an atheist, issues having to do with religion, specifically the separation of church and state we currently enjoy in the United States, are of great interest to me. So, in addition to posts having to do with science and the paranormal, posts about religious issues in the United States will crop up from time to time. This is one of the latter.

Since it is the Fourth of the July, I have heard the Pledge of Allegiance recited once or twice today. Most recently on a television commercial, oddly enough. It always bugged me, well as long as I've been calling myself an atheist (that's a whole separate story), why the phrase "One Nation, Under God" was smack dab in the middle of the allegiance pledge of a country that was supposed to be secular. I remember first talking about this issue when I was a senior in high school. I was in my AP Government class and the girl with whom I was talking about this didn't see it as a big deal (I went to a Catholic high school). "It's tradition," she said, to which I replied, "So is slavery. Just because some thing's been there for a long time doesn't mean it's right." The class discussion moved on after this exchange, so I never did get to hear her reply.

A few months passed and I learned, much to my surprise and relief, that the phrase in question was added in 1954, at the urging of the Knights of Columbus and a Scottish-born minister named George MacPherson Docherty. Rev. Docherty talked about a conversation he had with his son about the pledge in a sermon he gave at Washington, D.C.'s New York Avenue Presbyterian Church on a Sunday in February of 1954. Docherty thought the addition of "Under God" was important and that it didn't necessarily serve as a statement of faith for any non-believing Americans. Without a reference to God, Docherty thought, the pledge could apply to just about any nation. Then President Dwight Eisenhower, who was in attendance of the aforementioned sermon, apparently agreed. On June 14, 1954, President Eisenhower signed into law a resolution officially adding the phrase "Under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Now, I would be fooling myself if I thought this would be some breaking news story; that "Under God" was not in the original pledge. I learned it as a senior in high school from my parents, and have only recently researched the details. I bring this up on the Fourth of July because such a phrase would undoubtedly be thought of as a bad idea by our founding fathers. Men who knew what a dangerous mix religion and government could make. It absolutely infuriates me when fundamentalists Christians call the United States "A Christian Nation" and use the "under God" phrase as proof. For one thing, it is a source of pride for me to know that the founding fathers and I share the same opinions about religion and government. To hear the ideals upon which this country was built thrown in the garbage just because of an inexcusable ignorance of America's history upsets me to no end. The purpose of this post has been to remind people of America's secular origins, and maybe to vent a little.

I'll end this evening with the Pledge of Allegiance as it was originally written, by a Baptist Minister named Francis Bellamy in 1892. A pledge I would have no problem reciting today.

"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. America"

Other sources I used for this post can be found here.

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