One Nation Under God

Think of the controversy that surrounds The Pledge of Allegiance. Many do not feel the pledge should include the phrase “under God” because of what they call the “separation of church and state.” There has never been any phrasing or concept of “separation of church and state” in any official founding documents. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The intent was to prevent the establishment of an official state-sponsored religion as happened in England. The Church of England was established in 1534, and if you dared worship God in an unsanctioned way, you risked martyrdom – (that means death).

Having the Pledge state that our nation exists “under God” does not endorse a particular religion, nor does it force an atheist to believe in God or any god in order to receive the benefits of being a citizen, thus it is not an instance of the state endorsing a particular religion.

An atheist would argue, “but I don’t believe in God and forcing me to say those words is a violation of my rights.” This logic is faulty for the reason stated above -they are not forced to say anything (there is no risk of martyrdom for being an atheist). In addition, taking an atheist’s argument to its logical conclusion would require the complete abolishment of any pledge altogether.

Consider the potential conflicts:

“I pledge allegiance…” – What if one does not feel complete allegiance to our government or its flag? Most citizens were born here against their will! Should they be forced to say they pledge allegiance if they do not feel allegiance to, or believe in, our centralized governing body? That doesn’t seem very fair! (Remember: Just because there is a centralized governing body, doesn’t mean I must believe in it, right atheists?!) I could prove that many people who live in the USA do not feel allegiance to our nation.

“…to the flag…” – Which flag? The one with 13 stars or the one with 50? If the flag is changeable, I can’t definitively know to which flag I’m pledging allegiance, or if my allegiance will always exist.

“…and to the republic for which it stands…” – I could make a strong argument that the U.S.A. does not resemble the republic for which the flag originally stood.

“…indivisible…” – A basic history lesson proves this is not even a true statement, as proven by the U.S. Civil War.

“…with liberty and justice for all…” – I could definitively prove that many people do not receive total liberty or justice, albeit the potential for “liberty and justice for all” does exist in contrast to many nations…so that’s something.

The ONE lasting truth of our nation’s pledge is that it DOES exist under God. This will never change regardless of what happens to our nation. It is the one phrase that should ALWAYS be in our pledge, because it’s the only phrase that’s unconditionally true whether you like God or if you don’t acknowledge His existence. In fact, it’s the only part of the pledge that cannot, in any way, be proven to be false on any level! (Because nobody can prove that God does not exist, and they never will.)

Those who shout for the “separation of church and state” have a completely flawed understanding of history, and use faulty logic. They believe that phrase means that nothing involving the state can include anything involving religion. This is not what the First Amendment of the Constitution states. If it did, consider how far-reaching those affects would be…

Consider that the majority of the founding fathers believed in the Christian God as described in the bible, and their beliefs shaped the government they formed. Consider that problems with the state-sponsored Church of England were such big factors in driving Puritans to America. Consider that the concept that “all men are created equal” comes directly from the God of the bible. A separationist could easily argue that history books used in state-funded schools should not discuss those historical facts, because to do so would promote one religious system over another. Common sense would argue that it would be kind of awkward to just SKIP OVER the historical factors which led to the establishment of the U.S.A.

When anyone uses the phrase “…separation of church and state.” It’s an automatic signal that they do not understand history, and their logic is faulty. Christians, especially, should understand their rights, their history, and their freedom to worship God in any setting – public or private. I’m thankful for this great nation, which exists under God.

5 thoughts on “One Nation Under God”

  1. The government’s inscription of the phrase “In God we trust” on coins and currency, as well as its addition of the words “under God” to the pledge of allegiance in 1954 and adoption of the phrase “In God we trust” as a national motto in 1956, were mistakes, which should be corrected. Under our Constitution, the government has no business proclaiming that “we trust” “In God.” Some of us do, and some of us don’t; each of us enjoys the freedom to make that choice; the government does not and should not purport to speak for us in this regard. Nor does the government have any business calling on its citizens to voice affirmation of a god in any circumstances, let alone in the very pledge the government prescribes for affirming allegiance to the country. The unnecessary insertion of an affirmation of a god in the pledge puts atheists and other nonbelievers in a Catch 22: Either recite the pledge with rank hypocrisy or accept exclusion from one of the basic rituals of citizenship enjoyed by all other citizens. The government has no business forcing citizens to this choice on religious grounds, and it certainly has no business assembling citizens’ children in public schools and prescribing their recitation of the pledge–affirmation of a god and all–as a daily routine.

    Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution. Just as the founders did not simply say in the Constitution that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances, but rather actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances, they also did not merely say there should be separation of church and state, and rather actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of “We the people” (not a deity), (2) according that government only limited, enumerated powers, (3) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (4) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (5), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day (by which governments generally were grounded in some appeal to god(s)), the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which affirmatively constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.

    While the religious views of various founders are subjects of some uncertainty and controversy, it is safe to say that many founders were Christian of one sort or another and held views such as you note regarding religion. In assessing the nature of our government, though, care should be taken to distinguish between society and government and not to make too much of various founders’ individual religious beliefs. Their individual beliefs, while informative, are largely beside the point. Whatever their religions, they drafted a Constitution that establishes a secular government and separates it from religion as noted earlier. This is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. That, indeed, is just what the founders did.

    Lest there be any doubt on this score, note that shortly after the founding, President John Adams (a founder) signed, with the unanimous consent of the Senate (comprised in large measure of founders), the Treaty of Tripoli declaring, in pertinent part, “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” No need to resort to reading tea leaves to understand that. This moreover is not an informal comment by an individual founder, but rather an official declaration of the most solemn sort by the United States government itself—when it was run by founders.

    The constitutional principle of separation of church and state does not purge religion from the public square—far from it. It is important to distinguish between “individual” and “government” speech about religion since the Constitution protects the former and constrains the latter. The First Amendment’s free exercise clause assures that each individual is free to exercise and express his or her religious views—publicly as well as privately. The Amendment constrains only the government not to promote or otherwise take steps toward establishment of religion.

    It is instructive to recall that the Constitution’s separation of church and state reflected, at the federal level, a “disestablishment” political movement then sweeping the country. That political movement succeeded in disestablishing most state religions by 1800 and the last two by 1819 and 1833. (Side note: A political reaction to that movement gave us the term “antidisestablishmentarianism,” which amused some of us as kids.) It is worth noting, as well, that this disestablishment movement was linked to another movement, the Great Awakening. The people of the time saw separation of church and state as a boon, not a burden, to religion.

    This sentiment was recorded by a famous observer of the American experiment: “On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention. . . . I questioned the members of all the different sects. . . . I found that they differed upon matters of detail alone, and that they all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America, I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835).

  2. The concept of God was directly mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.
    “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    I disagree that an atheist finds himself in a catch 22. He can choose to not recite the line “under God,” and that shows he IS, in fact, enjoying the freedom of citizenship to freely abstain. The same way a football player can choose to stay seated during the National Anthem. It’s his right. His personal opinions do not entitle him to demand a change to the Pledge of Allegiance. Otherwise, as I stated in the post, anyone could demand a change to any part they didn’t agree with…

    1. While some draw meaning from the variously phrased references to god(s) in the Declaration of Independence (references that could mean any number of things, some beyond or different than the Christian idea of God) and try to connect that meaning to the Constitution, the effort is largely baseless. Important as the Declaration is in our history, it did not operate to bring about independence (that required winning a war), nor did it found a government, nor did it even create any law, and it certainly did not say or do anything that somehow dictated the meaning of a Constitution adopted twelve years later. The colonists issued the Declaration not to do any of that, but rather to politically explain and justify the move to independence that was already well underway. Nothing in the Constitution depends on anything said in the Declaration. Nor does anything said in the Declaration purport to limit or define the government later formed by the free people of the former colonies. Nor could it even if it purported to do so. Once independent, the people of the former colonies were free to choose whether to form a collective government at all and, if so, whatever form of government they deemed appropriate. They were not somehow limited by anything said in the Declaration. Sure, they could take its words as inspiration and guidance if, and to the extent, they chose–or they could not. They could have formed a theocracy if they wished–or, as they ultimately chose, a government founded on the power of the people (not a deity) and separated from religion.

      As the pledge was changed in 1954, it can just as readily be changed back to its original wording. If enough people voice their personal opinions that the words “under God” are (1) not necessary to affirm one’s allegiance to our nation and (2) those words serve only to divide, not unite, us as a people, perhaps we can get back to a pledge that all Americans wishing to affirm their allegiance can join in.

  3. I agree the Declaration is not the Constitution, but you said, “(references that could mean any number of things, some beyond or different than the Christian idea of God)”

    C’mon. Really? This is obviously referencing the Christian God of the bible, especially when combined with historical facts.

    I’m not arguing for a theocracy, mind you. Just exercising basic logic which says, “If an atheist demands he not be forced to say ‘under God’ due to beliefs, then an anarchist could demand he not be forced to pledge allegiance to the a flag at all.” And I think we all see the logical problems that stem from anyone being to demand anything. The government does not force one to believe in God, nor any particular system. Arguing against the “under God” because of atheists is pretty ridiculous considering the overwhelming majority of people in the history of the world believe in a god or higher power of some sort. (Atheists do too; they just believe THEY are the higher power).

    1. To the extent one recognizes that the Constitution’s meaning is independent of the Declaration, the meaning one attributes to the latter matters little.

      In any event, that you read the Declaration as referring to the Christian God is hardly surprising, as it is certainly susceptible of that reading. My point though was simply to note that there are other plausible readings as well. I think the drafters astutely chose words that could mean different things to different people–that could fit with the thinking of Christians, Unitarians, deists, and others–so they could achieve political consensus. Others more knowledgeable than I about the language used at the time by those with various beliefs have made the same observation. http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304211804577504923449570972

      I didn’t suppose that you advocated theocracy. I mentioned it simply to make the point that the people of the newly independent states were free to choose whether to form a common government at all and, if they chose to form one, they could choose any sort—and were not somehow limited by anything said in the Declaration.

      I’m not sure what you’re getting at with the talk of forcing people to say the pledge. I’m not aware of anyone suggesting or worrying about that. We live in a free country after all. To suppose though that we need only avoid forcing recitation of the pledge and all else is fair game sets the bar pretty low: Do we aim merely not to be fascist?

      Note too there is a substantial difference between the atheist and anarchist in your hypothetical. The anarchist actually does not want to pledge allegiance to the nation as that would conflict with his beliefs, so naturally he would never want to recite the pledge. The atheist, on the other hand, actually wants to pledge allegiance to the nation, but naturally would not want to recite a pledge that not only confirms allegiance to the nation but also affirms the existence of god(s) (contrary to his beliefs).

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