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Under God: The history of a phrase

James Piereson

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The Supreme Court has now agreed to review the ruling from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California that challenged the use of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. To nearly everyone's surprise, the lower court held that the recitation of the pledge in public schools constitutes an "endorsement of religion," in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. As a result of this decision, public schools in the nine western states under the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit are forbidden to hold pledge exercises for their students. The Supreme Court will render a decision by next June.

The Ninth Circuit's decision was met by sharp criticism when it was announced last year. After all, there were few precedents for such a ruling. The Supreme Court has ruled in the past that ceremonial references to God in public places and institutions do not represent an establishment of religion. The Court has never blinked, for example, at the use of Bibles in courtrooms or the phrase "In God We Trust" on our coins or even the singing of "God Bless America" in public places. Yet the Ninth Circuit's ruling, if upheld, would almost certainly be applied to these situations, too; indeed, the plaintiff in the case, Michael Newdow, has argued for precisely such an application.

A surprising number of Americans nonetheless felt that the judges had a good point--that the reference to God in the pledge was an inappropriate endorsement of religion on the part of the government. Atheists and agnostics, they pointed out, were offended by this unnecessary reference to God in a patriotic pledge, as were adherents of exotic religions who may not worship a monotheistic God. Why should they be required to endorse the religious doctrines of the majority?

Conservatives, on the other hand, saw the decision as just the latest example of a liberal court run amok, imposing the personal views of judges on the Constitution in defiance of tradition, precedent, and common sense. Some called for the impeachment of the judges who had issued the ruling. Even the editors of the New York Times, who can usually be relied upon to take the most liberal positions on church-state issues, felt that the ruling was imprudent and impolitic. The Senate passed a resolution by a vote of 99-0 expressing support for the Pledge of Allegiance and its reference to "one nation under God." Most observers looked for a decisive reversal from the Supreme Court.

Read the entire article on the Weekly Standard website.



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Copyright 2001-2014 OrthodoxyToday.org. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article is subject to the policy of the individual copyright holder. See OrthodoxyToday.org for details.


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