If there is one thing everyone learned in their 7th grade history class, it is that The United States was a country founded from those fleeing persecution of religion in their own country. Even in 1791, America added the first amendment prohibiting any law regarding an established religion or impeding on the free exercise of religion. For over two centuries now, this concept of separation of church and state has been hotly contested. Is the American government really so separate from religion?
Although America claims to be a country where religion is separate from government, there are quite a few ways in which they overlap. In 1892, Francis Bellamy wrote The Pledge of Allegiance: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Small modifications were made over 50 years, but in 1948, Louis Bowman introduces the phrase “under God” into the Pledge. Multiple bills were brought up and soon shot down to add the phrase officially into the Pledge. President Eisenhower, a recently baptized Presbyterian, encouraged Charles Oakman to re-introduce the bill, which Congress then passed in June of 1954. The phrase “under God” was said to set the United States apart from other countries during a time when the Cold War was heating up. In a country with many diverse religions, this phrase has proven to be polarizing amongst Americans.
The pledge has brought up many fights from students of all religions as to why God should or should not be included in the daily Pledge of Allegiance. Back in 2012, a student in New Jersey, Chelsea Stanton, had been repeatedly punished for refusing to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. Chelsea is an atheist and felt uncomfortable by the phrase “under God” saying it did not respect her. She soon found that a state provision requiring students to stand was held unconstitutional by the United States Court of Appeals in 1978. The school had no right to punish her. But even though it is unconstitutional to make a student stand and recite the pledge, this has not stopped students who refused from being ostracized.
Back in April 2015, the school nurse refused a female student at a Pennsylvanian middle school service after she refused to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This incident has received backlash from organizations such as the American Humanist Association, demanding written apologies from the nurse to the student. This has become an ongoing debate about patriotism ad religion.
Still with the win on the right not to stand during the pledge, the debate is ongoing. In September of 2014, a lawsuit was brought against a New Jersey school by the American Humanist Association trying to omit the words “under God” from the pledge. A senior at the high school, Samantha Jones, alongside the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, fought in affirmation that the words “under God” should in fact be kept in the pledge. Samantha Jones states:
“I’m proud to live in a country that is so respectful of everyone’s beliefs. We are a diverse country and we celebrate that diversity in many ways. However, the same laws that protect the atheists’ world view (sic), protect mine. I will not let them silence me.”
In February 2015, the student and the Becket Fund found a great victory when a judge threw out the lawsuit the AHA had filed.
The Pledge of Allegiance has been a polarizing factor between many Americans. The battle over the Pledge has resulted in numerous lawsuits and disputes. The battle over the Pledge should not be about elimination of God, but rather about how to expand the Pledge to be welcoming to everyone of any belief. America was founded on the principle of religious freedom and we should not continue to ignore the wants of nonreligious citizens. Whether Americans refuse to participate or proudly stand with their hands across their hearts, we are still “one nation.”
Hopkins, Kathleen. “Judge: ‘Under God’ can remain in Pledge of Allegiance.” USA Today. N.p., 9 Feb. 2015. Web. 1 May 2015. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/02/06/nj-judge-under-god-can-remain-in-pledge-of-allegiance/23013301/>.
Sterbenz, Christina. “Why ‘Under God’ Was Added To The Pledge Of Allegiance.” Business Insider. N.p., 14 June 2014. Web. 1 May 2015. <http://www.businessinsider.com/under-god-added-to-pledge-of-allegiance-2014-6>.
Laskin, Heather. “New Jersey Teen Claims Victory In Pledge Of Allegiance Case.” Western Journalism. N.p., 13 Apr. 2015. Web. 1 May 2015. <http://www.westernjournalism.com/new-jersey-teen-claims-victory-pledge-allegiance-case/>.
Kristof, Gregory. “Chelsea Stanton, Collingswood Student, Refuses To Stand For Pledge Of Allegiance, Cites Phrase ‘Under God’.” Huffington Post. N.p., 11 June 2012. Web. 1 May 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/08/pledge-allegiance-atheism_n_1581568.html>.
Lindsay, Ronald. “Reframing the Debate Over the Pledge of Allegiance: Make God Optional.” Huffington Post. N.p., 2 Nov. 2014. Web. 1 May 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ronald-a-lindsay/reframing-the-debate-over_b_5751566.html>.