One Nation, Without Reference To God

by Dish Staff

A recent poll indicates that 34 percent of Americans support removing “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance:

The study, conducted in May of 2014, responded to a 2013 poll by Lifeway Research, which stated that only 8 percent of American adults felt that “under God” should be removed from the Pledge. Unlike the Lifeway Research poll, the survey done by The Seidewitz Group included a brief description of the history of the Pledge of Allegiance, including the information that “under God” was only added as recently as 1954 in response to the Cold War and that some Americans feel that the Pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.

“The current wording of the Pledge marginalizes atheists, agnostics, humanists and other nontheists because it presents them as less patriotic, simply because they do not believe in God,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. “We are encouraged by these findings, which suggest with even a small amount of education, more Americans are in favor of restoring the Pledge to its original wording.”

Noting, however, that “it’s pretty clear no court is going to rule the Pledge unconstitutional any time soon,” Ronald A. Lindsay suggests a way to accommodate those who object to the phrase “under God” – make saying it explicitly optional:

Bear in mind that the defenders of the Pledge, and many of the courts that have upheld its legality, have maintained that the Pledge is not only a patriotic exercise, but an important patriotic exercise: it’s considered a critical part of a student’s formation as a good citizen. Therefore–at least according to defenders of the Pledge–some students are being denied a critical component of their education merely because they refuse to abjure their religious beliefs. Students who want to obtain the benefit of participating in the Pledge exercise should not be denied this important aspect of their education merely because they cannot honestly affirm there is a God.

Frankly, it’s difficult to see how a request for making the religious avowal in the Pledge optional could be refused. Compare it to other situations where religious avowals were once employed as a pretext for barring atheists from participating in important civic activities. Until the mid-twentieth century, some states barred atheists from testifying, serving in public office, or serving on juries on the ground that they could not take a religious oath. All such provisions are now recognized as unconstitutional. Witnesses, for example, have the option of swearing on some sacred book to tell the truth “so help me God” or of simply making a solemn affirmation to tell the truth under penalties of perjury. If this country no longer requires witnesses, jurors, or public officials to affirm belief in God to participate in civic activities, how can a state require schoolchildren to affirm belief in God to participate in an important civic activity?