Under God Divides the Indivisible

By Dority, Barbara | The Humanist, September-October 2002 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Under God Divides the Indivisible

Dority, Barbara, The Humanist

All of us who comprise the 14 percent of Americans--that's about thirty million--who hold no religious or god beliefs should be pleased and profoundly gratified by the courageous June 26, 2002, U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Newdow v. U.S. Congress regarding the phrase under God in the Pledge of Allegiance. Added to the pledge in 1954 specifically to counteract "Godless communism," these words have always been a blatant unconstitutional violation of the establishment clause. After forty-eight years, we humanists can now feel, however briefly, included as Americans. In its eloquent ruling, the court explicitly acknowledges our previous exclusion:

   The pledge, as currently codified, is an impermissible government 
   endorsement of religion because it sends a message to unbelievers that they 
   are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an 
   accompanying message to adherents that they are insiders, favored members 
   of the political community. 

Later, the court reviews the legislative history and quotes from the 1954 act, which leaves no doubt about the purpose of the added phrase under God:

   The Act's sole purpose was to advance religion.... This language reveals 
   that the purpose of the 1954 Act was to take a position on the question of 
   theism, namely, to support the existence and moral authority of God, while 
   "denying ... atheistic and materialistic concepts." Such a purpose runs 
   counter to the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government's 
   endorsement or advancement not only of one particular religion at the 
   expense of other religions, but also of religion at the expense of 
   atheism.... The [U.S. Supreme] Court has unambiguously concluded that the 
   individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces 
   the right to select any religious faith or none at all. 

Every American should read the full text of the Ninth Circuit's decision (available online at www.ca9.uscourts.gov/opinions) and educate themselves about this issue. The displays of ignorance and intolerance and the arrogant posturing of politicians have been truly appalling. Why is it so difficult to understand that we might just as well be reciting, "One nation under Buddha, David Koresh, Allah, or Zeus" or "One nation under Wall Street" (or, as comedian Robin Williams suggests, "One nation under Canada")?

Despite repetitive and misleading sound-bites, pledging allegiance to the flag has not been declared unconstitutional. Many of the print media got it right, clearly identifying Congress' 1954 addition as the unconstitutional part of the pledge. However, most of the TV pundits and so-called news journalists parroted the right-wing's misrepresentation that the entire pledge was declared unconstitutional--thus erroneously fanning the flames and fomenting public hysteria over the court's decision. But the court was unmistakably clear that the words under God are the problem, ruling that "the policy and practice of teacher-led recitation of the pledge, with the added words included, violate the Establishment Clause."

And if the statement that the United States is a nation "under God" is not an endorsement of religious ideology, then nothing is. Actually, it is that and more. In the context of the pledge, citizens are asked to pledge allegiance to the concept of a God-ruled nation. As the court wrote:

   To recite the pledge is not to describe the United States; instead, it is 
   to swear allegiance to the values for which the flag stands: unity, 
   indivisibility, liberty, justice, and--since 1954--monotheism. The text of 
   the official pledge, codified in federal law, impermissibly takes a 
   position with respect to the purely religious question of the existence and 
   identity of God.... The school district's practice of teacher-led 
   recitation of the pledge aims to inculcate in students a respect for the 
   ideals set forth in the pledge, and thus amounts to state endorsement of 
   these ideals. 

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Under God Divides the Indivisible


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?