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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The Pledge of Allegiance Case

Back when I first learned the Pledge of Allegiance the words "under God" had not been added. In fact, my memory being what is, I still leave the words out as much as I put them in. Perhaps this has made me less patriotic, though I doubt it. Now that a persistent atheist (who I guess believes that uttering words he doesn't believe in will destroy his faith in ...uh...nothing) has joined with parties whose children are, in fact, coerced by armed guards to say the Pledge with "under God" in it, instead of being allowed, like me, to say it any old way I choose, a court has ruled it "unconstitutional" as reported here

At least, I guess it must be armed and hostile guards listening very intently, in whatever school the kids are in, because I don't recall anyone even paying the slightest bit of attention to what I was uttering during Pledge Time.

Or maybe there aren't any armed guards, but some sort of mind thing that will warp kids forever if they even hear other people say "under God" while they stand idly by. You know some sort of peer pressure mind meld...scarring minds for life.

Interesting history of the Pledge here, where it alleged the Pledge was written by a Christian Socialist named Francis Bellamy in 1892. The "under God" part was added later:
In 1954, Congress after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, added the words, 'under God,' to the Pledge. The Pledge was now both a patriotic oath and a public prayer.
And more history here where it is alleged the Pledge's authorship is not clear and omits the discussion of Mr. Bellamy's socialism...
The last change in the Pledge of Allegiance occurred on June 14 (Flag Day), 1954 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved adding the words "under God". As he authorized this change he said:

"In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war."

This was the last change made to the Pledge of Allegiance. The 23 words what had been initially penned for a Columbus Day celebration now comprised a Thirty-one profession of loyalty and devotion to not only a flag, but to a way of life....the American ideal.
And the 1954 date just might have had something to do with the tenor of the times although this piece from Slate might be a little biased:
The efforts to bring God into the state reached their peak during the so-called "religious revival" of the 1950s. It was a time when Norman Vincent Peale grafted religion onto the era's feel-good consumerism in his best-selling The Power of Positive Thinking; when Billy Graham rose to fame as a Red-baiter who warned that Americans would perish in a nuclear holocaust unless they embraced Jesus Christ; when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles believed that the United States should oppose communism not because the Soviet Union was a totalitarian regime but because its leaders were atheists.

Hand in hand with the Red Scare, to which it was inextricably linked, the new religiosity overran Washington. Politicians outbid one another to prove their piety. President Eisenhower inaugurated that Washington staple: the prayer breakfast. Congress created a prayer room in the Capitol. In 1955, with Ike's support, Congress added the words "In God We Trust" on all paper money. In 1956 it made the same four words the nation's official motto, replacing "E Pluribus Unum." Legislators introduced Constitutional amendments to state that Americans obeyed "the authority and law of Jesus Christ."

The campaign to add "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance was part of this movement. It's unclear precisely where the idea originated, but one driving force was the Catholic fraternal society the Knights of Columbus. In the early '50s the Knights themselves adopted the God-infused pledge for use in their own meetings, and members bombarded Congress with calls for the United States to do the same. Other fraternal, religious, and veterans clubs backed the idea. In April 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut, D-Mich., formally proposed the alteration of the pledge in a bill he introduced to Congress.

The "under God" movement didn't take off, however, until the next year, when it was endorsed by the Rev. George M. Docherty, the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Washington that Eisenhower attended. In February 1954, Docherty gave a sermon—with the president in the pew before him—arguing that apart from "the United States of America," the pledge "could be the pledge of any country." He added, "I could hear little Moscovites [sic] repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity." Perhaps forgetting that "liberty and justice for all" was not the norm in Moscow, Docherty urged the inclusion of "under God" in the pledge to denote what he felt was special about the United States.

The ensuing congressional speechifying—debate would be a misnomer, given the near-unanimity of opinion—offered more proof that the point of the bill was to promote religion. The legislative history of the 1954 act stated that the hope was to "acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon … the Creator … [and] deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism." In signing the bill on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, Eisenhower delighted in the fact that from then on, "millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town … the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty." That the nation, constitutionally speaking, was in fact dedicated to the opposite proposition seemed to escape the president.
The American Legion offers up this interesting historical tidbit here:
Originally, the pledge was said with the right hand in the so-called "Bellamy Salute," with the right hand resting first outward from the chest, then the arm extending out from the body. Once Hitler came to power in Europe, some Americans were concerned that this position of the arm and hand resembled the Nazi or Fascist salute. In 1942 Congress also established the current practice of rendering the pledge with the right hand over the heart.
As far as I can tell, the schools could ban the use of the words "under God" and the kids who want to could continue to say them and there's not a ding dang thing anyone could do about it...

Next, we'll be discussing the efficacy of loyalty oaths...

UPDATE: Of course, I'm not a law professor (and First Amendment Constitutional law isn't my normal practice) but if you want to read what such person has to say, then go here. Professor Volokh discusses the case and raises the issue of the "precedential effect of reversed decisions" - and also happens to wander through the basis for decision:
A federal district court in Sacramento has just held that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in K-12 public school classes is unconstitutional, because it psychologically coerces students to say the "under God" and thus violates the Establishment Clause. Students aren't legally required to say any of the pledge, but the theory, which has pretty substantial foundations in the Supreme Court's precedents, is that they are in any event psychologically coerced, since omitting the "under God" will expose them to opprobrium from their peers.
Bad psychology makes for bad cases...

UPDATE 2: Patterico also weighs in here with a lengthy but absolutely correct analysis of the "standing" issue in somewhat less obstuse language than a law professor might use, and yet also finds other analysis which distills the oddness of the district judge's decision down to a few lines. I commend his post to you.

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