fight is being waged to edit God from the Pledge of Allegiance
Some Christians believe
this is the line in the sand. Already battered by the removal
of a multitude of Judeo-Christian symbols from public places —
everything from crosses in parks to Ten Commandments displays
on courthouse lawns — now there is the possibility that
uttering the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance
will be illegal in public school classrooms.
If Judicial activists
are allowed to continue their tactics unbridled, some Christians
say, nothing — not even the U.S. Constitution itself —
will be safe from tampering.
Michael A. Newdow,
the atheist litigant in the pending Pledge of Allegiance case
before the U.S. Supreme Court, admits that his goal is the removal
of God’s name from all public venues. Even the recent practice
of singing “God Bless America” at major league baseball
games is anathema to Newdow. He also has sued evangelist Franklin
Graham for mentioning Jesus during President George W. Bush’s
Could the Supreme Court
really overturn a law passed overwhelmingly by Congress only a
little more than a year ago? A majority of justices who found
a constitutional right to homosexual sex in homes last year may
need little incentive to remove God from schools.
While various Christian
groups are lining up to battle what they view as a political Armageddon,
others say it’s too little, too late. They believe the irreligious
commandeered American society years ago, and religious expression
has been too compromised for too long. To them, the solution won’t
be found in court orders but rather at church altars.
MAKING A PLEDGE
Half a century ago, blending faith and patriotism stirred little
dissent when Congress approved insertion of “under God”
between the words “one nation” and “indivisible”
in the pledge. In 1955, a year after endorsing “under God,”
Congress directed that coins be imprinted with “In God we
trust” and the following year adopted the same phrase as
the national motto.
A Baptist minister-turned-magazine-writer
wrote the original Pledge of Allegiance in 1892 as a patriotic
recitation for schoolchildren on the 400th anniversary of Christopher
Columbus arriving in America. But in the midst of the Cold War,
the Knights of Columbus, the nation’s largest Catholic laymen’s
organization, urged Congress to add the words “under God,”
which had been part of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
Kevin J. Hasson, president
of the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom in Washington, D.C.,
says the incorporation distinguished the American and Soviet systems,
which offered differing visions of freedom and human nature.
Hasson, who authored
a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Knights of Columbus
in the current case, says the American view held that humans have
infinite worth because the Creator endowed us with certain inalienable
rights. The Soviet Union taught that the state is the highest
power and could revoke rights at will.
“This is a terribly
important case because it raises the question of where our rights
come from,” Hasson, 46, told Today’s Pentecostal
Evangel. “If you can’t
say ‘one nation under God,’ then you ought logically
not be able to recite the Declaration of Independence, either.
If you forbid people from saying where our rights come from, the
whole system falls apart.”
Newdow brought suit
against the Elk Grove (Calif.) Unified School District, where
his daughter attended second grade in 2000. In response to a Jehovah’s
Witnesses lawsuit, the Supreme Court decided in 1943 that schoolchildren
couldn’t be forced to participate in the recitation. But
Newdow, a lawyer and emergency room physician, claims that just
listening to the “daily indoctrination” of “religious
dogma” injures his impressionable child.
A year and a half ago,
two of the three judges on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
agreed. They ruled that the pledge is unconstitutional because
it professes a religious belief in monotheism, thereby amounting
to a government endorsement of religion and violating the Constitution’s
Establishment Clause. The panel declared that it is akin to proclaiming
the United States is a nation “under Vishnu” or “under
Zeus.” The ban is on hold pending the school district’s
Congress, in late 2002,
passed legislation reinforcing support for the words “under
God” in the pledge, drawing unanimous support in the Senate
and only five dissenting votes in the 435-member House of Representatives.
Arguments could be
heard as early as next month, with a decision expected by June.
Ironically, the Knights of Columbus may play a pivotal role in
the outcome. Antonin Scalia recused himself from taking part after
Newdow cited a speech the justice gave to the Knights of Columbus
in which he criticized the 9th Circuit decision. If the outcome
is a 4-4 deadlock, the 9th Circuit decision would stand, but it
would have no precedential value.
“The school district
is a proponent of the pledge in its present form,” says
Terence J. Cassidy, the Sacramento lawyer retained by the school
district to argue the case before the Supreme Court. “We
believe allowing students to willingly and voluntarily recite
the Pledge of Allegiance as a daily patriotic exercise is not
a violation of the Establishment Clause.”
In any regard, Cassidy
says Newdow’s daughter is a Christian who recites the pledge
“The mere hearing
of other students reciting the pledge is not and does not coerce
them into a particular religious belief system,” Cassidy,
48, told Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
Newdow and the girl’s
mother, Sandra Banning, never married. So, although Newdow in
September gained joint custody of the child, he doesn’t
have final decision-making authority over his daughter, according
to Cassidy. As such, the Supreme Court could decide he lacks standing
to even bring suit. But a similar case no doubt would crop up
again soon somewhere else.
Cassidy says it would
be a travesty if the Court prevented certain students —
those in nine Western states covered by the 9th Circuit —
from reciting the pledge as part of a patriotic exercise while
students in the rest of the country had no such restrictions.
TAKING A STAND
One group, Grassfire, is predicting this as a benchmark verdict.
In October, the Maxwell, Iowa-based organization delivered more
than half a million petitions supporting the pledge to the Supreme
“This case hits
a nerve with the American people like few others,” says
Steve Elliott, president of the organization. “Most of us
went to a public school where we recited the Pledge of Allegiance
While e-mail responses
have been the most popular form of protest, Grassfire delivered
more than 50,000 faxes and personal letters to each of the nine
Supreme Court justices.
Unless those who truly
believe God belongs in the pledge speak up, Elliott believes,
atheists and secularists will further escalate their campaign
to strip all vestiges of God from public life.
“To have ‘in
God we trust’ on our money is an important and powerful
symbol because it puts us under God, where America is safe and
secure,” Elliott, 39, maintains. “To acknowledge God
in the public square is an extremely important symbol.”
is committed to keeping pressure on the Supreme Court. In addition
to petition deliveries and letter-writing campaigns, the Common
Good Legal Defense Fund is filing a friend of the court brief
on behalf of Grassfire to which protesters can add their names
Regarding the case,
Elliott finds it incongruous that the Supreme Court opens every
session with an official proclaiming “God save the United
States and this honorable Court” and that a frieze of Moses
hangs over the chamber. “We’re saying there is no
mandate for a secular society in America,” Elliott says.
“If we get a favorable decision, this could really turn
the tide on whether America will be a secular state.”
All U.S. founding documents
recognize a higher authority as the source of our rights, Elliott
says. He maintains that the final authority rests with the people
and that judges are in place to serve the Constitution.
Of course, justices
who are appointed for life don’t face the same kind of reality
check that lawmakers do with an electorate.
And redefining laws
isn’t confined to the Supreme Court. “The ruling of
the 9th Circuit finding the words ‘under God’ unconstitutional
brought to critical mass the whole judicial activist boogeyman
that seems to be prowling the pages of our Constitution,”
says Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney for the American Family
Association’s Center for Law and Policy in Tupelo, Miss.
Fahling, 45, says the
decision is borne from 50 years of jurisprudence in which there
has been a systematic effort to stamp out the presence of Christianity
in the public square. The 9th Circuit is merely applying sweeping
U.S. Supreme Court precedents that have reshaped society, he says.
Court likes to make broad social policy announcements and inform
us all of how wrong we’ve been for centuries,” Fahling
says. “If this decision is reversed, it’s only because
the Supreme Court believes we haven’t been sufficiently
anesthetized yet to accept such a decree.”
The AFA is supporting
the Religious Liberties Restoration Act introduced in August by
U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado. The statute would nullify
the authority of federal courts to review cases dealing with the
Pledge of Allegiance, the national motto and public displays of
the Ten Commandments. Such a “repealer” statute requires
only a simple majority, but a later Congress could repeal it.
Earlier the AFA had
spearheaded a constitutional amendment drive, which would have
a lasting impact but be much more difficult to accomplish, requiring
two-thirds ratification by both Congress and individual state
legislatures to become law.
SHRINKING PLACE IN SCHOOLS
God leaders who work with young people on school campuses say
it is becoming an increasing challenge to convey a Christ-centered
of higher learning were originally created to establish God as
the foundation for all human endeavor,” says Ron Barnard,
Chi Alpha district director based at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.
“Yet today we’re seeing a generation of college students
who have no real sense of purpose or reason for being.”
Even many Christian
students are indecisive about their beliefs, Barnard says, because
they are continually bombarded with relative truth messages that
no religious system is better than another. If the government
is allowed to eliminate the “under God” clause, it
means that humans have elevated themselves to a position of authority
above God, according to Barnard. On campus, Barnard repeatedly
stresses Ephesians 2:10, to remind Christian students that they
are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.
Youth Alive is an Assemblies
of God program that empowers students to be missionaries on their
campuses through training events, motivational assemblies and
interdenominational clubs. Tom Bachman, a Youth Alive missionary
in Albany, Ore., hopes the high court doesn’t outlaw an
oath that students have recited their entire lives.
“It would be
one more step of removing God en route to becoming an atheistic
society,” says Bachman, who talks to an average of 15,000
middle and high school students annually. “Under God is
the heritage of who we are as Americans.”
While Bachman, 40,
concedes that organized school prayers didn’t necessarily
bring a sense of righteousness to the hearers, he is troubled
that a few activists such as Madalyn Murray O’Hair —
who filed the suit that led to the Supreme Court in 1962 banning
school-sponsored prayer — and Newdow have been able to unduly
influence the nation. “The church has got to get to the
place where we become the loud majority and not the silent majority,”
Kent Hulbert, a Youth
Alive missionary based in Waupaca, Wis., says many of the 35,000
students he sees each year are searching for a framework of truth,
and removal of “under God” from the pledge would be
a destabilizing factor in stripping away the foundation on which
the nation began.
an ever-increasing push to push God out of our culture altogether,”
says Hulbert, 38. “In that vacuum the doors to all sorts
of false religions have opened.”
Hulbert says everything
is relative in a nation built on tolerance of false religions,
homosexuality and abortion. With no absolute standards of right
and wrong, young people are frustrated and skeptical of adults’
motives, he says.
According to Hulbert,
the removal of “under God” would be yet another blow
contributing to the wane of Christian influence in public schools
that started with the removal of organized prayer.
really transformed by reciting the pledge, but it gives them a
connection point to their country,” Hulbert says. “It
should have us concerned because the whole shape of our government
has been framed by God. It is that freedom under God that made
this country so great.”
Courts still allow phrases such as “in God we trust”
on currency based on the rationale that they have historical rather
than spiritual significance. For instance, Supreme Court Justice
Sandra Day O’Connor has written that such “ceremonial
deism” is tolerable because everyone understands it really
doesn’t hold any religious meaning anymore.
Charles E. Hackett,
executive director of Assemblies of God U.S. Missions, hopes the
high court keeps “under God” in the pledge. He’d
also like to see organized prayer restored to public schools.
But those acts wouldn’t remedy what ails America, Hackett
is Christians who don’t live as Christians ought to live,”
Hackett says. “All kinds of laws can be changed that we
think are pro-Christian, but if the heart of the church isn’t
changed, it’s not going to make a difference in our society.
The church, and only the church, is in charge of the spiritual
level of this nation. It is not in the hands of the courts, or
Congress or the White House.”
see the pledge decision as some sort of spiritual litmus test.
He contends the church lost its public influence long ago, and
as a result a plethora of unbiblical decrees are now enforced.
“We are where
we are spiritually in this nation not because of bad laws but
because of a backslidden church,” Hackett says. “If
the Court rules against ‘under God’ there will be
some outcries and hand-wringing, but it will produce no repentance.
It is repentance by the church that will bring revival.”
W. Kennedy is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.
E-mail your comments