Politicians, talk radio and conservative media are frequently repeating the motto of “Bringing America Back” because of what they see as a need for the re-emergence of Judeo-Christian values. This fervor is based on the belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. They use the words of the Pledge of Allegiance’s “One Nation Under God” or our currency’s wording of “In God We Trust” as proof that this is what the founding fathers had in mind.
While all of this is reassuring to their constituents, it’s not completely accurate and needs clarification. This type of thing is similar to the game of Telephone (aka Chinese Whispers, Whisper Down the Line, etc.). A player has a message whispered in their ear and passes it to the person seated next to them. They in turn pass it to someone else and by the time that it travels to the last person, it had been distorted so badly that the original message isn’t identifiable. It is the same with some historical events.
Let’s begin with the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and the phrase “Under God” that has caused debate in the school systems for many years as well as numerous court cases.
The Pledge was written by a Baptist Minister and Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy in 1892, over 100 years after the United States became a nation. Take note that “Socialist” is a word that the modern Conservatives use to speak disapprovingly of the Liberal agenda. A Christian Socialist is a Christian whose principles tend to drift to the political platform of the left. They believe in Liberation Theology, which is the freedom from unfair circumstances such as unjust economic, social and political conditions. The key tenets supporting this belief are Marxism, Christian Anarchism and Human Dignity, among several others.
The Pledge has been revised four times to develop into what we now repeat at ballgames and other civic events. The original words were written by Bellamy for a Children’s Magazine called “The Youth’s Companion” as part of the Columbus Day ceremonies. The original words is as follows:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”
Do you notice the absence of religious phrasing in the pledge? The latest revision, and the one we now recite, contains the addition of “One Nation Under God“. It was altered in 1954 after aggressive activism by members of the Knights of Columbus (A Catholic fraternal group), and the Sons of the American Revolution. ” The words, “my Flag” were also replaced with “The flag of the United States” and later, “of America” because the government didn’t want immigrants to have the opportunity to pledge their allegiance to the flag of the countries from where they came.
Interestingly enough, the original gesture used in pledging is called the “Bellamy salute” and was similar to the one used by the Nazis of Hitler’s Third Reich where the right hand was outstretched and held there until the completion of the recitation. Because of Hitler and also the Italian Fascists, the salute was changed to the placing of the hand over the heart, such as we practice today. (but never with anything in the hand, such as a hat)
President Eisenhower agreed to the adding of these words after listening to a moving sermon that was given by New York Presbyterian Church clergyman, George MacPherson Docherty where he spoke about the Gettysburg Address and the birth of freedom. The pastor was using Abraham Lincoln’s words of “Under God” to show that, in his opinion, America a nation of Christians. Many historians disagree, however, and teach that the expression “under God” in the period when Lincoln lived, meant a completely different thing. According to them, it should be interpreted as “God willing” and the modern usage is a grammatical error.
The problem that came with the addition of the new wording is that according to the guidelines of a Democratic Republic (The origin of the terms Democrat and Republican) is that citizens were never to be required or coerced to pledge allegiance to any deity or government. This is protected by the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment.
Numerous individuals, at the time it was added, objected to the change on the grounds that this phrase was in violation of this Clause. Jehovah’s Witnesses even filed legal challenges. They believed strongly that it was immoral to propose allegiance to any person or any entity other than God and the new wording in the Pledge required that citizens swear an oath to an inanimate object – a flag.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism professed that the pledge stripped the Federal Courts of their capacity to support the rights of all Americans, not only the followers of Christianity. They believed, and rightfully so, that it could complicate the issues of civil and reproductive rights, as well as others.
The term “In God We Trust” was first used during the Civil War during a heightened religious consciousness, but wouldn’t become the sanctioned slogan of the United States until an Act of Congress in 1956. (Two years after the Pledge was amended. Yes, there IS a connection) E Pluribus Unum, “One from many parts” was the original national motto and is still found on America’s coins and paper currency.
This decision was approved by the same Congressmen and Presidential Administration as were the modifications to the Pledge. At this time in history there was an almost panic-stricken and hysterical fear of Communism taking over the United States. McCarthyism and the Red Scare was reaching a frenzy and thousands of loyal Americans were being accused of being either Communist or Communist Sympathizers. Actors and other previously influential people lost their jobs and were blacklisted by those who either believed the rhetoric or were fearful of being the next one on the list.
Congress said that “In these days when imperialistic and materialistic Communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom, it is proper” to “remind all of us of this self-evident truth” that “as long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail.” Of course, as we stated before, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States had specifically said that Congress “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion“. The Free Exercise Clause also added “… or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. These Clauses put together are known as the “religion clauses.”
America is not a nation built on Christianity. When the United States was formed, it still reeling from religious persecution from the Church of England and the religious leadership of other countries (such as the French Huguenots).
This is why there is Separation of Church and State. It wasn’t created by atheists to remove religion from the United States. The Founding Fathers felt that it was essential the government have no role in controlling the religion of the people.
The words “Judeo-Christian values” were used by Friedrich Nietzsche, a 19th century German philosopher and classical philologist (The study of Indo-European language). He called himself an “Immoralist” because he spoke out against the popular beliefs of the day. His objective was not to support the teachings in Christianity, but to discredit them. He believed in a natural sense of worth and that the dichotomy of “good versus evil” was a “calamitous error“. He taught that Christianity was a type of “slave morality” because the disciple practiced qualities of meekness and restraint.
Years later, the term was used by the converts from Judaism to Christianity who still considered themselves associated with, and part of, the Jewish community. These words are now used to illustrate a code of ethics that members of the Christian faith should follow.
The United States of America is and has been since its conception a melting pot of all cultures, countries and beliefs. The Constitution allows everyone, not just the majority religion, a right to practice their beliefs without interference or condemnation from others. Apparently we have forgotten that. The fastest way to lose your individual rights is to refuse to stand up for the rights of others.