The Pledge of Allegiance was written in August 1892 by a minister named Francis Bellamy. He supported the schoolhouse flag movement, which sought to place a flag above every school in the nation. Responding to the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Americas, Bellamy wrote his pledge to the flag for Columbus Day celebrations to be held around the country.
In 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower asked Congress to add the words “under God” in response to the atheistic Communist threat of the day. For the last 50 years, school children across the land have pledged allegiance “to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Now the American Humanist Association is suing a New Jersey school district, seeking to have the phrase “under God” removed from the pledge. They claim that these words violate the state’s constitutional protection against discrimination due to “religious principles, race, color, ancestry or national origin.” In their view, including the phrase is unfair to atheist students, whose religious principles are violated by its recitation. This is a different way to oppose the phrase than has been tried in the past, when critics have contended unsuccessfully that the pledge violates the U.S. Constitution’s ban on establishing religion.
In a culture that increasingly views religion as dangerous, we should expect such attacks to escalate. However, the 1954 decision by Congress to include “under God” in the pledge reflected our founders’ conviction that America can be “one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” only if it is a nation “under God.”
For instance, George Washington, in his 1796 Farewell Address, asked: “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?” He noted that “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” And he warned against “attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric” of our nation. What would our first president think of the present controversy over the pledge?
There’s a more personal side to this debate. In Walking With God, John Eldredge notes: “There is no greater disaster for the human heart than this—to believe we have found life apart from God.” On this Wednesday after Easter Sunday, are you tempted to return to life as “normal”? To self-sufficiency rather than Christ-dependency? To believing in Jesus but not experiencing Jesus? We can recite the words “under God” in our pledge to the flag but ignore them in our service to the Lord.
“‘Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Would God say you are surrendered to his Spirit today?