Politics

Atheists Mount Campaign to Boycott the Pledge of Allegiance

Why the Pledge was originally silent about God and why it was changed 60 years ago.

Atheists Mount Campaign to Boycott the Pledge of Allegiance

-David-Fulmer

The American Humanist Association (AHA) recently launched a national campaign to rally Americans against reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

You can probably guess what phrase the AHA finds offensive: naturally, it’s the part about “under God.” The ultimate aim of their “Don’t Say the Pledge” campaign is to have those two words officially deleted from the pledge. The campaign is currently being promoted through ads at bus stops in New York and Washington, D.C. and videos on YouTube.  

Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, explained the group’s objection to the Pledge:

“We want everyone to know that the current wording of the pledge discriminates against atheists and others who are good without a god, and we want them to stand up for fairness by sitting down until the pledge is restored to its original, unifying form.”

The AHA campaign iwas encouraged by a May 2014 study by The Seidewitz Group in New York that reported that 34 percent of Americans allegedly favor removing the words, after being told that “under God” was added to the pledge only in 1954. Earlier studies found that a mere 8 percent of respondents favored deleting the reference to God.

It is unlikely, however, that the atheists’ campaign to bleach God from public discourse will succeed.

On March 10, 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals—regarded as the most liberal federal appellate court in the United States—ruled (2-1) in Newdow v. Rio Linda Union School District that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance were of a “ceremonial and patriotic nature” and, therefore, did not constitute an establishment of religion.

Later that year, on November 12, 2010, the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston unanimously affirmed a ruling by the federal district court in New Hampshire that the Pledge’s reference to God does not violate the rights of non-pledging students, if student participation in the Pledge is voluntary. And on June 13, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that decision.

The History of the Pledge

It’s true that the Pledge of Allegiance was changed in 1954—and three times before that, since it was originally composed by Francis Bellamy in 1892. 

The omission of any reference to God in the original had nothing to do with “establishment of religion” concerns. It was no doubt due to the original purpose of the Pledge. Its author, Francis Bellamy, was a Baptist pastor, Christian socialist, and a man of strong faith. He wrote the Pledge with the intent of renewing love of country in the years after the Civil War, when patriotic ardor and national feeling seemed to have waned.

Bellamy’s original Pledge reflects exactly and only what was at stake in the Civil War—the unity of the United States, liberty for slaves and justice for all:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

It was published on September 8, 1892, in the children’s magazine The Youth’s Companion, as part of the 400th anniversary celebration of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. The magazine’s publisher, James B. Upsham, hoped that participation in the National Public-School Celebration of Columbus Day would foster patriotism and the sale of American flags that would be flown in front of public schools. Upsham reportedly told his wife,
 

“If I can instill into the minds of our American youth a love for their country and the principles on which it was founded, and create in them an ambition to carry on with the ideals which the early founders wrote into The Constitution, I shall not have lived in vain.”