Prayer of allegiance to continue
Frank R. Zindler
The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that Atheist Michael Newdow’s brilliant victory over the prayer of allegiance to the flag in a court of appeal is null and void–on the ground that he did not have standing to sue. This means that public school children all over the country will once again have to suffer the insult of “ceremonial deism” and endure the ritualized religious assaults of zealous authorities. Fortunately, the court did not rule on the merits of the case, and so it has not spoken one way or the other on the constitutionality of the prayer of allegiance. No precident has been set … yet.
It is not easy to be an Atheist in America, and it often is not pleasant. Everywhere we turn, we get the message “You are not wanted here.”
In ‘the year of our Lord’ 1955, the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” was inscribed on all the money we handle–even currency with the images of Infidels such as Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Susan B. Anthony has been thus sanctified. The currency has effaced the free-thinking character of the persons honored. My own objection to the motto ended my twenty-year career as a teacher.
In 1956 the national motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” was adopted and trumpeted everywhere. There is a movement to plaster this patently false proposition above the porticoes of all public buildings and on the walls of every school room.
Even before these two breaches were made in the wall of separation between state and church–in 1954–the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United states had been altered so that today, when we are asked to pledge allegiance to the American flag, we are required either to say a prayer to a being we know to be imaginary, or risk being rejected as being un-American and un-patriotic.
When George Bush I was campaigning in Chicago for the presidency, American Atheist Press reporter Rob Sherman asked him what he would do for the Atheist population of our country. Bush’s answer was difficult to understand, and Rob followed up with the question, “But surely, you are not questioning the patriotism or citizenship of Atheist Americans?”
Bush replied, “No, I don’t think Atheists should be considered patriots or citizens–this is ONE NATION UNDER GOD.” You may recognize that as a quote from the pledge.
All three religious violations of America’s secular constitution were committed during the Cold War of the ’50s, and all three were intended to insult and disenfranchise Atheist Americans. Atheism was equated to Communism. Again and again, Atheist Americans were told to “Go back to Russia.”
The history of how the pledge was changed shows there was a deliberate attempt to denigrate, marginalize, and disenfranchise Atheists.
The Knights of Columbus in New York City–arch-enemies of freethought, secular government, and the liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment–first added “under God” on April 22, 1951, and started a campaign to get all Knights of Columbus to do it. This was accomplished on August 21, 1952. Then they started a campaign to get the President and Congress to make it a law or at least a resolution. Then the American Legion picked up the religious fever. (Like the Boy Scouts, they still do not allow Atheists to be members.)
Supposedly, the words UNDER GOD were a quotation from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. As you can see from the accompanying facsimile of an autograph of the address, Lincoln did not use those words. There is also a second godless autograph of the address in existence. It appears the words were added by Lincoln’s secretary, who advised the unpopular president to appease his religious critics who were appalled by his lack of Christian beliefs.
As can be seen from the Congressional Record of the period, the Prayer of Allegiance was intended from the beginning to be an attack on Atheism and Atheists. Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower, approving the sacralization of the pledge said:
In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith
strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s
most powerful resource in peace and war.
In one sentence, Eisenhower denied the crucial importance of heretics in America’s history. Where would we be without Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Abraham Lincoln?
Eisenhower also said,
From this day forward, the millions of our school children will
daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural
schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the
Almighty–a patriotic oath AND A PUBLIC PRAYER. … Over the globe
millions have been deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic
philosophy of life….
Eisenhower did not care if among the millions coerced into prayer there might be Atheists. They were not Americans worth counting. Eisenhower got this idea from a sermon he had heard–the text of which was published in the Congressional Record, would you believe? The sermon was preached by George Docherty on 7 Feb 1954 and it galvanized the president and members of Congress to turn the pledge into a sacrament.
According to Docherty,
There was something missing in this pledge, and that which was
missing was the characteristic and definitive facto in the American
way of life. Indeed, apart from the mention of the phrase, the United
States of America, this could be a pledge of any republic. In fact, I
could hear the little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their
hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity, for Russia is
also a republic that claims to have over-thrown the tyranny of
In response to possible objections from Atheists, the minister declared “an atheistic American is a contradiction in terms.” Pure atheists, according to Docherty, are little more than “spiritual parasites.”
A more focused attack against Atheist Americans can scarcely be imagined, yet Docherty’s words were repeated when the pledge resolution was taken up several days later in Congress. Said Rep. Rabaut, in restating his initial proposal, H.J Res. 243,
You may argue from dawn to dusk about differing political, economic,
and social systems, but the fundamental issue which is the
unbridgeable gap between America and Communist Russia is a belief in
Almighty God. From the root of atheism stems the evil weed of
communism and its branches of materialism and political dictatorship.
Unless we are willing to affirm our belief in the existence of God and
His creator-creature relation to man, we drop man himself to the
significance of a grain of sand and open the floodgates to tyranny and
That is the same sort of reasoning that had caused seven states to include impediments to Atheists in their state constitutions. Three of these are still in force: Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.
To appreciate how Atheists felt when all this was going on–and still feel as we continue to suffer the insult of attempted disenfranchisement–imagine how a Jew might feel if the pledge had been changed to read:
I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America,
and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with
liberty and justice for Gentiles.
This would exclude Jews in exactly the same way that the current pledge excludes Atheists. The present pledge translates quite precisely into “with liberty and justice for believers,” or “with liberty and justice for all except atheists.”
It should be noted that Bellamy, the original author of the pledge, wanted to include “equality” along with liberty and justice, but he knew that would not fly. How could one imagine women and blacks on an equal basis with white men? To this day, “equality” has not made its way into the pledge–but an imaginary character has!
Forcing Atheist children to hear this litany every day is nothing less than coercive brainwashing. Children who don’t say the pledge are viewed by teachers and students as “not one of us”–i.e., true Americans. This is an injury.
It is frequently argued that adding “under God” to the pledge does not respect an establishment of religion. This flies in the face of the grammar that frames the wording of the First Amendment.
The intention of the writers of the First Amendment is clear from the grammar of its phrasing: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion …”
Please note, the phrase does NOT read: “respecting an establishment of A religion …”
The lack of the indefinite article shows the writers intended to prohibit not only the establishment of a particular sect, but intended to prohibit the elevation of religion in general above secular philosophies or non-religion.
It is a pity that logic has no bearing upon such politically charged issues as the pledge question. To an Atheist it is self-evident that the flag cannot “stand” for something that does not exist. ‘One nation under God’ is a non-existent entity.
To pledge allegiance to a nonexistent being is as silly as pledging a la the formula of humorist Matt Groening (“Life in Hell”):
I plead alignment to the flakes of the untitled snakes of a merry
cow, And to the Republicans, for which they scam, one nacho,
underpants, with licorice and jugs of wine for owls.
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