Old Gold and Black, The Student Newspaper of Wake Forest University

One Nation Under God

By Scott Hurff and Jessica Pritchard
News Editor and Life Editor

October 30, 2003

A San Francisco-based federal appeals court decision reached in June 2002 about the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance may soon have national repercussions for all children who attend public school.

The Supreme Court will examine the Ninth Circuit Court ruling that declared the daily recitation of the Pledge unconstitutional due in part to the inclusion of the phrase “under God.” The Court made the announcement of its intentions Oct. 15 and a ruling is expected by June.

“I’m surprised the court took the case,” Katy Harriger, professor of political science, said. “There are certainly bigger fish to fry in the area of separation of church and state.”

Visiting professor at the Divinity School James Dunn expressed a similar opinion. “There are serious church-state problems now a days and ‘under God’ in the Pledge is not one of them,” he said.

Dunn worked in Washington for 22 years and has served on the Board of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State for 18 years. “I just don’t think it’s that important,” he said.

Dunn listed the issues of vouchers for parochial school and the recent incident involving a statute of the Ten Commandments outside a courthouse as more serious church-state issues.

In a move that surprised many across the nation, Justice Antonin Scalia removed himself from the case – called a ‘recusal’ in the legal world – without explanation. reported that it was in response to a request by the original plaintiff in the lawsuit after Scalia condemned the original ruling openly as part of National Religious Freedom Day. Justice Scalia’s recusal could allow for a 4-4 vote on the decision, which would keep the ninth District Court decision standing.

In accepting the California case, which could permanently dictate the course of religious inclusions in government institutions, the Supreme Court has the potential to change the daily routines of millions of children across the country.

The decision in the California case did not declare the actual verse “under God” unconstitutional but rather said that recitation of the Pledge in classrooms was unconstitutional due to the fact that children are impressionable, USA Today reported.

New classroom procedures regarding the Pledge in the nine western states under the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit Court have been put on hold in pending the Supreme Court’s decision.

If the California decision is upheld it would raise questions of patriotism and national heritage and focus more debate on whether the Pledge actually violates the First Amendment’s ban against laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

At the heart of the debate is California native and atheist Michael Newdow who sued his daughter’s elementary school over the inclusion of “under God” in the Pledge, alleging that the teacher-led recitation violated his daughter’s religious freedom.

Despite the Ninth Curcuit Court’s decision last June, the Supreme Court has twice previously upheld the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Harriger said she felt that the man who wrote the original version of the Pledge would have been appalled by the inclusion of “under God.” She said this is because the purpose was to unite those who recited it regardless of their religious beliefs and celebrate that we were united civilly under a democratic government.

“Under God was added in the 1950’s as a way to distinguish us from the Soviets,” Harriger said. The original version simply stated “one nation, indivisible.”

Rabbi and professor of English Andrew Ettin said that he was in grammar school and objected when the phrase was added.

“On my own initiative I refused to say that phrase then, even though I think I was the only one in my class to do so,” he said. “Although a couple of my classmates noticed that I did not recite those two words, no one ever challenged me and no one in authority ever intervened.”

While the court is not expected to rule until the end of the current session, Dunn said he thought a less than clear-cut yes or no would be issued.

“This decision when it comes down, probably not until July … probably won’t satisfy everyone,” Dunn said. “I wouldn’t attempt to guess what loophole (the Court) will jump through. They’ll rule with some weasel-words.”

Harriger said she thought the court would uphold the Pledge in the same way they have allowed general statements about God.

Ettin did not speculate as to how the court would rule.

Both Ettin and Harriger said they felt “under God” should not be a part of the Pledge.

“The main reason is that I distrust the intermingling of belief in God with patriotism, loyalty and national pride,” Ettin said. “It should not be the state’s function to make me profess to a belief in God, whether I have such a belief or not.”

Sophomore Caitlin Judd said she also felt “under God” didn’t have a place in the Pledge.

“I don’t think it’s a necessary part, it’s pretty irrelevant to the statement on the Pledge of Allegiance,” she said.

College Democrats Treasurer and sophomore Whitney Doub said she thought recitation of the Pledge containing “under God” had the potential to make children that practice a religion other than Christianity uncomfortable.

“I understand that no one is actually forcing them to say it, but peer pressure and group conformity can go a long way in situations like that,” she said.

Charlie McCurry, a junior and vice chairman of the College Republicans, said he would tend to agree with those who support the use of the phrase.

“I like to think our country was based upon the belief in a higher power,” he said. “It’s in all our important documents and prayers are still said in Congress.”

Despite the differing opinions of the two political groups on campus, McCurry said the issue was not a partisan one given the fact that both President Bush and Senator Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) had condemned the earlier court ruling.

Campus Crusade for Christ refused to comment on the article, stating, “We prefer not to take a stand as an organization on the issue.”

Dunn said he was not wasting his energies on defending or opposing “under God” and mentioned adding an s to “God” or making the G lowercase.

“(The phrase) does not make believers out of those who say it,” he said. “It’s simply ceremonial religion and every country on the face of the earth has some form of that. I don’t know anyone who has fallen on their knees and accepted Jesus Christ as savior because they said ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance.”

Ettin said that while the phrase might be understood as a profession of humility, it is most often interpreted instead as the nation-wide belief in a higher power, a type of belief is not held by atheists like the original suit filer Newdow.

“I do not see any reason why atheists and agnostics, for example, cannot be loyal citizens and they should have the right to declare their loyalty to the republic without any reference to God,” Ettin said.