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Passing Thoughts

“Under God”?

My local NBC affiliate's news program recently ran a piece about a recent NBC Sports broadcast incident. Apparently, the broadcast included a patriotic piece, which included school children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance up to and including “one nation”, cutting away to some other patriotic imagery, and then cutting back to the children reciting “indivisible, with liberty, and justice, for all”. Seemingly, the phrase “under God” was omitted, and it seems many viewers took offense to this.

Apparently someone at NBC made the decision to leave out that phrase, which NBC has since called “a bad decision”. I can see two reasons why people would object to this omission: one with basis in patriotism, and one with basis in religion.

The patriotic reason to object to the omission of “under God” is rather simple: the phrase is in the Pledge, and to modify the Pledge somehow insults the United States. It is true that the United States Flag Code defines the Pledge of Allegiance as including the phrase “under God”. But this was not always so. The Pledge wasn't even recognized by the US government as having any official status until 1942, and at that time, it didn't include the phrase “under God”. That was added informally by various social groups beginning in 1948, and officially adopted by Congress in 1954, after Eisenhower was inspired by a sermon based on the Gettysburg Address. Recognizing this history, the omission of “under God” from the pledge now is no more improper than was its original inclusion by those social groups before 1954.

The reason based on religion, as far as I can tell, is essentially that God is good and therefore should be included in everything. Obviously I disagree with the conclusion of that statement. But many in this country see the omission of “under God” not as a simple omission but as a purposeful removal, meant to insult God. These are probably the same people who believe anything the Bible says is a sin should be outlawed. (Say goodbye to your cotton-poly blend clothing…)

I believe in the concept of Separation of Church and State. That is, I don't believe the policies of the US government should endorse or favor any particular religious view. On the other hand, “under God” is rather vague. It doesn't say which or whose God. While it excludes atheists explicitly and polytheists implicitly, that still leaves a broad and religiously diverse set of religions which should have no problem with the phrase. There are certainly greater instances of insufficient Separation of Church and State in this country.

Still, to argue that “under God” must be kept in the Pledge of Allegiance because God should be included in everything is somewhat selfish. The argument is based on an opinion that is clearly not held by every American citizen. And what about the First Amendment? Aren't we all free to have our own religious opinions? It could be argued that atheism is not a religion but a lack thereof, and therefore not protected by the First Amendment; however that argument just seems silly to me. In any case, polytheistic objections to the phrase still stand.

I'll concede that I haven't made a compelling argument to remove “under God” from the Pledge. I have, however, outlined why it's unreasonable to become upset when other Americans omit the phrase. Indeed, and as the primary conclusion of this essay, it is my belief that the phrase “under God” should be made optional by an act of Congress.

Besides, how many of us actually take the Pledge of Allegiance that seriously? It's evident from the rhythm and intonation of the common recital that we all learn it by rote, with little emphasis on its meaning. It doesn't help that the Pledge is one rather long and rambling sentence, often read as a short sentence and then a rambling sentence fragment. Therefore as the secondary conclusion of this essay, I advocate for the promotion of dramatic readings of the Pledge of Allegiance, to better convey the structure and meaning.

I pledge allegiance…

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