Debate Forum, 9/17

Massachusetts family believes the Pledge challenges their patriotism

By Alex Culpepper
Illustration: Elliot Ward
A man named Francis Bellamy wrote The Pledge of Allegiance in 1891. In part, it owes its existence to Christopher Columbus and the Civil War. Bellamy composed the Pledge as part of a program to promote patriotism and complement the opening ceremonies for the Columbian Exposition of 1892, which honored Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. It is a legacy of the Civil War because one purpose behind the Pledge was to promote unity after the war had divided the country. The Pledge we know today has changed little since Bellamy wrote it, and he did not include the words “under God.” This is odd, as Bellamy was an ordained minister. “Under God” was added in 1954 during the Eisenhower administration to counter fears associated with the spread of communism.

It is with those words “under God” that the Pledge has drawn scrutiny over the years. Earlier this month in Massachusetts, the Pledge was at the center of a state Supreme Court case brought by a family who opposes those words in the Pledge of Allegiance. Their goal is to find the Pledge unconstitutional and have it removed as a ritual from public classrooms across the state. Their case, though, is a little different from other protests people have raised about the Pledge and its reference to God.

The unnamed family and their supporters call the Pledge, in its current form, a violation of the state’s Equal Rights Amendment and is discriminatory towards atheists. They say the problem with the Pledge is the “reference to God suggests that ‘good patriots are God believers’ and nonbelievers are less patriotic or unpatriotic.” Supporters further say even though reciting the Pledge is voluntary, it remains a problem because whether or not someone chooses to recite it, the implication of the language in its current form is still discriminatory.

Opponents of the family’s case first say making the Pledge voluntary and allowing the omission of the words “under God” frees the Pledge from constitutional violations. Opponents go on to say the words “under God” are not religious claims, but the legacy of a political philosophy designed to limit the power of kings and government. They say the Pledge is merely a patriotic exercise, and to back it up they cite a 2012 case in which a Massachusetts judge ruled the Pledge to not be discriminatory and even added the words “under God” do not “convert the exercise into a prayer.”

The Massachusetts court will not serve a decision for a few months, but their determination will likely have a larger effect on the country. If the court sides with the plaintiffs, supporters will cheer and similar suits may appear in other states. This is a scenario opponents do not want to see, because they believe a ban or alteration of the Pledge is unacceptable and can open the door for other changes.

Debate Forum Question of the Week

Does the inclusion of the words “under God” render the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional
and discriminatory, and if so should it be removed from classroom ritual?


Debate Forum Left: What would Jefferson do?

 By Ben TomkinsOK.  For those of you to whom this is not news, please bear with me.

State goes here.  …………. Religion goes here.

I’m not going to patronize you by quoting the First Amendment, and if you don’t remember it, you’d probably do well to read it again. Suffice to say, you can’t create a situation where our tax dollars are being spent on standing our children up every morning at 7:40 a.m. and having a school-wide declaration that the overseer of the United States is god. If you do, it becomes a simple skip and a jump down fantasy lane to get rid of all those little dots in the middle like gay marriage, equal rights and all of the stuff that at one time or another religious people declared was against god’s will because they found it “icky.”

You know, it’s funny – I read the forum center about atheists crying discrimination and opponents saying it’s patriotic to recite the pledge. It’s totally superfluous. Amusing. Fatuous. It’s right there in the Bill of Rights, and it’s first. I mean, even the wording of the Pledge of Allegiance is ironic.

“…One nation, under God, indivisible…”

It’s “one nation, indivisible,” except it’s divided by “under God.” I could not possibly have come up with a better rhetorical device than the one that’s already in the Pledge. Religion, by nature, divides societies. Syria? Right.

But what’s really pathetic is that we’ve already explored every aspect of this in depth. Abstention is not good enough. America can’t be officially Buddhists and tell the non-Buddhist kids in public schools that the hour of meditation every morning can be used to think of math problems instead. Is that not ridiculous? Sure, but not quite so ridiculous as having those kids recite a hand-over-the-heart oath to the Dear Leader and his divine companion and telling the kids who don’t want to participate they can stand there in front of their classmates in tacit protest.

It’s also not enough to hand-wave it by saying “god” is a general statement rather than religion-specific, so it’s not discriminatory.

Fine. I believe in three gods. The first is me, the second is my penis and the third is every orifice in the universe. The three are separate but of the same substance. There. Now it’s discriminatory because “god” offends my belief in plurality.

Perhaps you found that offensive. I probably would have if I was Christian, and I can’t really blame you. It’s gross, unnecessary and needlessly base and crude. However, I don’t deserve to be ostracized by our state for it.

Fortunately, you can do it for them by using your freedom of speech, and now you understand why those two things are in the same paragraph – a moratorium on religion being the first, by the way.

I do like the “patriotism” argument, I must say. Have you ever noticed that when someone says you are unpatriotic, it’s a meaningless swipe? It immediately prompts the question “What do you mean?” At which time they will tell you … what they really mean. Here’s an example:

Dude: That’s unpatriotic.

You: What do you mean?

Dude: You’re a bad person because you didn’t vote for the guy I want for president.

You: Oh. That’s dumb.

Dude: What do you mean?

You: You disagree with my opinion, and you are using the word “unpatriotic” as a stand-in for “I can’t think of a good reason why I disagree with you so I’m going to arbitrarily declare you anti-American because it makes me feel better about my intellectual shortcomings.”

And that, in so many words, is exactly the same reason we don’t involve religion in our government. As soon as you start legislating morality based on something you can’t back up with anything better than “it just is,” we are in deep doo-doo and you’d better hope your friends are in power when the septic tank ruptures.

In summary, we live in America. Believe whatever you want, and keep it out of our government.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tomkins at 

 Debate Forum Right: Once again, the words “Under God” are under attack

By Dave Landon

We are on the verge of attacking Syria in some half-assed show of force designed to punish Bashar al Assad for using chemical weapons on his own people, but not enough firepower to knock him out of power. If we do accidentally somehow cause enough damage to knock him from power, there is every possibility that the same chemical weapon stockpiles will fall into the hands of al Qaeda. Won’t that be special? The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who has savagely dealt with dissenters in his own country, used brutal force to bring Chechnya under control and has an openly discriminatory policy towards gays, is lecturing the United States about our foreign policy. We are 14 days away from the beginnings of the most serious encroachment of American freedoms when Obamacare insurance exchanges in the 50 states are scheduled to get underway and 17 percent of our Gross National Product (GNP) comes under the control of the federal government. And, oh yes, let’s not forget that Congress has continued to spend our tax dollars until we are once again out of money and the debt ceiling will have to once again be raised from the current $16.6 trillion. The economy, still struggling in the aftermath of the 2007 housing bubble crash brought on by federal government policies which forced banks to lend money to bad credit risks, continues to sputter along with a “no jobs” recovery. Other than that … I’d say things are just peachy.

Against that backdrop of chaos, mayhem and real loss of basic freedoms, some family in Massachusetts has decided that the most important thing that needs to be addressed is that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are discriminatory towards any atheist who cares to recite the Pledge. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts has recently heard the case and will be making a decision as to the constitutionality of the Pledge in the next few months. If this nameless family gets their wish, the Pledge will be removed as a ritual in public classrooms and presumably at any other public event where the Pledge is normally recited.

The only question before the Court should be, “Does the recitation of the Pledge with the words ‘under God’ included violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?” The best evidence and numerous previous court cases would suggest just the opposite. Having come to the New World to avoid the religious persecution taking place in Europe, the Founding Fathers were concerned about the establishment of a national church or religion. The Establishment Clause was included in the First Amendment to the Constitution in order to not only protect against a national church, but also to prevent the federal government from interfering with the rights of states to allow their citizens to freely practice their religions as they saw fit. So, it was to prevent a state religion, not stop any and all religious expression.

The voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is a patriotic exercise that acknowledges the religious principles that this country was founded upon. Critics of the Pledge can pretend that there was not a rich and deep religious history to the founding of America, but to do so certainly ignores the facts. Including the phrase “under God” simply recognizes those historical facts that our founders declared independence and created a nation based on principles where rights given to man from his or her creator transcended manmade laws. It is fundamental to American Exceptionalism.

The fact that the Pledge, in describing the history of the Republic, refers to the nation as “under God” does not convert the Pledge into a state-sponsored profession of religious belief. Not every mention of God in a public forum is a breach of the prohibition of the Establishment Clause. If the un-named family from Massachusetts who brought this lawsuit would open their eyes and look around, there are real problems and loss of real freedoms with which they could be genuinely concerned. Leave the Pledge alone.

David H. Landon is the former Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party Central Committee. He can be reached at 


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