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Under God: Key Moments in Pledge of Allegiance Controversy

Image: Under God: Key Moments in Pledge of Allegiance Controversy
American Flag With The Pledge Of Allegiance Printed On The Stripes. (James Vallee/dreamstime)

By    |   Thursday, 13 Nov 2014 08:44 PM

In the decades since Congress added the words “under God” to the “Pledge of Allegiance,” the decision has alternately incited controversy and brought people together to fight for the phrase’s inclusion.

Here are five key moments in the debate:

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1. The most important event occurred in 1954, when Congress voted unanimously to add “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, the original words wouldn’t have caused the court challenges the pledge has seen in the last 60 years. But Congress made the decision, supported by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, to change the pledge as a rejoinder to “godless communism,” according to the Smithsonian.

2. In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court determined in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette that schoolchildren could not be forced to salute the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance. In the determination, the court held that "Under the Federal Constitution, compulsion as here employed is not a permissible means of achieving 'national unity.'" This case set the precedent for future decisions that upheld that children could not be forced to say "under God" as part of the pledge.

3. Many key moments in the “under God” debate centered around Michael Newdow, a physician and attorney who began challenging in court the fact that his daughter was forced to say the pledge in school. As an atheist, Newdow believed that violated his daughter’s rights. One of the most significant findings early in Newdow’s fight — which he has now given up — occurred when the 9th District Court of Appeals found in Newdow’s favor in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, sending the country into an uproar.

But the U.S. Supreme court overturned the appeals court, primarily on procedural grounds. They found that Newdow, who did not have custody of his daughter, did not have standing to bring the case.

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“While we would have preferred that the Supreme Court had ruled on the merits — and settled it once and for all for our nation — we are pleased that we can continue with our Board policy to have teachers lead willing students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance," David W. Gordon, the Elk Grove superintendent of schools, said in a statement.

4. Newdow filed another case in 2005, Newdow v. Rio Linda Union School District, trying once more to get “under God” removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a group that fought Newdow on the issue, "After considering the case for almost two and a half years, in March 2010, the Ninth Circuit reversed itself, affirming the constitutionality of the words 'under God.' Remarkably, the court that in 2002 held that saying 'under God' was like saying a prayer adopted the Becket Fund’s position that the Pledge is a statement of political philosophy."

Interestingly, some Christians argue the court’s decision, upheld in other cases, that "under God" is not considered a religious statement is insulting and demeaning.

5. While Newdow argued for the removal of “under God” based on the separation of church and state, another case went to court in Massachusetts in 2005, arguing that the phrase was discriminatory. But the state’s Supreme Court upheld other courts in saying “under God” is not a religious statement.

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In the decades since Congress added the words "under God" to the "Pledge of Allegiance," the decision has alternately incited controversy and brought people together to fight for the phrase's inclusion.
under god, pledge of allegiance, controversy
Thursday, 13 Nov 2014 08:44 PM
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