In 1954, at the height of Cold War hysteria, Congress inserted the phrase “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance at the instigation of the Knights of Columbus, a conservative Catholic organization. This was done to contrast the United States with those “godless” Communists.
Overnight, the Pledge was converted from a purely secular affirmation inclusive of all Americans into a quasi-religious loyalty oath that implicitly suggests that Americans lacking a belief in a deity are unpatriotic and unsupportive of the notion of “one nation, indivisible.”
Indeed, a few years later, Congress changed our original secular national motto “E Pluribus Unum” (From Many, One) to “In God We Trust” in order to highlight that Americans are a “religious people,” once again marginalizing millions of atheists and agnostics as un-American.
The religious Right uses “under God” in the Pledge and “In God We Trust” as our successor national motto to not only smear the patriotism of non-religious citizens, but also to buttress the bogus claim that the United States was founded as a Christian nation under Biblical principles.
In actuality, most the leading Founding Fathers were deists who bequeathed us with a godless Constitution — a document whose major early critics were leading members of the Christian clergy!
Many Americans, regardless of their views on religion, do not believe that a daily recitation of a loyalty oath in public schools is appropriate for a democracy, and is more a characteristic of totalitarian societies. But given the theocratic nature of the Pledge since 1954, most atheists would be opposed to mandating its daily recital, even under the pretense that this would be “voluntary.”
Any child opting out would become a target for ridicule or abuse from classmates, and any teacher refusing to say the words would face hostility from parents and probably career damaging backlash from his or her superiors.
Lest we forget, there was no Pledge of Allegiance before 1892. None of the Founding Fathers recited it, and neither did Daniel Webster, Andrew Jackson or Abraham Lincoln. We did not need the Pledge before 1892, and we do not need it now!
We atheists are opposed to any requirement that this God oath be recited in our public schools.
Dennis Middlebrooks is a member of New York City Atheists.