Mon. Jun 17th, 2024

So far this semester the Quad has published several editorials about the conflict surrounding the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance and if you’re reading this it means they have chosen to do so again. Indeed, both sides have argued passionately either for against those two words. Yet, no one has taken a historical or legal look at the issue to try and determine what the first amendment to the constitution really means and how it applies to this issue. That’s what I intend to do.
In case you haven’t read it enough, here is our constitution’s first amendment in regards to religion: “Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion or regarding the free exercise thereof…” Many people opposed to the phrase “under God” use this as their first and last argument. They claim that through this phrase the founders of our nation wished to eliminate religion from all public life and governmental affairs. Of course, as with any written work, one must consider this document in light of the context in which our nation’s founders wrote and signed it.
Many settlers who came to the new world in the 17th century did so due to vast religious persecution from their European countries of origin. During this period, European governments believed that uniformity of religion must exist in a healthy society. Ironically this led to vast persecution of numerous religious believers, usually of opposing Christian denominations. This persecution included exile, barbaric methods of torture, and even execution for those who would not submit to the state mandated forms of worship. Even a century later, the people still heard the stories of the brutality experienced by those who stood up for their beliefs. It is in this context that the framers of our country wrote the religious portion of the first amendment. They saw the effects of mandatory religion enforced by the state and wanted to ensure that such brutality would never be part of their new nation.
This is why the constitution specifically refers to congress making a law establishing religion. The framers had no intention of eliminating religion from the public sphere. On the contrary, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, two of our countries most famous founders and the 3rd and 4th presidents respectively, attended church services in the House of Representatives every Sunday during their time in office.
And now we come to the legal part. The pledge of allegiance, obviously, is not a law. There is no law requiring any citizen to say or affirm it at any time. Every American citizen has the right to choose whether they wish to say it. Therefore the constitution of the United States holds no power in this particular case. Now if any of you would like to change the pledge back to its original form, you have every right to do so. Call your senators; write your representatives; start a grass-roots movement. Do whatever it takes to get Congress to remove the phrase “under God” from the pledge of allegiance. That is your right as a citizen of this great democracy. But please do not attempt to force the will of the minority on the rest of the country by deliberately misrepresenting the Constitution of the United States. Such an action would have appalled the founders of our great nation.Stephen Wilburn

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