Pledge problems

The Pledge of Allegiance is again making news in the USA.

Look, I have to admit as an evangelical Christian who does not live in America, I just don't fully understand the huge fuss it is causing.

Here is the text of the pledge:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America , and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
There's a few things that you need to realise about this whole kerfuffle:

  1. The original oath was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892. He was a Baptist minister and a socialist.
  2. Originally those making the pledge were expected to make the Bellamy Salute, a hand gesture invented by the author. Unfortunately, it was identical to the Hitler Salute which everyone saw giving Adolf during world war 2. It was replaced by the "right hand over the heart"
  3. The original text was I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Notice that "flag of the United States of America" and "under God" were not part of the original oath.
  4. "Flag of the United States of America" replaced "my flag" so that immigrants could not pledge allegiance to the flag of their previous country. That change occurred in 1924.
  5. The US congress officially recognised the pledge in 1942.
  6. In 1954 the "under God" phrase was added. It was added mainly due to the belief that Communism was essentially Atheistic and incompatible with American values.
  7. President Eisenhower, after signing the bill to add the "under God" phrase, stated From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty.
  8. The First Amendment of the US Constitution declares Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
  9. After recent complaints from a number of people who object to the "under God" phrase, the ACLU has sponsored legal action to prevent school students from reciting the pledge of allegiance in its present form - arguing that the "under God" phrase breaches the first amendment.

I have to point out a few things as an outsider here. The first is that the pledge itself is not a prayer and so therefore cannot be defined as such. We can tell that it is not a prayer because the pledge does not end with "Amen". The fact that God is recognised in the pledge does give it religious significance but does not make it a prayer, since the pledge is being directed towards the flag and the nation it represents. A prayer is directed to God, or towards other figures in other religions. The pledge is therefore not a religious activity.

Secondly, I have to concur with the ACLU that the phrase "under God" does violate the separation of church and state. Since the pledge itself is officially recognised by the US government, and because the phrase can clearly be understood to mean the God of Christians, there exists a problem.

The only simple solution I can think of in order to clear up the constitutional problems is to revert the phrase to its pre-1954 text and remove "under God". However, that's not going to please anybody, and I would guesstimate that the majority of Americans would find that unacceptable.

Another solution would be to have "under God" put in brackets so that the millions of Americans who do believe in God can recite this part, while those who choose not to can opt not to say it. This is a compromise solution and probably won't make the ACLU happy since it still appears to favour one particular religious belief.

Changing the pledge may be anathema to many Americans, but we need to remember that the pledge has been changed before, and has only been officially recognised since 1954. These are precedents.

Many Christians see this issue as one of the battles fought in the "culture war". I personally don't see why it is so important, but that is because I am not American - I therefore cannot see it. It is certainly one disadvantage that I have.

Neverthless, despite the problems this pledge may have on my American Christian bretheren, I would urge them wholeheartedly to pledge their total allegiance not towards their country, but towards God. I'm not saying the pledge contradicts this, but I am saying that there are more important things for Christians to fight for.

Please leave comments... I will endeavour to nicely answer any angry queries you might have in response to this article!

From the Department of Wha's Happnin?

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.


Christina said...

I would have to agree with your statement to take "under god" out. I think that a lot of Americans would be ok with that! As an American who does not believe in God I would feel much better if it was taken out, it should have never been changed in the first place but I do understand things were a lot more closed minded in those days, lol. Great post :)

CPA said...

There's "one salient oversight" in your otherwise quite comprehensive survey of the issue: no school child may be compelled to say the pledge of allegiance. This was decided around the time of WWII, when the Jehovah's Witnesses refused to allow their children to say it, and were upheld by the Supreme Court. So the pledge is not required by any government authority. There may be social pressure to conform, but no coercion.

Another, more minor oversight, is that the straight arm salute was not invented by Bellamy or the Fascists. It was the old Roman salute and at the time of the French Revolution was revived as a symbol of republicanism (see David's "Oath of the Horatii" for example). It retained that association with radical republican (small r) patriotism until it was taken over by the fascists (Italy first, then Germany) and made unusable by anyone else.

One Salient Oversight said...


Thanks for your input. If there's no compulsion involved, then surely there are grounds to argue that removing or changing the current pledge is a form of compulsion itself - it removes the right of religious students to say the pledge as it stands.

And you're right about the Roman salute. I knew about it as I was writing but chose not mention it for the purposes of brevity.

BTW - am I right in assuming you are one of the "Booze Brothers" from "Purpose driven drinking"?

DErifter said...

Living in the US, I have to admit it's kind of funny, the fuss about the pledge. If it's an individual pledge ("I" pledge allegiance, not "we") it makes sense to me that an individual should be able to decide what it is exactly that they're pledging it to. Why would Christians want people who don't pledge their allegiance to God, to say that they pledge it to "one nation under God?" Reciting that phrase doesn't change those who say it into Christians, and it doesn't make America a Christian nation. So what's the point? Making someone say that they pledge allegiance to God Himself wouldn't make it so. It's a matter of the heart.

I couldn't agree more with your final thoughts. If we've pledged our total allegiance to God, we have more important battles to fight.

Very well said!

John H said...

How about, "One nation under [your divinity here]"?

Or the Pledge could be set to music, and then people could just hum that bit if they wanted.

C'mon fellas, there's a deal to be done somewhere in here!

apodeictic said...

Why all the kerfuffle? Let's take a look at the text and see what it is exactly that people are and are not pledging allegiance to.

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America , and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

It should be manifestly clear to anyone with half a brain that in saying this you are not pledging allegiance to "God", but to "the flag" and the "Republic for which it stands", i.e. the United States of America (arguably with a non-monarchical form of government, although the word republic has a much older pedigree that has nothing to do with anti-monarchy -- but I digress). The mention of "God" is merely in connexion with a description of the Republic to which people are pledging their allegiance.

"One nation under God" can be interpreted in one of two general ways: either normatively or factually.

The normative interpretation would have us say that the nation *ought to be* "under God" in the things that it does. That is to say that God exists and the nation is obliged to obey, revere, worship etc him *as a nation*. The factual interpretation would have us say that the nation *is* under God. Period. That is to say, God exists and by definition the nation is under Him (since it is neither above Him nor on a par with Him), but the nation makes no claim to obey, revere, worship etc. God *as a nation*, instead leaving it to individuals to worship etc. God or not worship etc. God as they see fit.

The first interpretation would violate the prohibition on the establishment of religion but the second wouldn't on my view. Moreover I think the second interpretation is to be preferred, as I don't think Congress intended to violate the prohibition on the establishment of religion when they amended the pledge.

The normative interpretation would arguably violate the prohibition on the "etablishment of religion" because in seeing the nation as *normatively* under God you would have to choose one particular view (or some particular views) of God to the exclusion of others (including the view that God doesn't exist) in saying that *the nation* will worship, revere, obey etc. God.

But the factual interpretation would not violate the prohibition on the establishment of religion. On this view whether the USA is "one nation under God" or not is merely a factual statement and has nothing to do with the etsablishment of any particular religion. The pledger's personal religious inclination simply doesn't come into the equation. Regardless of what anyone thinks about the existence or non-existence of God the USA either is or isn't one republic under God. If it is then there's nothing wrong with asking people to say it (regardless of what they personally believe), if it is not then you shouldn't require people to say the words even if they believe them.

On the "factual" view we are left with the problem: is the United States one nation under God. Assuming the USA is one nation and that it along with all other nations would be by definition under God if God exists, we are left with the question of whether God exists.

I personally believe in God, and particularly the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ" -- i.e. the "Christian" conception of God. While I believe God's existence to be objectively true, I do not think I can objectively demonstrate His existence to the satisfaction of anyone else.

So although I believe it factually true that the USA is one nation under God, I don't think it reasonable to require people to say this when it can't be (satisfactorily at least) objectively demonstrated to be the case.

The upshot of all this is:
1. the reference to "one nation under God" in the pledge does NOT violate the constitutional prohibition on the establishment of religion as the reference to "one nation under God" is intended to be a factual rather than a normative statement.
2. If it is factually true (and you can demonstrate it) that the USA is one nation under God then there is nothing wrong in requiring people to say it, regardless of what they personally believe about God.
3. You can't (satisfactorily at least) objectively prove God's existence (and therefore that the USA is one nation under God).
4. It is therefore unreasonable to require people to make this pledge. It should be changed accordingly.

But I reiterate that (in my view) the pledge does not violate the constitutional prohibition on the establishment of religion and the courts in the USA continually misunderstand what it means to "establish" religion (but that's a topic for another post).

CPA said...

I like Apodeictic's analysis very much.

I'm not a big drinker, and rarely drink beer, so I don't blog with the "PUrpose-Driven Drinking" buddies, although we share a number of other Lutheran interests.

My blog is here

One Salient Oversight said...


So it's "unreasonable" but not "unconstitutional"?

I quite like the logic you have used, but I'd like to know exactly what the 1st Amendment actually means when it says "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion".

The word that confuses me in this is "Respecting". In what sense is this word used? On the one hand, it could mean "in regards to", on the other hand it could mean "treating with respect".

I'm sure that this word has been pored over for years by American constitutional experts.

And what is "Religion"? Is it ALL religion?

So the amendment could possibly read:

"Congress shall make no law that shows respect for any form of religious expression"

If that's the case then "under God" fits into this and should be prohibited.

Mind you, I'm only theorising here since I haven't done the deep research - which means of course that I could be wrong.

Comments from more knowledgeable people would be helpful...

Eric said...

If Iraq decides to have a pledge to go with it's new flag, and it includes "one nation under allah" is that factual?
Would it be easier to see how that would be establishment of a particular religion?

apodeictic said...

WARNING: The following post is longer than my usually long posts!

OSO already knows this but for the benefit of others reading this I should state that I am not American. So I don't have any strong feelings for or against the pledge of allegiance (or the United States of America for that matter).

I am Australian and I am a lawyer -- a constitutional lawyer. My academic interests lie more in the field of jurisprudence, constitutional theory and comparative constitutional law. So although I'm not American you could say I know a little about the US Constitution and the perennial arguments on religion arising thereunder. But I will concede that I know more about the Australian Constitution than the US Constitution.

Interestingly the Australian Constitution modelled its religion clause on that of the US First Amendment. Unsurprisingly (as religion is such a touchy subject) it too has been litigated on (although not to the same extent as in the USA). It is interesting to see the different approaches of the US Supreme Court and the High Court of Australia to similar constitutional formulations. I hate to sound arrogant but I think most Americans (including the judges) don't really understand their own constitution when it comes to the prohibition of the establishment of religion. OK, from a purely pragmatic level the US Constitution means what the Supreme Court says it means. But I think the Supreme Court has made a few blunders in reaching its conclusions. The debate about religion in public life can (understandably) get so heated that Americans would do well to listen to some calm voices from outside of the USA.

I shall try my best to be such a "calm voice". I hope the Americans here in the blogosphere don't mind. Feel free to disagree with my analysis.

The relevant part of the First Amendment to the US Constitution is as follows:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."

Essentially if we are to decipher what the First Amendment means we need to interpret the folowing words:
1. "religion"
2. "an establishment"
3. "respecting"

What is "religion"? Once we know what that is we have to ask what is "an establishment" of religion? And once we know what an "establishment" of "religion" is we have to ask what kind of law will amount to a law "respecting" an establishment of religion.

For reasons of space I don't want to get into arguments here and now about what is and isn't a religion. Perhaps we can discuss that another time. Let's just assume for the sake of argument that a broad kind of theism mentioned in the pledge of allegiance is "religion" and focus on whether this amounts to an "establishment" of religion and whether the Act of Congress amending the pledge would be an Act "respecting" this.

Unfortunately most people don't think about what it means to "establish" religion. This is where what I was saying yesterday about the factual/normative divide is important. Some people would read the first amendment as saying that religion is completely off limits as an area for Congress to legislate on. Such an approach is mistaken. The US Constitution does not state "Congress shall make no law respecting religion" but rather "no law respecting an establishment of religion".

Quite clearly it is in the ambit of Congress to pass laws respecting religion -- just not respecting an "establishment" of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Apart from these two things, as long as there is a sufficient positive constitutional empowerment Congress can make a law respecting religion.

So that's my first point. The US Constitution properly understood does NOT prohibit Congress from making laws respecting religion, only the "establishment" and prohibition of the free exercise thereof.

So what does it mean to "establish"? We could say that establish means to found in this sense Scientolgy was founded ("established") by Ron L. Hubbard. Is this what the First Amendment means? Congress shouldn't be like Ron L. Hubbard and "establish" (i.e. invent, found) a new religion?

I don't think this is all that the First Amendment means. I think the First Amendment clearly prohibits such a course, but goes further than this. The word "establish" in reference to religion has a very specific pedigree in the English language. This is something that most Americans sadly neglect. After independence, the American legal system naturally diverged from the British (or, more properly, English) legal system which gave birth to it; in so doing they have "thrown out the baby with the bath water" when it comes to understanding what the word "establish" means.

If you study a modicum of English and/or Scottish law (or Irish or Welsh history) you will know what is meant in those countries by the term "established religion". In fact you may have even heard the word "antidisestablishmentarianism" as an example of a long English word. England and Scotland have religions "established" by law. There is the (established) Church of England and the (established) Church of Scotland. They are the official state religion, "established by law". Now those countries also enjoy religious freedom, in that you are free to dissent from the official state religion and practise another religion or no religion (but it wasn't always so). Nevertheless they are "established" religions and those countries officially see themselves as Christian (England, Anglican and Scotland, Presbyterian). Denmark also has an "established" religion. The State Lutheran Church is an "established" church. Moving outside of Christianity we can say Islam is the "established" religion of Iran for example whereas Turkey, although the vast majority of the population identifies as muslim, is officially a "secular" state. The Turkish state is officially neutral when it comes to religion and has no established religion. The Iranian, English, Scottish and Danish (among others) have established religions.

This is primarily what it means to "establish" a religion: to set up an official state church (like the Church of England) or officially identify the state with a particular religion (eg Christianity, Islam, Buddhism). So the First Amendment means the USA is officially religiously neutral. It cannot identify with any religion. Now some countries have officially been atheist (as opposed to secular). An example of this was the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany). The First Amendment probably doesn't stop the USA from officially becoming atheist as long as Congress doesn't prohibit people from freely exercising their religion. So while the USA is constitutionally forbidden from identifying with a particular religion it would seem that it is not constitutionally forbidden from officially identifying with atheism (unless you want to argue that atheism is a "religion"!).

Anyway, "establishing" a religion means to set up a state church or religion or officially identify the state with a particular religion. This is the approach taken by the High Court of Australia in the case of ATTORNEY-GENERAL (VIC); EX REL. BLACK v. THE COMMONWEALTH (1981) 146 CLR 559. (If you are interested you can read it online here: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/high_ct/146clr559.html). I believe this approach is correct and should also be applied in the USA.

That is primarily what the word "establish" means in reference to religion. I think there is a very good case for stating that this is what the First Amendment means despite what the ACLU and others say. The authors weren't stupid and unlike most of us today knew what English words actually mean. They knew perfectly well what the word "establish" means in reference to religion.

But, you say, the USA in the 21st Century is not England or Scotland or Denmark or Iran etc and we children of 21st Century America can do things differently. And I say of course you can. I think that in the US context you could argue that the words might mean a little more than in the British historical context, but the historical meaning of the words and the actual text of the Constitution has to be the starting point of any analysis. You can't just say the Constitution forbids Congress from making any law "respecting" religion -- because it clearly doesn't. You have to start with the historical meaning of "establish" and then argue why it should be extended. I think the basic meaning as I have outlined above is sufficient.

Now some might want to argue that any activity by the state which touches on religion implicitly gives support to that religion and "effectively" "establishes" it. To this I say that it is impossible in a society in which religious people and religious organizations exist to make religion completely off limits for the state. Moreover, it is a legitimate exercise of democracy in a country with rligious people to consider them in the law-making process. Congress passing a law to grant money to a religious group or to grant it tax exemptions does not "establish" religion any more than congress granting money or tax exemptions to a homosexual support group "establishes" homosexuality as the official state sexuality.

I said before that setting up a state church or officially recognising a religion as the state religion is the primary meaning of "establish". Now coming back to the pledge of allegiance. If the words are meant in a normative sense (as I outlined as one of two possibilitis in my analysis yesterday) than there is a good argument that this is "establishing" theism. We can argue about whether theism is religion or not. I think it is for the purposes of the Constitution, but I won't go into that here. At the very least we can assume it for the purpose of argument.

But as I said yesterday, I think the "offending" words in the pledge are to be taken as an "is"-statement (factual) rather than an "ought"-statement (normative) so there is no establishment of religion. The pledge of allegiance by stating that the USA is "one nation under God" does not on my view "establish" theism. The state is not thereby saying it identifies with theism.

OSO, on my view what "respecting" means is not so crucial to the analysis. It simply means that it does the job of "establishing". If a law actually "establishes" religion then it is a law "respecting" the establishment of religion no matter what the law purports to do. So if Congress passes a law ostensibly on the protection of cats and dogs (which on the face of it has nothing to do with religion) but in the process actually "establishes" religion, then that law is a law "respecting" the establishment of religion regardless of what the law's main subject-matter was. If Congress intends only a factual statement about God's existence but the words when properly interpreted are normative then that is a law respecting the establishment of religion. All we have to ask is whether the Pledge of Allegiance "establishes" a religion (namely, theism). If it does then the law passed by Congress is unconstitutional. If not then it is constitutional.

Sorry to be so long-winded.

apodeictic said...

as a non-American and as a Christian I don't think Americans should have to pledge allegiance to "one nation under God". My reasons are not constitutional but rational. I thinks its unreasonable -- but not unconstitutional -- to expect people to make a pledge of allegiance to something which you can't show exists or doesn't exist. You can read my (all too long) post above on what it means to "establish" religion and why I don't think the pledge "establishes" religion.

On the question of an Iraqi pledge that too would be a question of legislative intent. We would have to ask what the words "one nation under Allah" mean. Having a pledge of allegiance mentioning "one nation under Allah" may or may not be intended to identify the state of Iraq as Islamic. I would take it be a general theistic reference on a par with "one nation under God" in the US -- for Allah in Arabic is a general word for the Deity which even Arabic speaking Christians use to address the Deity). I understand what you are saying though (for Allah in English is a very muslim sounding name for God) and you might like to think about the Irish constitution which refers to the "Most Holy Trinity" which is clearly not generic.

I think if Iraq wants to officially identify itself as Islamic then it can. If it did this I would obviously like it (like England, Scotland and Denmark which are officially Protestant Christian nations) to recognise the right of people to dissent and personally practise another or no religion. Having a pledge of allegiance to one nation "under Allah" wouldn't necessarily amount to establishing Islam as the state religion in Iraq. I think the Iraqis will make it quite clear in their constitution if they choose to make Iraq an Islamic republic.

Many (if not most) constitutions in the world refer to the Deity in their preamble but most ("western" at least) countries would claim to be religiously neutral. Mentioning the Deity does not "establish" belief in or obedience to Him and does not on my view violate the principle of the state's religious neutrality.

My own country's (Australia's) constitution in its preamble states "Whereas the people ... humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed ..." and then goes on to have a "no establishment of religion" clause almost identical to that in the US First Amendment. There is no contradiction here.

Similarly the preamble to the constitution of the country in which I'm currently residing (Germany) starts with the words "Conscious of their responsibility before God and Men, ... the German people ..." and then in the constitution proper goes on to protect religious liberty and the right to identify with no particular religion. The German state, despite the mention of God in the preamble is religiously neutral.

An Iraqi pledge of allegiance mentioning "one nation under Allah" would not in itself institute Islam as the state religion but could be seen to do so. It depends on (an objective interpretaion of) legislative intent.

But here's something to consider, the preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland does not just mention "God" in a generic sense, but says "In the Name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred, We, the people ...". What do we make of that?

Preambles are fairly unproblmeatic in the scheme of things. They employ flowery language and aren't really justiciable. You couldn't sue in an Irish court that the state didn't give due regard to the "Most Holy Trinity" in a particular statute! Moreover you can always limit preambles to their historic circumstances. So on that view even the Irish constitution is not a problem. Historically speaking the Irish people in 1937 did proceed to give their constitution in the name of the "Most Holy Trinity". But that doesn't mean the Irish state was then or is today officially trinitarian.

CPA said...

Apodeictic, your analysis about "establishment" is, I think, correct, and is often repeated (quite vainly) by very conservative legal analysts. Another point here on what is religion, is that it is/was/should be interpreted as a statement of a specific religion or sect (i.e. one with some kind of institutional existence). Some statements (like "God exists") are so vague that they are not, for the purposes of the clause, religious. (Again if establishment means what you say it does, this follows because only a specific, concrete religious body can be established.)

Finally you missed the point that it says "Congress" not "the government." Before 1940 or so, I think this was held to bind only Congress; state governments could, if they wished, have an established state church. (The last one to be disestablished was the Connecticut Congregational church in the 1830s). But now it is held that the 14th amendment "incorporates" the states into the Bill of Rights. Again, I don't think that's really right on the letter of the law, but fat chance getting that reversed.

apodeictic said...

thanks for your comments. I'm not sure I really "missed" the point about it saying congress and not the government. I am aware of that but didn't mention it as one can't mention everything at once and too many unnecessary tangents can confuse the point one is trying to make. But you are right. The issue of states and not just the feds establishing religion is also important and the present thinking of the Supreme Court is arguably wrong.

And you are right that what amounts to a religion needs to be discussed and that general statements about "God" might not amount to a religion. Again I avoided that because I wanted to talk about what is meant by "establishment" and talking about what amounts to "religion" under the constitution is another lengthy post. Merely stating by way of statute that God exists definitely isn't establishment on my view and there's also a case for stating it's not religion.

Even legislating "God's will" is is not necessarily an establishment of religion. Consider the hypothetical law passed by Congress: "The will of God is to eat three square meals a day". Would such a "law" with no normative requirements for the individual amount to an "establishment" of "religion"? I think it is definitely not establishment and am undecided on whether it would amount to religion or not.

Interestingly the US constitution in the first amendment refers to establishment of "religion" and not "a religion" or "any religion" (the latter example being the wording employed by the Australian Constitution). Now you could take this use of the word religion not proceeded by any qualifier such as "a" or "any" as support for the argument that "anything religious" is covered by the word. On this view any vague mention of God or theism would amount to "religion".

But I don't think that's what the authors intended. Arguably they saw the word "religion" as synonomous with "the Christian religion" (in its various guises). In other words in the eyes of the authors there really was only one religion that could be established and their intent was therefore not to include vague general statements about God (such as that found in the Pledge of Allegiance) under the meaning of "religion". Moreover given their understanding of what it means to "establish" it would have been unthinkable that the state would establish half a religion or part of a religion (such as belief in God).

Whether the authors of the first amendment saw things in terms of "religion" (i.e. the Christian religion) versus "idolatory" (all other religions) or were merely pragmatists accepting that it would have been practically impossible to establish anything but Christianity we can only speculate.

But anyway I don't believe in slavishly following the authorial intent in applying laws today. We need to pay the greatest respect to authorial intent but sometimes we need to ditch it. Constitutons have to be relevant to the here and now and are notoriously difficult to amend, so there does have to be a little give and take on their interpretation and application by the courts. But I stress "a little".

Assuming the authorial intent was to use "religion" as synonomous for the Christian religion this is a case where we need to exceed the authors' intent. Other religions should also be subject to the prohibition. The constitution forbids establishing both "idolatory" and "true religion".

Eric said...

Very interesting post, and I appriciate all the insight. I was aware of the european establishment of official churches, but I guess I never put it together that the founding fathers could have been talking about that aspect in the constitution. What about the opportunity they had to clarify the position before putting it (the bill of rights) to a vote of the states? I assume that if the states could establish their own religion, that they wouldn't see it as an issue at the federal level, where they wouldn't want a federal religion "above" their state religion anyway.

When I made the Iraq comment about the Factual vrs. Normative post, I was under the impression that Theism was the primary determination of religion. A deity (generic or not) is religious, and Allah was an example of how supposedly interchangeable generic terms are not to the differently religious or nonreligious. God would seem unique to Christianity, or we could be a nation under "a god". A layman perspective for sure, and an atheist besides, but to me "under god" seems to be obviously establishing a religion, even from the definition of establishment that the founding fathers might have had at the time.
"Under god" isn't a vague general statement - it has intent.

Is there any weight, legally, to the intentions of congress when they added just those words in the 50's? Can the court look at the eisenhower's comments to decide if the intent was normitive?

David C. Kanz said...

Originally, America was founded by people who believed that governments exercise a delegated authority, limited in scope, given and assented to by those who are governed by the government and by God Himself as revealed in the Scriptures. (See the Sam Adams speech posted at www.bccfp.blogspot.com)

The Reformers from Wycliffe onward asserted that when a government official exceded that authority delegated to him and committed acts outside the boundaries of that delegation he was no longer someone who properly occupied said government position. (See Lex Rex by Samuel Rutherford, "...the king becomes lost in the tyrant...")

Sam Adams himself asserts that the Reformers did not go far enough in removing the Roman Catholic civil/religious authority from power. He asserts that they failed in not making the entire basis for law "divine revelation."

All law has as its presuppositional authority some view of what is right and what is wrong. There is a direct connection to ultimate authority.

The problem in America, as evidenced by the symptom of the Pledge of Allegiance straw man issue, is that the governed are no longer functioning "under God." Law has become and increasingly adaptable discipline with no mooring in place, no point of reference against which to measure.

Instead of "divine revelation," the Ultimate Authority in American jurisprudence is now more akin to the gods of the Roman pantheon--a god for every occasion, deifying human frailty and vice.

Sam Adams rightly attributed the freedom established in the American experiment as the logical outcome of the view of the Reformers on the Divine Right of Kings---delegated authority to be exercised and applied in conformity with Divine Revelation (the Scriptures) and the mind of God.

But even in our best churches, who really is taught what God thinks? What He loves and what He hates?

The Pledge controversy is the symptom of a much greater problem, the descent of American Christianity into mere form without content.