We received volumes of impassioned mail on Elisabeth Sifton’s April 5 “The Battle Over the Pledge,” most dealing with the phrase “under God.” A few hairsplitters wrote in to challenge Sifton’s statement that there is no mention of God in the Constitution, because it contains the phrase “in the year of our Lord.”   –The Editors

Washington, DC

While I support the Ninth Circuit ruling (my organization, Americans for Religious Liberty, joined the ACLU and Americans United in an amicus brief backing the Ninth), I am far from alone in worrying about the outcome of the “under God” case. If the Ninth Circuit is overruled, the decision’s language could cause trouble in the future; if the Ninth is upheld we could see an unstoppable constitutional amendment and maybe even Bush’s (re)election.

One of the best amicus briefs supporting the Ninth Circuit represents thirty-two Christian and Jewish clergy and the Unitarian Universalist Association. Written by University of Texas law school professor Douglas Laycock, it points out that “these amici do not want government imposing their religious beliefs on children whose parents teach other beliefs,” and that if the religious language in the Pledge is meaningless or insincere, then millions of children are compelled “to take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” in violation of one of the Ten Commandments.


Americans for Religious Liberty

New Rochelle, NY

Allegiance, from liege, is a piece of verbiage left over from the feudal system. Those who pledge allegiance are stating their obligations and duties to a lord. They are proclaiming themselves subjects, not citizens. The essential position of a subject is inferior to his or her lord, sovereign or government. Whatever the motivations of those now “pledging allegiance” may be, they are not, if they are citizens of the United States, inferior to their government; their government is not a lord, and it exists because their predecessors formed it to serve them.


Charlottesville, Va.

Thanks to Elisabeth Sifton for her brilliant treatment of the Pledge. I knew it was an idolatrous expression of state worship with a little fig leaf of piety but did not realize that those who would retain the fig leaf wish not to soften the state worship but entrench it, making the state a creation of God and therefore a divine institution. Thus, church collapses into state.

But surely the time of nation-states is ending, and believers and secularists alike are coming to realize that our ultimate loyalty cannot be to one nation but to the common planetary good. My friend, a high school teacher, once explained to his students that loyalty grows like the rings of a tree, outward; indeed this principle is enshrined in the very design of our flag. This gave me my idea for a new Pledge:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of these United States, and to the founding principle its pattern celebrates: that as the stripes and stars combine in unity more grand, so my allegiance has to grow beyond my native land. And as a tree grows ring on ring, in ever-widening girth, I love my family, town and state, my country and my earth. And soaring on beyond the sun, beyond the galaxy, I find my home in the endless love that has its home in me.”


New York City

Not mentioned in Elisabeth Sifton’s excellent article was the extraordinary suffering caused by the Pledge. Before 1943, when the constitutionality of West Virginia’s compulsory Pledge recitation law was successfully opposed, hundreds of Jehovah’s Witness children were expelled from schools across the country for refusing to salute the flag. Many of these children were beaten. Police in Richwood, West Virginia, forced Witnesses who refused to recite the Pledge to drink castor oil. In the wave of hostility that swept the nation following these well-publicized refusals, vigilantes castrated Witnesses in Nebraska, tarred and feathered them in Wyoming and jailed them “for their own protection” in Illinois. A mob of 2,500 sacked and burned the Witness Kingdom Hall in Kennebunk, Maine. The tragic irony is that the Pledge–currently being challenged by an avowed atheist and defended by religious conservatives–has historically been used to persecute one of the nation’s most devout religious communities.


West New York, NJ

The words “under God” in the Pledge deprive millions of American citizens of their constitutional right to pledge allegiance to the United States freely, completely and without reservation, by forcing them to say a very brief prayer against their will. Forcing citizens to invoke God in order to pledge allegiance to our flag and country violates the constitutional right of citizens to the “free exercise” of their private beliefs as to God, Allah, Jehovah, the Creator, Buddha, Krishna, etc. guaranteed by the First Amendment.


Tucson, Ariz.

Ever since “under God” was inserted into the Pledge, I have puzzled over its meaning. Does it mean this nation is subordinate to God, under the control of God, guided by God, uniquely favored by God or unified by a common belief in a particular god? Is it the patriarchal theistic divinity of mainstream Christianity? The deists among the Founding Fathers held differing views.


Berthoud, Colo.

I would like to add one teacher’s perspective. I am not comfortable pledging allegiance to a flag, nor with the “under God” addendum. What about teachers, who are forced in their workplace not only to recite the Pledge but to lead youngsters daily in this meaningless politico-religious mantra? Teachers are the only citizens who do not have a choice. Put yourselves in our well-worn shoes. How comfortable would you be if your job depended on your standing up every morning, facing the flag and, hand on heart, reciting the Pledge as it blares into your place of work over a loudspeaker? Isn’t that unconstitutional?


Brooklyn, NY

I grew up in Texas in the 1940s and ’50s, and decided early that most references to “God” were attempts to manipulate my brain. I decided to be an atheist, which made me feel different and alienated from the people around me. But I believed in America, where, we were told, freedom of belief or nonbelief was basic. I remember saying the Pledge of Allegiance at school and camp and being inspired with loyalty and love for our great America of the brave and the free. The free!

I remember when “under God” was added. I was 13 and at summer camp in the Colorado mountains. We awoke early mornings and ran, bleary-eyed, pulling on jeans and sweaters, from our unheated cabins to stand in a circle in a clearing of cold, dewy grass as the flag was raised high up among the pine trees. The blue, blue of those skies! Nature was as a god to me. It was a lovely time. We sang a song, were led in a prayer and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I joined in the song, politely ignored the prayer, then placed hand over heart and said the Pledge. I felt closer to the others standing out there. This was something we could share.

One morning the camp director announced that the phrase “under God” had been added by law and that we would now recite the Pledge the new way. My heart sank. My Pledge was ruined! Someone like me was no longer included in this Pledge! It had been taken over by them–the ones who all agree on everything–and was now just another prayer! I have not said the Pledge since.


Grand Marais, Minn.

If God is in everything, is indeed everything, from woman to the plastic in my child’s action figure, there is no “under” for this nation to use in positioning itself. And that is what’s wrong with religious cant in the public arena. Those of us who embrace a universal, infinite concept of god are contradicted. When I teach my children one thing, and those subscribing to a primitive religiosity insist that their version be splashed all over like acid rain, conditioning my children by constant repetition, it impinges upon my freedom of religion.


Ithaca, NY

As a schoolchild in the 1950s I was told the phrase “under God” was put in the Pledge so that we wouldn’t be like Nazis and think “my country right or wrong” but would realize there was a higher law all countries had to answer to. So I have thought “under God” a humbling and helpful phrase to have in the Pledge. Perhaps taking to heart that simple phrase–as defined by my grade school teacher–could have kept us from waging war on Iraq.


St. Augustine, Fla.

I agree with the late Texas Congressman Henry Gonzalez, who strenuously objected to the practice that preceded Congressional sessions. He compared the Pledge to the Nazi incantation, “Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!” Gonzalez told the House: “Some people think the Pledge comes with the Declaration of Independence. That downgrades Thomas Jefferson, for the great Virginian would never have concocted that sort of banal recital!”


New York City

With regard to the Pledge of Allegiance controversy, how about: “One nation under Godzilla”?


Brevard, NC

This whole messy bickering about separation of church and state and the inclusion of a deity in our Pledge can be resolved by adopting the prescient wording of my daughter, D’Arcy, who as a 5-year-old proudly repeated what she had learned on her first day of school: “One nation, under guard…”



New York City

I guess I wasn’t alone in thinking that the Pledge needs to lose its sacrosanct status, as well as the “under God” phrase. But given the tone of many of these letters, it may be worth stressing again that Justice Jackson’s 1943 decision indeed prohibits the state from requiring anyone–teacher or pupil–to recite the Pledge. It is regrettable if this is not fully understood and accepted at all levels. The only remaining constitutional question raised in Newdow, then, is whether it is unconstitutional to have to listen to the Pledge being recited.