The Pokey Finger of God

meditations on religion and culture

The Pokey Finger of God header image 2

God in the Pledge

June 14th, 2004 · No Comments · history, media, ritual

Supreme Court Preserves ‘God’ in Pledge

The Supremes weaseled out of making an official declaration on the Newdow pledge case, however, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist agreed with the outcome of the case, but still wrote separately to say that the Pledge as recited by schoolchildren does not violate the Constitution. Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Clarence Thomas agreed with him.

The words of our ancient and hoary pledge of allegiance was constitutionally mandated… no wait, George Washington decreed… uh, no, congress passed a law… hmmm, nope, that’s not it either. Oh, here it is: congress adopted the pledge as a “patriotic tribute” in 1942, during the peak of World War II to cow anti-war dissenters into acquiescing to the military commitment. The “under God” phrase was inserted a dozen years later during the Red Scare to distinguish us from the “godless commies”.

The idea of a “pledge” is an interesting one, drawing back to the original use of the word meaning to hold back cattle or property as a token of good on a debt, but which has come to mean any kind of token or toast. It can also refer to the joining into a society through the specific renunciation of foreign gods and kings. In this way, a pledge of allegiance is the creed, the prayer, and the catechism of where one declares fidelity to one’s liege and master — the state. Given that there is actually constitutional language explicitly prohibiting the promotion of religion by the state, the fact that such a civic prayer has been adopted at the federal level, and has been used as an indoctrination tool for school children and immigrants, is proof that just such promotion has occurred.

I personally object to the entire pledge of allegiance. A piece of gaily-colored cloth is not my master, and the Republic exists for my benefit and at my pleasure. Stating the pledge does not grant one special powers or immunities. The utopian language of “liberty and justice for all” is clearly a fantasy: an infinite number of children patiently reciting the pledge into eternity would not, in itself, make it true. That grown adults would spend more than a fraction of a second considering how we would need to protect such an hallowed institution is lunacy.

Tags: ·