“Under God” Makes a Mockery of Religious Freedom

Feb. 10, 2014 was the 60th anniversary of the original congressional move in 1954 that added “under God” to the official Pledge of Allegiance, and state lawmakers all over the country have introduced resolutions to mark that unfortunate moment in American history.

Mississippi got a jump on everyone else and passed a resolution in 2012 marking the event. The New York Senate passed a resolution this year. Other states now taking up similar measures include Pennsylvania, Michigan, Tennessee and Idaho.

While members of the religious right find value in having the country’s Pledge of Allegiance purposely exclude tens of millions of non-religious Americans, it is an affront to the religious freedoms they also profess to support. Government should never be wed with religion because to do so undermines the civil rights of everyone not part of that unholy marriage.

This issue is so important that we at the American Humanist Association are handling a case in Massachusetts challenging the mandated use of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance used in schools there. The policy directly tells the children of non-religious families that their patriotism is invalid. No government should be declaring that proper citizenship is dependent on a religious belief, especially not one that claims to have religious freedom as one of its highest virtues.

Positive legal rulings since the adding of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance have included the end to school-sponsored Bible readings and school-led prayers, along with the 2006 case that ended the teaching of creationism in public school science classes. There are also fresh signs of hope from outside the courtroom. They include the mentioning of the non-religious in President Obama’s Religious Freedom Day proclamation for three years in a row now and his inclusion of “non-believers” in his remarks during the recent National Prayer Breakfast. The introduction of a congressional resolution to mark Feb. 12 as Darwin Day for the third time is also good news.

Despite these events, efforts from the religious right continue to undermine sincere religious freedom by pushing for increased ties between government and religion, including the current push for a wave of state government declarations honoring a 60-year-old mistake. The Pledge of Allegiance should be something that all Americans can be proud to recite. But by making it a god-based declaration of patriotism and citizenship, only certain Americans are being told they matter—and that’s about as un-American as it can get, making a mockery of the claim that we care about religious freedom.