News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: ‘Under God,’ without doubt

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–On Wednesday morning, a 9-year-old girl in a California elementary school stood next to her desk and proudly recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Like every other day, she probably emphasized the phrase “under God,” cognizant of the fact that her right to say those words is being challenged. But she’s a smart young lady, firm in her Christian convictions and somewhat strong-willed. She knows the government can’t really silence her. “That’s OK, Mom, because even if they do change the Pledge of Allegiance,” she said, “I’ll still say ‘under God,’ and no one will know that I’m breaking the law.”

On the other side of the country, in Washington, D.C., her father, Michael Newdow, stood before the U.S. Supreme Court and tried to change the pledge so that his own daughter will have to mumble the words “under God” under her breath. Ironically, his argument was based on his contention that his daughter is psychologically harmed by having to listen to other children recite the pledge with a phrase that refers to our Maker. He made this argument despite the fact that 1) his daughter (who lives with her mom) likes saying the pledge as written and 2) even if she didn’t, she would have an absolute right not to say the pledge at all.

All of this is enough to make one wonder if this case is really about his daughter’s well-being or about Mr. Newdow’s attempt to impose his atheistic agenda on the rest of the country.

In law school, I was taught a thing or two about the red-faced test. “Never make an argument,” my professor warned, “if it’s so bad you have to blush while you’re saying it.” Let’s apply that test to Mr. Newdow’s case.

For starters, let’s assume, even contrary to the facts, that Mr. Newdow has custody of his daughter and that she really does object to saying the pledge with the words “under God.” Does our Constitution require us to eliminate the offending language?

The answer to that question, of course, hinges on what our founding fathers meant when they penned the so-called “Establishment Clause” to the First Amendment of the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….” Folks like Newdow also are fond of quoting a letter written several years later by Thomas Jefferson, describing this clause as creating a “wall of separation” between church and state.

Did the framers of the Constitution believe we were a nation “under God”? Did they believe we could acknowledge this fact –- so-called “ceremonial Deism” -– without violating the Constitution they drafted?

The answers to both questions are “yes,” and anybody who argues differently should be turning five shades of red.

Exhibit A would be Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. His four references to the Almighty in that document include the firm assertion that “Our Creator” endows us with certain unalienable rights and the corollary truth that any government which transgresses those God-given rights should be overthrown. To me, that sounds like a nation “under God.”

Exhibit B would be George Washington’s First Inauguration. During the ceremony, this former chairman of the Constitutional Convention added the phrase “so help me, God” to his inaugural oath (a tradition that continues to this day). In his inaugural address, he called for “fervent supplications to that Almighty Being, who rules over the universe, [and] who presides in the councils of nations.” Washington also warned that “the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained….” In short, Washington understood what it meant to be “under God,” which may explain why he instituted a day of prayer and thanksgiving, stating that “it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God….”

Exhibit C would be another “under God” proclamation, made by James Madison during his inauguration as our fourth president. In that speech, the “Father of the Constitution” expressed his confidence “in the guardianship and guidance of that almighty Being, whose power regulates the destiny of nations.” This echoed a position he had expressed earlier in his career in the Federalist papers defending the Constitution. The powers of government, Madison wrote, are “derivative and limited” and cannot contravene “the law of nature and nature’s God.”

The list could go on, but by now most reasonable people would be blushing. There is no question that our founding fathers, the men who drafted the very constitutional language now in question, believed that we are a nation under the authority of God and subject to God’s natural law. They were not afraid to invoke this belief in the most public of ways, even warning that a failure to do so would bring judgment from Almighty God.

Let’s hope the Supreme Court heeds their wisdom. I know of at least one little girl who likes the pledge just the way it is.
Randy Singer is an award-winning author and attorney who serves as special assistant and chief counsel to the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board. Additional columns by Singer on a variety of cultural issues are available at www.RandySinger.net.

    About the Author

  • Randy Singer