Freedom of Religion and the Pledge of Allegiance

By xMark Thomas

Two hundred and fifteen years ago our Constitution took effect, creating a new kind of government.  The United States of America was founded as the first country that derived its power from a purely secular, nonreligious basis.  Nations before then had kings and queens who used their supposed "God-given divine right" to rule.  Instead of this top-down power structure, our founders wisely created a government that derived its powers from the consent of the governed.  They also realized the inherent dangers of religion, and specifically kept it out of our Constitution and government.  While the deists' "Nature's God" is mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, there is no reference to a god in the Constitution.  In addition, the Treaty of Tripoli, written during the administration of President George Washington, signed by President John Adams and unanimously approved by the Senate in 1797, stated, "The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."  Six years later James Madison wrote, "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries."

Our Constitution is also designed to protect the rights of the minorities from the tyranny of the majority.  References to God by our government officials imply that the 14% of Americans who don't believe in any god are lesser citizens.  This is similar to when white men once discriminated against blacks, women and other minorities, often using the Bible as an endorsement.  It wasn't right then.  It isn't right now.

Almost two years ago, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled correctly on the inserted reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance, saying that it conflicts with the First Amendment.  To those who disagree, I ask, what part of the First Amendment is confusing?  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...”  References to a god in the Pledge of Allegiance, our national motto, our national anthem, or on our money respect an establishment of religion, and thus are unconstitutional.

Enshrined in the First Amendment is the idea that all Americans have a constitutional right to freedom of religion.  This must include freedom from religion, because we can’t have true freedom unless we have the right to choose "none of the above."

Freedom of religion is an ideal that is held by most Americans -- from the devoutly religious to the devoutly nonreligious.  However, many religious fundamentalists are battling to insert their religion into our government, to turn the U.S. into a theocracy.  This mixing of government and religion is a threat to the freedoms of us all.  Make no mistake about this.  A government cannot be based on the belief that all persons are created equal when it implies that a god prefers some.

As shown by the national uproar and debate, religion is still divisive.  The Pledge of Allegiance is supposed to help unite Americans.  Having "God" in it divides us, and attempts to link patriotism to public professions of religious belief.  Let us return the Pledge to its previous, nonreligious and inclusive form -- so we can all once again say "one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."


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