Pledge of Allegiance to continue with phrase 'under God' despite challenge
No one is forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, attorney reminds others
The phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, recited by school children at the beginning of each school day, has long been controversial. The phrase, some have argued, brings religion into the classroom, violating the separation of church and state. Attorney Eric Rassbach says that "under God" will most likely remain in the pledge for now, in spite of a new challenge.
"Nobody has to say the words 'under God,' or the pledge at all," Rassbach says. "That's an extremely important thing that most people don't realize. You can't compel people to say the pledge, and if someone was compelled to say the pledge, I'd be on the other side of the case."
Rassbach describes himself as a Presbyterian and claims he doesn't remember saying the pledge in middle or high school. Rassbach, the deputy counsel of the Washington, D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the fund has represented many religious groups in the past, as well as atheists.
The phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance has resisted numerous challenges over the years. Rassbach says that s ruling to remove the phrase "under God" "would represent a major break with federal law." The notion of standing up in front of a flag and saying words to it has incited controversy for most of the pledge's 120-year history.
First published in 1892, the phrase was first challenged on religious grounds in 1943 - even before the reference to God was even written in. in the case of the West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Supreme Court ruled that students could not be forced to salute or say the pledge in classrooms after a Jehovah's Witness refused to participate at school.
The pledge went unquestioned until the early 1950s, when the Knights of Columbus began pushing at annual meetings to have the phrase added for general recitation. Congress passed a joint resolution in 1954 that inserted the phrase, with the approval of then-U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.
"These words will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble," Eisenhower wrote in a 1954 letter to the Knights, thanking them for their contribution. "They will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded."
"A distinction must be made between the existence of a religion as an institution and a belief in the sovereignty of God," the sponsors of the 1954 bill said. "The phrase 'under God' recognizes only the guidance of God in our national affairs," they said.
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