What#039;s all the talk about #039;One Nation Under God?#039;

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 3, 2002

I was cutting up squash when the news came on. As the anchorman gave a teaser for the next story, I was half listening.

Then I heard Pledge of Allegiance and unconstitutional. That got my attention, so I turned up the television.

After a commercial, he was back with the story. I shook my head in disbelief.

"How silly," I said. "What's the problem with saying "one nation under God?"

I kept talking as I stuffed squash into a plastic bag.

"This is too much," I said. "Don't people have anything better to do than get picky about the Pledge of Allegiance? Surely, the courts have better things to consider."

I figured the story would go away because with the other stuff going on in the world, it seemed like a tempest in a teapot.

How wrong I was. The next day all I heard was stuff about the Pledge of Allegiance. The President made a statement; people lined up to repeat the Pledge, the news media stopped folks on the street to get opinions about the court ruling.

I even heard the guy who initiated the lawsuit, as well as the judge who made the ruling, was getting death threats.

"This is too much," I said after hearing yet another man-on-the-street story.

Then something in one story caught my attention.

"Did you know "under God" was added to the Pledge in 1954?" I told my husband. "I didn't realize the Pledge we recite is not the original one."

That led me to learn more about the Pledge that had fired up a nation. What I discovered surprised me.

I don't know how I thought the Pledge of Allegiance came into existence. I guess I credited our forefathers with writing it, along with the other important stuff they wrote, like the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.


The Pledge of Allegiance was first published for Columbus Day, on September 8, 1892, in the Boston magazine "The Youth's Companion." A member of the magazine's staff, Francis Bellamy was the author and the original text read:

"I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands – One nation indivisible – with liberty and justice for all."

The Pledge's redistribution to schools in pamphlet form later that year led to the tradition of school children reciting it.

Over time, changes were made, including changing "my flag" to "to the Flag of the United States of America." Some changes were official, some kind of happened.

In 1942, the U.S. Congress officially recognized the Pledge, and in 1954 added "under God" to the text. There was also a ruling in 1943 by the Supreme Court that said school children could not be forced to recite the Pledge as a part of their school day routine.

I thought again about the man in California and the Pledge issue. While I don't personally have a problem with "under God," what if someone added different words, words that made me uncomfortable?

Wouldn't I want the right to object?

"Wasn't this country founded because people wanted freedom of religion, freedom of speech and individual rights for all people?" I asked my husband.

"That's what I learned," he said.

"This is not as silly as I first thought," I said. "It's kind of complicated."

Don't get me wrong, I believe faith in God is a big part of the success of this great experiment in freedom known as the United States of America. Still, the folks ranting about the Pledge have different ideas about God, or at least about how to worship God.

Catholics don't agree with Baptists, Baptists don't agree with Jews, Jews don't agree with Muslims, and they are everyone Americans --

entitled to the rights that come with citizenship.

"This is complicated," I said. "I don't really agree with that judge's ruling, but I think I kind of understand it."

That is when a strange thing happened. A feeling of pride washed over me, and I realized anew the great gift every American posses, one coveted by people who live in countries where it is not a reality.

We may disagree with a guy in California about a phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance. We can wonder about his upbringing, doubt his sanity, and call his Mama bad names.

We can question the wisdom of a judge's ruling, but we cannot take away the rights that allow for this kind of controversy to happen. We have the gift of freedom, the right to question, disagree and voice our opinions in public.

And that is why on this Independence Day every citizen, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or atheist should lift voices filled with gratitude and pride and declare.

"We are free. We are Americans."

Nancy Blackmon is a columnist and former lifestyles editor for the Star-News.