This House would remove the words "under God" from the American Pledge of Allegiance

The American Pledge of Allegiance is an officially sanctioned recital of words swearing loyalty to the United States of America. School children are required to recite the Pledge before school every day. Importantly, one of the lines of the Pledge is “one nation under God.” The words “under God” were not in the original Pledge (1892) but were added in 1954 in reference to a speech by Abraham Lincoln. In this debate, the proposition wish to have the words “under God” officially removed from the Pledge altogether. ‘This House’ can be assumed to refer to the United States congress as only they would have the power to make this change.

Title 
Separation of state and religion
Point 

The inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is representative of religion’s involvement with the state. The words under God in the pledge of allegiance were clearly government sanctioned as the words were added by congress with the sanction of President Eisenhower.(83rd United States Congress 2nd Session) When they did this congress, the state, was clearly promoting religion. The proposition believes that religion has no place in politics and so these two words should be removed. 

Counterpoint 

The mention of the words “under God” does not betray an involvement of religion within the state. The mere mention of religion means nothing for how the government is actually run. Even if religion were unduly involved with the American government, the removal of the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance would do nothing to change this. (Obama 2006)

Title 
Upholding of the First Amendment
Point 

The First Amendment is that the state “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.(Archives.gov) This prohibits favouring one religion over another.(Cornell University Law School, 2010) The use of the words “under God” in this way, particularly regarding America’s history as a Christian state, clearly shows favour towards Christianity, or at its most expansive monotheistic religions, over alternative religions or no religion, even without explicitly mentioning Christianity. (Newdow 2003)

Counterpoint 

The words “under God” show no preference to Christianity. “God” can refer to the chief deity of any religion. The opposition does not accept that America’s history has a Christian state has any bearing whatsoever on the meaning of this statement.

Title 
Removing under god would promote religious tolerance
Point 

Even if the proposition accepts, which it does not, that the words “under God” do not show preference towards Christianity, it is undeniable that it is widely understood that these words are a reference to Christianity.

This associates national pride with Christianity and presents other religions as inherently un-American. The proposition believes that this is divisive and promotes religious intolerance and that, therefore, this legislation would help relieve the tolerance and divisions caused by the current Pledge of Allegiance. 

Counterpoint 

It is undeniable that any change to the Pledge of Allegiance will be met with resistance from strong patriots who believe it should never be changed.

This change would be associated with and blamed on atheists and non-Christian religious people, thus causing animosity towards them on the part of people who would have otherwise been indifferent towards them.

National pride will, therefore, be associated with Christianity, as opposed to atheism or other religions, to an even greater extent than it is under the status quo.

Title 
Prevents the marginalisation of non-believers
Point 

The inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance implies that there is no place for atheism in American patriotism and that non-believers have nothing to give to their country. The removal of these words would create a more inclusive America that accepts that everyone, including all non-Christians and non-believers, have something to give to their country. (Buckner 2002)

Counterpoint 

True neutrality would be adhering to the status quo; this legislation will be seen as a wilful act on the part of the government to remove religion and faith from patriotism.

As a result, religious people are likely to feel sidelined and alienated by their government to a far greater extent than atheists are likely to feel included.

Title 
Prevents the coercion of school children
Point 

It is key to this debate that school children are required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of each day. Although they have the opportunity to opt out, the proposition does not believe they have the knowledge necessary to fully understand the oath that they are taking. (The Humanist Society 2004) According to the decision in Newdow v. US "The [school's] policy and the [1954 Act adding 'under God' to the Pledge] fail the coercion test. Just as in Lee [Lee v. Weisman, 1992], the policy and the Act place students in the untenable position of choosing between participating in an exercise with religious content or protesting."(United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, 2002) Children should not be put in this position so ‘under God’ must be taken out.

Counterpoint 

The opposition does not accept that children do not have the knowledge to understand the oath they are taking as it is said in plain words. The opportunity to opt out is a real and viable option for all school children.

Title 
“Under God” is part of American tradition and history
Point 

Reference to God is made throughout American patriotism. The Supreme Court opens by saying ‘God save America and this honourable court’. The ‘under God’ in the pledge itself came from Lincoln’s Gettysburg address a significant speech in American history.(Library of congress) It is impossible to remove references to God from American patriotism and to do so would severely damage American heritage and tradition. (Robertson 2002), (Federer 2003)

Counterpoint 

Tradition is not a reason for persisting wth anything!

The proposition believes that the fact that references to God are made throughout official American state proceedings is not a reason to persist in including the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance but a reason for its removal to be all the more urgent. References to God do not have a place in official state proceedings as the church and the state should be completely separate from one another.

"Under God" as us in the Gettysburg address, had different meanings then. It could mean "God wiling". For that reason alone the phrase should be removed from the Pledge because "one nation, God willing" goes against the whole point.

Title 
Associates change and, by extension, anti-nationalism with atheism
Point 

Any change to something as ingrained in American patriotism as the Pledge of Allegiance will be met with extreme resistance. As Supreme Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has argued “the Pledge has become, alongside the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner, our most routine ceremonial act of patriotism; countless schoolchildren recite it daily, and their religious heterogeneity reflects that of the Nation as a whole. As a result, the Pledge and the context in which it is employed are familiar and nearly inseparable in the public mind."(O’Connor, 2004) With it being so ingrained most members of the US public would not see any reason to get rid of the words. The change would be widely accredited to atheists and would create animosity towards them. This legislation, therefore, is inherently divisive.

Counterpoint 

Shows that the government values atheists as much as religious people and that one does not have to be religious to contribute to the state.

The proposition does not accept that people will regard atheists with animosity as a result of this legislation but will come to recognise them, to a greater degree, as people will an equal potential to give to America.

Title 
Likely to be seen as a state sanctioned condemnation of religion
Point 

After nearly sixty years of having the words “under God” included in the Pledge of Allegiance this legislation will not be seen as a move to neutrality but a move against religion. 78.4% of Americans are Christian with a further 4.7% believing in other religions.(The Pew Forum, 2007) Most Americans, 60%, think it is good for the country when government leaders publicly express their faith in God.(CNN, 2002) As a result the signal that taking out under God will send to American people is that the state is against religion.

Any modification to the Pledge of Allegiance will be seen as a wilful act by the current government; true neutrality can only be shown by maintaining the status quo.

Counterpoint 

If the opposition accepts that the inclusion of the words “under God” is a state sanction of religion, then they cannot deny that their inclusion sidelines atheists.

The proposition believes that the status quo is inherently pro-religion and anti-atheists and thus needs to be changed. Religious people will not see a move to the state, which is supposed to be completely separated from religion, making no comment about religion as an anti-religious comment.

Title 
The American people would be against the change
Point 

As discussed above, the removal of “under God” will not be a move towards neutrality but a move against religion. As a result it is not surprising that the American people would be against such a move. An immense majority, 87% in a newsweek poll said the pledge should contain “under God” against only 9% saying no.(CNN, 2002) No democratic government should go against the will of such a majority of the population they are supposed to represent.

Counterpoint 

The majority is not allowed to oppress the minority, they would not be allowed to go back to slavery if they wished, in exactly the same way congress should not be able to establish religion even if the majority wants it to as it is against the US constitution.

Title 
Implies ultimate power on the part of the state
Point 

The words “under God” reaffirm individual rights of American citizens as divine and coming from above the state. These words show that taking away these rights is not even within the conceivable grasp of the state. Removal of these words puts power back into the hands of the state and reinforces the state as the ultimate authority over what happens to its people.  (The American Center for Law and Justice 2004)

Counterpoint 

The proposition totally rejects the idea that the words “under God” are necessary to indicate that the government does not have the power to do whatever it wants whenever it wants. The fact that the constitution exists and the government cannot contradict it is what means the government cannot act without consideration; the words “under God” add nothing to the government’s answerability and their removal would detract nothing.

Bibliography 

Buckner, Ed. Council for Secular Humanism. 2002.http://undergod.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=1330

CNN, ‘Vast majority in U.S. support ‘under God’, 29 June 2002, http://articles.cnn.com/2002-06-29/us/poll.pledge_1_newsweek-poll-christ...

Cornell University Law School, ‘Establishment Clause’, 19 August 2010, http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/establishment_clause

Federer, William J. “Elk Grove Unified School District v. Michael A. Newdow.” 2003. http://debatepedia.idebate.org/en/index.php/Argument:_%22Under_God%22_complies_with_separation_of_Church_and_State

Library of Congress, ‘Gettysburg Address’, http://myloc.gov/Exhibitions/gettysburgaddress/exhibitionitems/Pages/Mem...

Newdow, Michael. American Jurist. 2003. http://undergod.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000063#1

Obama, Barack. “Call to Renewal.” Keynote Address. 2006. http://glassbooth.org/explore/index/barack-obama/11/religion-and-public-life/34/

83rd United States Congress 2nd Session, ‘Joint Resolution To amend the pledge of allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.’ Public Law 83-396, 14 June 1954, http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Public_Law_83-396

Robertson, Pat. 2002 http://undergod.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000063

The American Center for Law and Justice. 2004. http://undergod.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000063#2

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, ‘US Religious Landscape Survey’, 2007, http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

Archives.gov, ‘The Bill of Rights: A Transcription’, 15 December 1791, http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html

The Humanist Society. 2004. http://undergod.procon.org/view.answers.php?questionID=1330

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Newdow vs. US, findlaw.com, 26 June 2002, news.findlaw.com/wp/docs/conlaw/newdowus62602opn.pdf

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