Since the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance by Congress in 1954 — at the urging of President Eisenhower in response to the rising Communist threat — it has been under legal fire from those who feel it violated the separation of church and state.
The most recent of these cases, Doe v. Action-Boxborough Regional School District, which says the Pledge violates students’ rights, will be considered by the Massachusetts Supreme Court this week. The suit was filed anonymously on behalf of an atheist couple who says compulsory recitation of the pledge violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law.
This is the latest in a series of legal battles that have followed the Pledge since it was formally adopted by Congress as the Pledge in the 1940s. The Pledge was written by Francis Bellamy, a socialist minister and author in 1892, published in the magazine Youth’s Companion which advocated that every schoolhouse in America should fly a flag (and also sold flags to those schoolhouses).
Bellamy also included instructions for the children to salute while reciting the Pledge, extending their arms towards the flag. This salute was changed to the hand-over-the-heart salute for civilians because of the Bellamy Salute’s similarity to the Nazi salute.
Interestingly, the first legal actions brought against the Pledge were filed by Jehovah’s Witnesses, who argued that it violated their religious freedom, considering it idolatry. Still the Supreme Court ruled that students could be compelled to recite the Pledge. However, recently the debate has shifted to whether students can be compelled to swear the Pledge with the words “under God” added, because it is an expression of religious belief. Ironically, Bellamy’s daughter objected to the addition of “under God,” and now those words may strike the Pledge from schools across America.