"Under God"--A Product of the 1950's Red Scare

Culture Watch

Mr. Greenberg writes Slate's "History Lesson" column and is working on a book about Richard Nixon's place in American politics and culture.

Poor Alfred Goodwin! So torrential was the flood of condemnation that followed his opinion—which held that it's unconstitutional for public schools to require students to recite"under God" as part of the Pledge of Allegiance—that the beleaguered appellate-court judge suspended his own ruling until the whole 9th Circuit Court has a chance to review the case.

Not one major political figure summoned the courage to rebut the spurious claims that America's founders wished to make God a part of public life. It's an old shibboleth of those who want to inject religion into public life that they're honoring the spirit of the nation's founders. In fact, the founders opposed the institutionalization of religion. They kept the Constitution free of references to God. The document mentions religion only to guarantee that godly belief would never be used as a qualification for holding office—a departure from many existing state constitutions. That the founders made erecting a church-state wall their first priority when they added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution reveals the importance they placed on maintaining what Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore have called a"godless Constitution." When Benjamin Franklin proposed during the Constitutional Convention that the founders begin each day of their labors with a prayer to God for guidance, his suggestion was defeated.

Given this tradition, it's not surprising that the original Pledge of Allegiance—meant as an expression of patriotism, not religious faith—also made no mention of God. The pledge was written in 1892 by the socialist Francis Bellamy, a cousin of the famous radical writer Edward Bellamy. He devised it for the popular magazine Youth's Companion on the occasion of the nation's first celebration of Columbus Day. Its wording omitted reference not only to God but also, interestingly, to the United States:

"I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The key words for Bellamy were"indivisible," which recalled the Civil War and the triumph of federal union over states' rights, and"liberty and justice for all," which was supposed to strike a balance between equality and individual freedom. By the 1920s, reciting the pledge had become a ritual in many public schools.

Since the founding, critics of America's secularism have repeatedly sought to break down the church-state wall. After the Civil War, for example, some clergymen argued that the war's carnage was divine retribution for the founders' refusal to declare the United States a Christian nation, and tried to amend the Constitution to do so.

The efforts to bring God into the state reached their peak during the so-called"religious revival" of the 1950s. It was a time when Norman Vincent Peale grafted religion onto the era's feel-good consumerism in his best-selling The Power of Positive Thinking; when Billy Graham rose to fame as a Red-baiter who warned that Americans would perish in a nuclear holocaust unless they embraced Jesus Christ; when Secretary of State John Foster Dulles believed that the United States should oppose communism not because the Soviet Union was a totalitarian regime but because its leaders were atheists.

Hand in hand with the Red Scare, to which it was inextricably linked, the new religiosity overran Washington. Politicians outbid one another to prove their piety. President Eisenhower inaugurated that Washington staple: the prayer breakfast. Congress created a prayer room in the Capitol. In 1955, with Ike's support, Congress added the words"In God We Trust" on all paper money. In 1956 it made the same four words the nation's official motto, replacing"E Pluribus Unum." Legislators introduced Constitutional amendments to state that Americans obeyed"the authority and law of Jesus Christ."

The campaign to add"under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance was part of this movement. It's unclear precisely where the idea originated, but one driving force was the Catholic fraternal society the Knights of Columbus. In the early '50s the Knights themselves adopted the God-infused pledge for use in their own meetings, and members bombarded Congress with calls for the United States to do the same. Other fraternal, religious, and veterans clubs backed the idea. In April 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut, D-Mich., formally proposed the alteration of the pledge in a bill he introduced to Congress.

The"under God" movement didn't take off, however, until the next year, when it was endorsed by the Rev. George M. Docherty, the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Washington that Eisenhower attended. In February 1954, Docherty gave a sermon—with the president in the pew before him—arguing that apart from"the United States of America," the pledge" could be the pledge of any country." He added,"I could hear little Moscovites [sic] repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity." Perhaps forgetting that"liberty and justice for all" was not the norm in Moscow, Docherty urged the inclusion of"under God" in the pledge to denote what he felt was special about the United States.

The ensuing congressional speechifying—debate would be a misnomer, given the near-unanimity of opinion—offered more proof that the point of the bill was to promote religion. The legislative history of the 1954 act stated that the hope was to"acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon … the Creator … [and] deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism." In signing the bill on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, Eisenhower delighted in the fact that from then on,"millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town … the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty." That the nation, constitutionally speaking, was in fact dedicated to the opposite proposition seemed to escape the president.

In recent times, controversies over the pledge have centered on the wisdom of enforcing patriotism more than on its corruption from a secular oath into a religious one. In the 1988 presidential race, as many readers will recall, George Bush bludgeoned Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis for vetoing a mandatory-pledge bill when he was governor of Massachusetts, even though the state Supreme Court had ruled the bill unconstitutional. Surely one reason for the current cravenness of Democratic leaders is a fear of undergoing Dukakis' fate in 2002 or 2004 at the hands of another Bush.

The history of the pledge supports Goodwin's decision. The record of the 1954 act shows that, far from a"de minimis" reference or a mere"backdrop" devoid of meaning, the words"under God" were inserted in the pledge for the express purpose of endorsing religion—which the U.S. Supreme Court itself ruled in 1971 was unconstitutional. Also according to the Supreme Court's own rulings, it doesn't matter that students are allowed to refrain from saying the pledge; a 2000 high court opinion held that voluntary, student-led prayers at school football games are unconstitutionally" coercive," because they force students into an unacceptable position of either proclaiming religious beliefs they don't share or publicly protesting.

The appeals court decision came almost 40 years to the day after the Supreme Court decision in Engel v. Vitale. In that case, the court ruled it unconstitutional for public schools to allow prayer, even though the prayer was non-denominational and students were allowed abstain from the exercise. When asked about the unpopular decision, President John F. Kennedy replied coolly that he knew many people were angry, but that the decisions of the court had to be respected. He added that there was"a very easy remedy"—not a constitutional amendment but a renewed commitment by Americans to pray at home, in their churches, and with their families.

This essay was first published by Slate and is reprinted with permission.

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Rex RexCurry.net Curry - 9/18/2005

Shocking facts were exposed by me (Rex Curry) during research for court litigation against the Pledge of Allegiance. Elk Grove’s new Pledge case (9/14/05) virtually guarantees the high court again will consider the constitutionality of the Pledge, and I will be there to tell the whole truth, (including the parts that are hidden by the courts and media). As a libertarian lawyer, I provide pro bono services in schools nationwide to educate the public about the news:

1. The USA’s first Pledge used a straight-arm salute and it was the origin of the salute of the monstrous National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis). It was not an ancient Roman salute. http://rexcurry.net/pledgesalute.html

2. The Pledge began with a military salute that then stretched outward toward the flag. Historic photographs are at http://rexcurry.net/pledge2.html and at http://rexcurry.net/pledge_military.html Due to the way that both gestures were used, the military salute led to the Nazi salute. The Nazi salute is an extended military salute. http://rexcurry.net/book1a1contents-pledge.html

3. The Pledge’s creator was a self-proclaimed socialist in the nationalism movement in the USA and his dogma influenced socialists in Germany, and his Pledge was the origin of their salute. "Nazi" means "National Socialist German Workers' Party." A mnemonic device is the swastika (Hakenkreuz in German). Although the swastika was an ancient symbol, it was also used sometimes by German National Socialists to represent "S" letters for their "socialism." Hitler altered his own signature to use the same stylized "S" letter for "socialist."

The Pledge is part of the USA’s growing police-state. The insane government in the U.S. could cause comatose persons to Pledge dis-allegiance, desecrate the flag, and recite a declaration of independence. Remove the Pledge from the flag, remove flags from schools, remove schools from government.

Government schools will never teach children about their Pledge rights, nor the truth about the Pledge and its author.

Most comments fail to ever mention that Francis Bellamy and his cousin Edward Bellamy were National Socialists in the USA, wrote for and supported their "Nationalist" and "New Nation" magazines, the "Nationalist Educational Association" and pushed their totalitarian dogma in their "Nationalism" clubs worldwide, including in Germany, and that the bible of their movement, Edward Bellamy's book "Looking Backward" was translated into every major language including the languages of those countries that became home to totalitarian socialism and the socialist Wholecaust (of which the Holocaust was a part) under the National Socialist German Workers' Party (21 million dead), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (62 million dead), and the Peoples' Republic of China (35 million dead). It is easy to see why anyone would want to cover all of that up, but it should not be covered up.

In the USA, the Bellamy dogma supported a government takeover of education. The government's schools imposed segregation by law and taught racism as official policy. The USA's behavior was an example for three decades before the Nazis. As under Nazism, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and blacks and the Jewish and others in the USA attended government schools that dictated segregation, taught racism, and persecuted children who refused to perform the straight-arm salute and robotically chant the Pledge. Some kids were expelled from government schools and had to use the many better alternatives. There were acts of violence. When Jesse Owens competed in the 1936 Olympics in Germany, his neighbors attended segregated government schools where they saluted the flag with the Nazi salute. The U.S. practice of official racism even outlasted the horrid party. And the schools and the Pledge still exist. The Pledge is still the most visible sign of the USA's growing police state.

After segregation in government's schools ended, the Bellamy legacy caused more police-state racism of forced busing that destroyed communities and neighborhoods and deepened hostilities.

Bellamy was a self-proclaimed national socialist in the USA, with the "Nationalist" magazine, and he preached what he called "military socialism." The federal flag darkens schools because Bellamy wanted government to take over all schools and to eliminate all of the better alternatives. Worse, Bellamy wanted the government to take over everything, not just schools. He wanted the government to impose the military system on all of society. School flags are a symbol of nationalization, militarism, and socialism.

The Bellamy dogma was the same dogma that led to the "Wholecaust" (of which the Holocaust was a part): 62 million killed under the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; 35 million under the Peoples' Republic of China; 21 million under the National Socialist German Workers' Party. It was so bad that Holocaust Museums could quadruple in size with Wholecaust Museums to document the entire slaughter.

Some schools in the USA are still named after Francis Bellamy. The Bellamy schools should be re-named because they send the wrong message to children and the community. It causes emotional distress to children who attend schools named after a man who popularized the Nazi salute and who helped the government institutionalize racism and segregation. I, and my supporters, will also assist in any legal means to defray the cost of re-naming Bellamy schools.

If government's schools (and the media) told the true history of the Pledge, then no student would chant it. If Americans knew the truth, then the Pledge would cease to exist.

Fight the flag hags and their flag fetish. Government's schools should not teach kids to verbally fellate flags each morning. It is like a brainwashed cult of the omnipotent state. For adults it is childish. Remove the Pledge from the flag, remove flags from schools, remove schools from government.

Listen to audio exposing the flag and the Pledge http://rexcurry.net/rexcurry4.mp3


As an attorney, I am asked if students can be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance in government schools. Another school year has started, and it is important to educate children about their right to refuse.

Government schools deserve a failing grade for not teaching students about their right to refuse and about the horrid history of the Pledge. There are still some oddball states where government schools are required by law to begin each day with a robotic chant of the Pledge, after students hear the ringing of a bell, like Pavlov's lapdogs of the state.

Government schools in the U.S. were the origin of the salute of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis) because the Pledge's original salute was a straight-armed salute. It is a myth that the salute is an old Roman salute. Most students never see the eye-popping historic photographs. http://www.rexcurry.net/pledge2.html

I became involved in litigation about the Pledge of Allegiance before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Wonschik v. United States http://www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/03-10249.htm Research in that case and other litigation involving the Pledge, led to astounding discoveries concerning the Pledge's past.

The history of the Pledge is suppressed because it is unlibertarian. The Pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a self-proclaimed National Socialist, who wanted a government takeover of education to produce an "industrial army" (a Bellamy term) for the authoritarian vision in his cousin Edward Bellamy's book "Looking Backward." The Bellamy cousins promoted national socialism worldwide for decades. It resulted in racist and segregated government schools that lasted through WWII into the 1960's, setting a horrid example for hate-spewing groups worldwide.

A webpage helps students learn that the Pledge was written by a National Socialist and the rest of the Pledge's truly terrifying history:

The eye-popping new version of the popular graphic art "All in favor of gun control raise your right hand" is at http://www.rexcurry.net/pledgewonschik.html
In the new version, the original Nazi-style salute to the U.S. flag is exposed with the phrase: "All in favor of a Pledge of Allegiance raise your right hand."
The graphic art shows the original Pledge of Allegiance on the left and on the right it shows the salute of the National Socialist German Workers' Party.
It explains that the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag is the origin of the salute of the National Socialist German Workers' Party.

In the 1930s, the National Socialist German Workers' Party passed laws that required everyone to pledge allegiance, similar to many state laws in the U.S. that have tried to require school-children to recite the Pledge. Jehovah's Witnesses believed that people who enjoy reciting government pledges are people who worship government. Jehovah's Witnesses were officially banned in Germany for refusing to join the raised palm salute of the National Socialist German Workers' Party in schools and at public events. Many of the German Witnesses were imprisoned in concentration camps.

The National Socialist German Workers' Party had adopted the U.S. salute and forced people to perform it. Many states in the U.S. had a practice similar to that of National Socialist German Workers' Party in forcing people to perform the salute created by a National Socialist in the U.S.

In the 1940's, before the phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, Jehovah's Witnesses refused to recite the Pledge in school on the grounds that it constituted worship of government. They hoped for a different response than they had met from the National Socialist German Workers' Party. In 1940, in the case of Minersville School Board v. Gobitas, the Supreme Court ruled that a government school could expel those children for refusing to salute the flag. Three years later (1943), in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette the Supreme Court reversed itself and decided that school children may not be forced to stand and salute the flag.

In 1940, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter was freaking about France falling to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party when Frankfurter wrote the Gobitas decision that allowed schools to expel students who refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Frankfurter was very concerned about the progress of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party in the war and Frankfurter believed it was important for the country to come together and for everyone to be loyal. Yet, Frankfurter’s decision allowed compelled collective pledges by the government in government schools that were using a straight-arm salute similar to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party salute, for a Pledge of Allegiance that was written by a U.S. socialist who was a member of the "Nationalism" movement and a vice president of its socialist auxiliary group, whose members wanted the federal government to nationalize most of the American economy. It is fortunate that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Gobitas decision 3 years later.

The original salute to the U.S. flag was the same as the salute of the National Socialist German Workers' Party. An example of the salute is at http://www.rexcurry.net/pledge1.html (historic photographs of the original socialist salute being given to the U.S. flag are collected at that website, so please contact the website with information about any historic photographs of the Pledge).

"Nazi" was an abbreviation of "National Socialist Worker's Party of Germany." They advocated nationalizing the economy. After the Nazi's demonstrated full blown socialism, the U.S. flag salute changed to the modern hand over the heart.

The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a socialist, to promote socialism in the most socialistic institution -- government schools. The author, Francis Bellamy, belonged to a religious socialist movement known as "Christian Socialism," and belonged to a group known for "Nationalism," whose members wanted the federal government to nationalize most of the American economy. He saw government schools as a means to that end.

Libertarians like to say they oppose "the cult of the omnipotent state." There are many parallels between the legal arguments made by Jehovah's Witnesses and the libertarian catchphrase.

The Barnette case held that students cannot be forced to recite the Pledge or salute the flag in government schools. One admirable result of the Gobitas case and every Supreme Court case regarding government schools is that many parents removed their children from government schools. And that is the real solution to the Pledge debate and all other issues: reduce government and remove government from education. As Libertarians say: The separation of school and state is as important as the separation of church and state.

For more information on the U.S. flag's Pledge and salute see http://www.rexcurry.net/pledge1.html

Yours in Liberty,
Rex Curry
Attorney At Law

P B Weinstein - 7/18/2002

This excellent account shows how the American people and the political "leadership" are stampeded when some issues come to the fore--notably God and country. As Mr. Greenberg notes, that stampede is away from the founding principles of the nation. Every step erodes freedom and individualism, yet there are virtually none who can or would stop it. Many an American who agrees that the imposition of a specific or even general concept of the Judeo-Christian God finds it safer and easier to remain mute on the subject. Better to keep one’s mouth shut. A politician defending the unpopular traditions Mr. Greenberg describes would be the target of well-funded campaigns aimed at and in likelihood succeeding in ouster. A small-town dweller knows that nothing provokes religious neighbors to homicidal rage so quickly as one who is perceived as attacking god.
Yes, it’s best to remain quiet on such issues. Let the bullying loudest voices have their way? What harm can it do?
Out of such small beginnings do mighty persecutions grow.

Matt Walter - 7/11/2002

First, you misrepresent some of the facts. The reason that the proposal for a prayer prior to the start of each session of the Constitutional Convention was defeated, was that they could not afford a cahplain. Further, Franklin in pushing for the prayer refers to the fact that they (The Continental Congress) often appealed to the Almighty through prayer during the Revolution. While supporters of prayer in public places may overstate the Founders Religious piety, the left takes isolated examples (such as the defeat of Franklin's proposal) and portrays them as the norm, when the very opposite is true.

Further, as you well know, there is no statement in the Constitution creating a wall of separation between Church and State. It clearly states that 'Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion ...'

It is in fact the other way around, while the Founder's and early American's very clearly allowed expressions of faith in 'Public' buildings it has been other groups that fought for the broader interpretation