Blog Post

Behind the Colors

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On June 14, millions of Americans will celebrate Flag Day. Unfortunately, the traditional two-minute ceremony by which Americans profess loyalty to their national colors has come under fire yet again.

By John Ehrett

Over the last several years, repeated challenges have been leveled at one of America’s most revered bastions of patriotism: the Pledge of Allegiance. Lawsuits seeking to strip two simple words – “under God” – from the Pledge have arisen in state and federal courts alike. Those opposed to the Pledge’s current text have continued to press for change, despite losses in the the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (2010) and the 1st Circuit (2010). This persistence may be due to the fact that the Supreme Court has only obliquely weighed in on the issue: in 2002 the Court ruled that Michael Newdow, the atheist minister responsible for many of the challenges, lacked proper standing to proceed with his suit, but issued no majority opinion regarding the Pledge’s constitutional permissibility.

There is no broad political groundswell seeking to toss out “under God”; nearly 90% of Americans favor retaining the phrase. Unfortunately, their views run directly counter to the radical secularism currently seeking to eradicate religion from the public square…even when such “religion” isn’t even rooted in a specific ideology.

Contrary to what many in the secularist camp have asserted, the Pledge of Allegiance is neither a prayer nor a declaration of metaphysical dogma. As historians have noted, the phrase was originally introduced in the 1950s as a political counterweight to the anti-religious antagonism of the Soviet Union. The clause “under God” simply recognizes that individual persons are uniquely valuable, invested with natural rights that transcend their roles as cogs in a social machine; furthermore, by referring to “God,” the government is forced to acknowledge that its authority over citizens is in fact limited. Irrespective of any religious context, those are positive and humanistic ideas – around which both people of faith and nonbelievers can unite.

When Americans unite to speak the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, they are collectively reaffirming their belief in these human rights, whether or not they personally choose to revere a deity. The power of the Pledge is its implicit assumption that human beings are more than means to a given political or economic end; by virtue of their humanity alone, they possess a certain inherent worth that no government may legitimately infringe.

In keeping with this sentiment, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is committed to upholding the intrinsic dignity of all people. Foundational to that dignity, in turn is a recognition of individuals’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs, in both public and private spheres.

This Flag Day, let’s collectively pause to remember the sacrifices behind the freedoms we take for granted…including religious freedom. Our society, founded on such liberties within a system of democratic pluralism, has dynamically impacted the course of human history. And if a deep-rooted respect for fundamental beliefs – worldview systems that both unite and divide us – is sacrificed on the altar of anti-religious fear, our nation loses one of its most valuable assets.

Americans may not agree about much else, but we should be able to agree on that.

John Ehrett, a senior at Patrick Henry College, is the communications intern at the Becket Fund.