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Ed cetera

Join the informed, opinionated journalists of The Times' editorial staff in lively discussions at our blog Ed Cetera.

March 12, 2010 at 3:46 PM

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Civil Disagreement: One Nation, Under God?

Posted by Lynne Varner

Civil disagreements, with Lynne Varner and Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times editorial board, is a feature of the Ed Cetera blog. Today's topic is the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t violate the constitutional prohibition against state-mandated religious exercise even though it contains the phrase “one nation under God.”



Lynne Varner, left, and Bruce Ramsey

Lynne Varner: Bruce, I"m pleased by what was obviously a tortured ruling out of the 9th Circuit on the Pledge of Allegiance. The divided court said the pledge doesn't violate the constitutional separation of church and state. Finally, some one has the guts to stand up for God. Now if they could just do so during the holidays when some try to ban Christmas trees at the state Capitol and forbid the word Christmas from being uttered in schools.

What a reversal though! The 9th Circuit in 2002 ruled that requiring students to recite the pledge violated their rights to be free of religious indoctrination by the government. That ruling was one of the most controversial to come out of the court and it worried a lot of people. The 9th is second only to the U.S. Supreme Court in its power to determine law for nine Western states and two Pacific territories. I wonder what impact this ruling will have on schools today. This article noted few schools require students to say the pledge anymore.

Bruce Ramsey: It's fun being to your left, for once. I agreed with the dissent. I have been an unbeliever since I was a kid, and it always struck me that saying, "Under God," was a public admission of His existence, and I never wanted to do that.

I don't expect to win this argument. I am quite willing to go on saying the Pledge and leaving the two words out, which I have been doing since grade school. But if you want to put me on the spot, yes, "under God" is an affirmation of the Deity in a government loyalty oath, and I think it should come out.

Several years ago an Oregon academic, Richard Ellis, wrote a history of the Pledge, which I reviewed in the Times. In the book he says each big boost for the Pledge, or change in it, came at a time when Americans were in fear of foreign influence. The Pledge was written in 1892, when Americans worried about the tide of immigrants diluting American culture and ideals, and the fading of patriotism from the Civil War. The Pledge was institutionalized in World War I, when patriotism was enforced. The first state to require the Pledge was Washington, which passed the law in January 1919, the month of the Communist-influenced Seattle General Strike. The first change in the Pledge's wording--from "my flag" to "the flag of the United States of America"--came in the early 1920s, around the time that immigration was stopped. And the phrase "under God" was added in 1954, at the end of the trials of Communist spies.

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