The Pledge of Allegiance

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Pledge of Allegiance Decision

On June 26, 2002, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, covering nine Western states, ruled 2:1 that the Pledge of Allegiance now recited each day by schoolchildren and many others is unconstitutional because it includes the words “under God”.

The lawsuit which precipitated this decision was brought by the Sacramento, California doctor and atheist, Michael A. Newdow. He wanted to prevent the recitation of the “under God” phrase in the classroom of his daughter, despite the fact that her mother has raised her as a Christian and not an atheist.

The argument concerning the phrase “under God” was based on the constitutional prohibition against establishing a religion in this country. It is the first amendment to our Constitution which prevents the establishment of a religion here and which reads in part as follows: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …… the remainder of the amendment does not deal with religion.

This amendment has caused numerous court cases and decisions by the Supreme Court as to what constitutes or does not constitute “establishment of religion”. Since the second part of the sentence above guarantees the right to “free exercise” of religion, a true dilemma concerning religion has existed in this country for over two hundred years. Now a dilemma is a a double proposition. A proposition is a statement in which the subject is affirmed or denied by the predicate. Therefore, a dilemma is a proposition which does both. It affirms and denies at the same time. Therefore, the courts have had a terrible time satisfying those who fear that all references to religion constitute an establishment and those who fear that they are denied the free exercise of religion.

In the 1947 case Everson v. The United States, the Court held that neither the state nor the federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, all religions or prefer one religion over another. It further denied tax money to any religion and repeated Jefferson’s dictum that there must be “a wall of separation between church and state.”

In 1948, the court held in McCollum v. Board of Education that release time for the purpose of religious instruction is unconstitutional because the clergy entered the public schools and used the classrooms and utilities paid for by taxpayers to deliver religious instruction.

In Engles v. Vitale the Court prohibited the recitation of the New York State Regent’s prayer despite its neutrality. The court also denied state salary supplements given to religious school teachers in Lemon v. Kurtzman in 1971.

In Epperson v. Arkansas the court struck down a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in the Arkansas schools.

In an effort to help religiously motivated students, Congress passed the Equal Access Law in 1984. That law demands that any high school which allows non-religious student groups to meet after school hours in school must also allow religious groups to hold such meetings. This law was based on a 1981 decision by the Supreme Court that the University of Missouri must allow religious groups the same meeting privileges as other groups.

There have been many other court decisions concerning religion in this country. Not all these decisions are Supreme Court decisions. Yet, all reveal that we are faced with a difficult situation which needs to be reinterpreted again and again.

The latest problem, raised by the Pledge of Allegiance decision, is complicated by the fact that the child involved is willing to use the phrase “under God” and is in no way discomforted by this. At the same time, the argument that atheists are few and therefore ought not to be given much consideration is dangerous since we Jews are also very few. Even Catholics are only 23% of all Americans.

It is of course evident that we Jews have no problem with the phrase “under God”. The essence of Judaism is the belief that there is a Shem Yisborach (Blessed is his Name) who selected us his Chosen People by giving us the Torah and the Land of Israel, or the Promised Land. We are therefore enjoined to be “a light unto the Nations” and teach the precepts of Torah by our conduct to all other men, who are, in the eyes of God, equal to us as we are equal to them. No man is more; no man is less. However, if that is true, the atheists are also entitled to consideration.

What, then, is the solution to the Pledge of Allegiance controversy? I propose that we say the pledge in Latin. This would mean that hardly anyone can understand the words but that the sense of enhancement and sanctity would surround the pledge just the same. After all, we Jews pray in Hebrew, which most of us do not understand. Yet, we feel elevated by hearing the sacred language and closer to God when using it.

I have therefore taken the liberty of translating the Pledge of Allegiance into Latin and recommend its use in all our schools.

Fidem meam obligo vuxillo civitatem federalem Americae et Res Publicae quo stat; uni Nationi, sub Deo, non dividendae, cum libertate et iusquiasque, omnibus.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2002).

Home ] Up ]