“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Thirty one words. We all know it.
This “God” creates much controversy. Some avowed atheists feel that it is an affront to them that we have God on our money, in our pledge, that the idea of a superior being is ever mentioned by our government. Others of the religious persuasion would have God running everything. Put him/her/it in all proceedings, run the country as God would have it run.
This is where the difference between being religious and being spiritual has created enough room for God to squeak through. Religion is usually construed to mean regular church attendance, a dogmatic reading of the bible and acceptance on blind faith that “ours is the one true way” to love, eternal life and salvation.
Spirituality on the other hand, tends to be interpreted as a wider, more encompassing sense of security that there is some prime mover in the universe. A creative, great and gentle loving force that started it all in motion, and is letting life play out.
The question is, since we are supposed to be a democracy, run by the people, why is God involved at all in our government? Why is this word on our money, in our Pledge of Allegiance and in our courts? Partly because we were founded by believers. Some Lutherans, some Protestants, some Episcopalians. There were those who believed in the basic tenets of the Church of England and those who did not. These are the founders. Their perceptions, knowledge and education all led them to believe that a God existed.
The hardest part in discussing God, even between two extremely devout and sincere believers in the same religion, is that the individual conception of what the word God symbolizes and means to each of them is different.
John Adams, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson along with the other founders of our country, mostly all believers of some sort, wanted to establish religious freedom but did not want to establish an official religion. In their quest to allow individual freedom, we find the genesis of the First Amendment to our Constitution. Though it is mostly known for its free speech component, in actuality it starts out with religious freedom. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”
In wording the First Amendment as they did, the framers of the Constitution created two clauses that control the way the courts view suspect legislation, and resolve conflicts.
The first of these is the Establishment Clause, which says that Congress shall not establish a state, or official religion. Thus there is no “official” religion of the United States, as there is an official religion in other countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, and four others which are all Catholic. There are Protestant nations such as the United Kingdom and Islamic nations such as Saudi Arabia. There are even Buddhist nations such as Bhutan, Burma (currently also called Myanmar) and Thailand.
Any governmental action which leans toward establishing, or supporting religions, directly or indirectly, is generally struck down as an unconstitutional establishment violation.
The second clause is the Free Expression Clause. This means that the Congress shall not interfere with an individual’s right to believe, or a church’s right to express their religious beliefs, subject to certain limitations. It is allowable for me to form a religion that is based on the belief that Chad Allen is the second coming of Christ. It can qualify for tax exempt status, own property, it could even throw “festivals.”
The word God has been interpreted as a wider concept than that of any one religion. Think of it this way, Catholicism is to God, what Smirnoff is to Vodka. It is the bigger idea, bigger than the individual brands. Accordingly, it has been deemed to be a word of general understanding but no fixed meaning. It encompasses the god of all religions.
As a nation we tend to look to a greater good. Since most people, in some form or another, adhere to some belief, we acknowledge that fact without forcing any one belief to be the “official” religion.
The people who are offended that there is a mention of “God” in our pledge see that as an Establishment Clause violation.
For those people who want their religion to be the officially-sanctioned, one true religion of America, it is not enough.
This is why I thank the God of my misunderstanding and misunderestimating that there is a judicial branch that enforces the Constitutional requirements of a separation of church and state.
Because in the end no one can answer the central question, whose God is it?
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.