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Friday, December 14, 2012

A Governmental Lie: One Nation Under "God"

First of all let me say that I am a proud member of the Sons of the American Legion. I fully support the work the Legion does in the community, in the state, and in the nation. The Legion, the Sons, and the Ladies Auxiliary represent some of the most active, dedicated people in the area who work tirelessly to improve the lives of service members, past and present. In fact, the American Legion is the nation’s largest wartime veterans service organization, committed to mentoring youth and sponsorship of wholesome programs. The Legion continues to advocate patriotism and honor, promote strong national security, and pledge devotion to service members and veterans.

I also understand the Legion stands for "God and country." I respect this so much. I, too, believe in a Christian God. I do, however, understand that the message on this Legion sign carries deep connotations that are very disturbing to some veterans.

That being said, I do not care for the sign posted in the photo above. Some would argue that such slogans are patriotic and serve to unite and unify Americans. I feel the words cause detachment and division. In the blog today, I will consider the first phrase in the sign. Tomorrow, I will write about "Don't like it leave."

"One Nation Under God"

Who coined this phrase as it relates to American beliefs and understandings? To get a complete picture, it is necessary to trace the origin of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Do you know the original Pledge did not contain the words "under God"?

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy (1855–1931), a Baptist minister, a Christian socialist, and the cousin of socialist Utopian novelist Edward Bellamy (1850–1898). The original "Pledge of Allegiance" was published in the September 8 issue of the popular children's magazine The Youth's Companion as part of the National Public-School Celebration of Columbus Day, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas.

The event was conceived and promoted by James B. Upham, a marketer for the magazine, as a campaign to instill the idea of American nationalism by selling flags to public schools and magazines to students.

Bellamy's Pledge read as follows:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
(Francis Bellamy,"The Story of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag,"
University of Rochester Library Bulletin, Vol. VIII, Winter 1953).

Then, the Pledge was first used in public schools on October 12, 1892, during Columbus Day observances organized to coincide with the opening of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois.

Francis Bellamy's recalled the creation of the Pledge: "At the beginning of the nineties patriotism and national feeling was at a low ebb. The patriotic ardor of the Civil War was an old story...The time was ripe for a reawakening of simple Americanism and the leaders in the new movement rightly felt that patriotic education should begin in the public schools."

Louis A. Bowman (1872–1959), an attorney from Illinois, was actually the first to initiate the addition of "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance. He added the phrase "under God" to the Pledge in 1948, and he convinced the Sons of the American Revolution (of which he was a member) and the Daughters of the American Revolution to adopt the new language. Although he is regarded as the father of the "under God" inclusion, Bowman's proposed change to the Pledge did not occur until many years later.

(John W. Baer, The Pledge of Allegiance: A Revised History and Analysis, 1892-2007, 2007)

In 1951, the Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholic fraternal service organization, also began including the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. This campaign led to several official attempts to back Louis Bowman and to prompt Congress to adopt the Knights of Columbus’ policy for the entire nation. These attempts failed.

("Knights of Columbus Fact Sheet," Knights of Columbus)

In 1952, Holger Christian Langmack, a Danish philosopher and educator who came to the United States in 1911, wrote a letter to President Truman suggesting the inclusion of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. President Truman met with him along with several others to discuss the inclusion of "under God" and "love" just before "liberty and justice." At the suggestion of a correspondent, Representative Louis C. Rabaut of Michigan sponsored a resolution to add the words "under God" to the Pledge in 1953. This resolution failed.

Prior to February 1954, no endeavor to get the Pledge officially amended succeeded. The final successful push came from George MacPherson Docherty. Some American presidents honored Lincoln's birthday by attending services at the church Lincoln attended, New York Avenue Presbyterian Church by sitting in Lincoln's pew on the Sunday nearest February 12. President Eisenhower followed this tradition.

On February 7, 1954, with President Eisenhower sitting in Lincoln's pew, the church's pastor, George MacPherson Docherty, delivered a sermon based on the Gettysburg Address titled "A New Birth of Freedom." He argued that the nation's might lay not in arms but its spirit and higher purpose. He noted that the Pledge's sentiments could be those of any nation, that "there was something missing in the pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life." He cited Lincoln's words "under God" as defining words that set the United States apart from other nations.

President Eisenhower responded enthusiastically to Docherty in a conversation following the service. Eisenhower acted on his suggestion the next day and on February 8, 1954, Rep. Charles Oakman (R-Mich.), introduced a bill to that effect. Congress passed the necessary legislation and Eisenhower signed the bill into law on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.

The phrase "under God" was incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance by a Joint Resolution of Congress amending §7 of the Flag Code enacted in 1942

Eisenhower stated "From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. ... In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war."

("God In America: God in the White House," PBS)

Many historians believe the inclusion of the "under God" phrase went in hand with the infamous Red Scare. In the 1950s, 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.

Legislators made other significant changes that referenced God during the Red Scare. For example, President Eisenhower inaugurated the prayer breakfast, and in 1955, he lent his support to adding "In God We Trust" on all paper money. In 1956, Congress made the same four words the nation's official motto, replacing "E Pluribus Unum." During the perceived threat from the atheist regime, some legislators even introduced Constitutional amendments to state that Americans obeyed "the authority and law of Jesus Christ."

Dissent and Fallout

Requiring or promoting of the Pledge on the part of the government has drawn criticism and legal challenges on several grounds. Perhaps, like me, you can understand some of this criticism. Please remember the views relate to government and its role in religion, not to any specific denomination.

People continue to raise objections to the addition of the phrase "under God" to the Pledge. Many critics contend that a government requiring or promoting this phrase violates protections against the establishment of religion guaranteed in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. They think the addition of "under God" to the Pledge suggests an identification of the U.S. as an officially religious nation on the part of the government.

A particular objection states that a democratic republic built on freedom of dissent should not require its citizens to pledge allegiance to it.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects one's right to refrain from speaking or standing (also a form of speech). The use of the Pledge in public schools has been most controversial. Critics feel that the Pledge is incompatible with democracy and freedom, and suggest that pledges of allegiance are features of totalitarian states.

Another objection related to this lies in the fact that the people who are most likely to recite the Pledge every day, small children in schools, cannot really give their consent or even completely understand the Pledge they are taking.

In 1940 the Supreme Court, in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, ruled that students in public schools, including the respondents in that case, Jehovah's Witnesses who considered the flag salute to be idolatry, could be compelled to swear the Pledge. A rash of mob violence and intimidation against Jehovah's Witnesses followed the ruling.

In 1943 the Supreme Court reversed its decision, ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that public school students are not required to say the Pledge, concluding that "compulsory unification of opinion" violates the First Amendment. In a later opinion, the Court held that students are also not required to stand for the Pledge.

(George Hodak, "Flag Day Reversal," ABA Journal, June 2008)

Despite the dissent, polls find an overwhelming majority of Americans (91% in some cases) are content with the reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance. And, as recent as 2002, about one-half of the states required the pledge as part of the school day and several others recommend it.

(Evelyn Nieves, "Judges Ban Pledge of Allegiance From Schools, Citing 'Under God,'"
The New York Times, June 27 2002)

My Editorial

I do not find the reference to God personally offensive; however, I must also consider the entire American populace of 2012 in order to support my claim that the words can fuel feelings of detachment. I think the two phrases in the Legion sign, when combined, have a very combative message: "One nation under God. Don't like it, leave." I don't want to tell someone who served in the military this, and I wouldn't even consider it.

First of all, this is a classic "Either-Or" Fallacy or false dilemma. The words on the sign represent an example of informal fallacy that involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there is at least one additional option. False dilemma, as in this case, can arise intentionally when the fallacy is used in an attempt to force a choice (such as the assertion that "If you are not with us, you are against us").

The opposite of this fallacy is argument to moderation. What is a moderate view? I do not have to leave America simply because I disagree with the idea that the United States is "one nation under God." I can stay here and have the right to disagree or dissent -- more than two options do logically exist. If this were not true, the government would silence any citizen who criticizes the United States government.

A related phenomenon to the false dilemma is black-and-white thinking. Without significant regard, people routinely engage in the act of black-and-white thinking, an example of which is someone who labels other people as all good or all bad. Black-and-white thinking creates stereotyping and discourages cooperation and critical interaction. Besides that, the complete falsity of this type of reasoning is evident.

A good and loyal American citizen does not have to believe in God. I don't think you will find a stipulation in the Constitution that refers to mandatory deportation for atheists. In fact, most people falsely assume that it's required to swear “to God” to witness in an American court of law; however, witnesses have a right to just "affirm" that they will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. No gods, Bibles, or anything else religious need to be involved.

Also, let's consider an argument that still rages today. Did the founding fathers intend religion to play a part in government? The answer is pretty unclear in some respects, yet the fathers were especially concerned about the separation of Church and State. Charles L. Cohen, PhD, Director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions, wrote on July 18, 2006

"The Framers did consider religion an important source of social morality - but they also knew that religious broils could destabilize governments, and, more than almost anything else, many of them feared denominational conflict."

Allen Jayne, PhD, author of the 1998 book Jefferson's Declaration of Independence: Origins, Philosophy, and Theology, wrote in a 1999 article "Jefferson's Philosophical Wall of Separation" published in the Humanist:

"Since its inception, the United States has never had a religious war despite divisive sectarian differences. And in times of crisis, minority religions have supported the government because it has, for the most part, maintained a position of neutrality among its many religions and denominations. This is because the 'wall' or religious freedom law causes all religious groups to be seen and treated equally in the eyes of that law-or, as Jefferson put it, has the effect of 'putting all on equal footing'...

Like it or not, America demographics have changed considerably in its short history. Consider some current facts and trends in America, the land of the people:

* In 2007, the Pew Forum found that the percentage of non-religious Americans had doubled, up to 16 percent.

* In 2010, Putnam and Campbell's national survey put the percentage at 17 percent.

* In 2011, the General Social Survey reported it at 18 percent.

* This year, the Pew Forum bumped it up to 19 percent.

What "God"?

If the United States is a nation “under God,” what God is the nation currently "under"? The use of "under God" in the Pledge as referenced in the Legion sign clearly refers to a particular belief, monotheism, that many people -- not only atheists, but members of religions such as Buddhism -- do not share. This official reference to a single God may well strike nonbelievers as an act of exclusion. Many of these very people do now serve or have served in the United States military.

The U.S. military is making every attempt to meet the diverse spiritual needs of America's fighting forces, and it's no easy task. One only has to look at the history of armed service chaplains to see this.

A. Buddhists

In 1990 the Army made the decision to create an insignia for future Buddhist chaplains, and the Armed Forces Chaplains Board (the board made up of the three Chiefs of Chaplains and active-duty Deputy Chiefs of Chaplains for the Army, Navy, and Air Force) began working with the Army's Institute of Heraldry. The design was completed in August 1990, representing the dharmacakra (the "wheel of dharma" or sometimes, "wheel of law"), an eight-spoked wheel "representative of religious observances.

When Thomas Dyer went to Afghanistan in December, 2009, the former Marine and one-time Southern Baptist pastor didn't take a rifle with him. He didn't take a Bible, either. Instead, Dyer, a Tennessean National Guardsman from Memphis and the first Buddhist chaplain in the history of the U.S. Army, went there to bring serenity and calm, honed by months of intensive meditation. He brought spiritual care in the midst of a war zone.

(Bob Smietana, "Buddhist Chaplain is Army First," in USA Today
from The (Nashville) Tennessean, September 8 2009)

Buddhists? In the United States Military? Read on...

"Today there are more than 3,000 Buddhists serving in the U.S. armed forces, including some Buddhist chaplains. Today's Buddhist soldiers and sailors are not the first in the U.S. military. During World War II, approximately half of the troops in Japanese-American units such as the 100th Battalion and the 442nd Infantry were Buddhists."

(Barbara O'Brien, "War and Buddhism Buddhist Teachings on War,", 2012)

B. Muslims

On December 14, 1992, the Army Chief of Chaplains requested that an insignia be created for future Muslim chaplains, and the design (a crescent) was completed January 8, 1993.

Contrary to the belief of many Americans, thousands of Muslims are serving honorably in the U.S. military. Out of the 1.4 million service men and women serving actively in the American military, an estimated 3,700 are Muslim, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

These Muslims fight to save foreign countries and to prevent the spread of terrorism -- a fight between a modern pluralistic democracy and intolerant murders who have hijacked one of the world's great faiths.

Listen to what Colonel Douglas Burpee, the highest ranking Muslim officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, has to say. Burpee is now in his 23rd year of military service, and he recently returned from flying helicopters in Afghanistan:

"These people who commit terrorism have just adopted the face of Islam - nothing they say or do have anything to do with Islam," he says. "The Taliban is a terrorist organization - they are bad people doing bad things and they've attached religion to it. They are ruthless when it comes to killing people, but that's how you move helpless people around - you use fear."

(John P. Avlon, "Muslims in the Military," The New York Sun, April 21 2006)

Just read this report to see that not all U.S. soldiers worship the same God:

"Each Friday, soldiers in battle-dress camouflage here (Fort Lee) remove their boots, face Mecca and prostrate themselves, heads bowed to the carpet in obedience to Allah. "In the military base's Islamic Chapel Center, they recite their Jumah prayers, following the lead of Capt. James Yee, a West Point graduate and a convert to Islam who is chaplain of Fort Lewis' largest battalion."

(Mike Barbe, "Muslims in the U.S. Military Are as Loyal as Any, Chaplain Says,"
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 19 2001)

C. Hindus

As of 2011, a Hindu faith community endorsing agency was approved by the Department of Defense and began to seek volunteers to serve as Hindu chaplains in the U.S. military.

Do Hindus, Sikhs, and Gurkhas serve in the U.S. armed services? Remember the population of people of the Indian origin is less than .003% of U.S. population. Take a look at some statistics from U.S. Joint Forces Data (2005-2006):

US Army: 1,200

US Navy: 3,500

US Air Force: 900

US Marines: 350

To me, the sender of the message "one nation under God" implies that God is a Christian God. I don't think people can honestly wriggle out of this connotation by saying, "The Legion sign could mean the United States under any god." Come on, now. Let's be honest.

I hope I have shown them in this post that many service personnel do not worship the same god. (And, how about those Native Americans who hold old spiritual beliefs?) These Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and others serve the nation with distinction.

Also, non-theists are a significant part of the U.S. military. The non-theistic, whether an atheist, humanist, agnostic, freethinker, or other secular minority, have a strong community that is pushing for its own chaplaincy in the Service. Defense Department statistics show that about 9,400 of the nation’s 1.4 million active-duty military personnel identify themselves as atheists or agnostics.

Jason Torpy, a former Army captain who is president of the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, says, “Humanism fills the same role for atheists that Christianity does for Christians and Judaism does for Jews. It answers questions of ultimate concern; it directs our values.”
(James Dao, “Atheists Seek Chaplain Role in the Military,” The New York Times, April 26 2011)

I assume that people who appreciate the Legion sign believe that those who don't believe in God are not worthy of citizenship, much for service or for active military duty.

Again, it is pretty stilted thinking to believe that people should "take God or leave America." As repulsive as Atheistic belief may be to many past and present service members, it is unfair to deny those who do not believe in a Higher Power their due respect, honor, and liberty. Our nation allows freedom of religion, the freedom to worship any religion or no religion.

We live in an American democracy and treasure our freedom of choice with the largest capital "F." Here, in my America, I do not have to agree with your philosophy to consider you an equal. Your FREEDOM must take precedence over my beliefs and over any oppressive matters of State.
“Persecution is not an original feature
in any religion; but it is always
the strongly marked feature
 of all religions established by law.”
 -Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
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