A pledge for all

Is the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, which millions of schoolchildren recite daily, a national unifier or does it foster division? Is it a mere ceremonial exercise, or does it have powerful emotional meaning?

These are some of the questions the U.S. Supreme Court will consider in the coming weeks if it decides to hear the challenge to the phrase being made by Sacramento physician and attorney Michael Newdow. Arguments were to begin Wednesday, before our press time, but there was a possibility that the justices would decide that Newdow, a divorced father who sued on behalf of his daughter but does not have legal custody of her, did not have the standing to sue.

Even if that happened, though, the case is certain to come before the court again. And, for the sake of inclusiveness, the court should strike the phrase.

The reason is simple enough: The pledge is a vow of allegiance that all schoolchildren should be happy to take. But the phrase “under God” is sectarian in nature: It implies theism, and non-theistic children and their parents—Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and many others—find that discomfiting and exclusionary. The children’s only choice, to stand mute while the pledge is being recited, merely confirms their belief.

Ours is an inclusionary society composed of people of many religious beliefs and some with none. A civic pledge we all take to our nation’s flag should be equally inclusionary. For 62 years, from 1892 to 1954, the Pledge of Allegiance served us well without the phrase "under God." For the sake of national unity and harmony, the Supreme Court should return the pledge to its original form.