The Words ‘Under God’ Are Added to the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States of America

February 7 is a notable historical day for the acknowledgment of God in modern America: it is the day that a sermon was preached before President Dwight D. Eisenhower, suggesting that the words “under God” be added to the pledge. The sermon was preached by the Rev. George M. Docherty, pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D. C. [1] (you can download and see the full sermon, with his notes and additions).

This sermon was preached for Lincoln Day, and it had a great impact on those listening, including President Eisenhower, who was seated in the same pew that Abraham Lincoln had regularly occupied in that church as President. [2] In that sermon Docherty stated:

There was something missing in the pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristics and definitive factor in the American way of life. Indeed apart from the mention of the phrase, the United States of America, it could be the pledge of any republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer and sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity. [3]

He made the point that the American pledge as it then existed could just have been recited by citizens from any country, even those from communistic nations that hated God. The day following the sermon, U. S. Rep. Charles Oakman from Michigan introduced a Joint Resolution (H. J. Res 371) to add the words “Under God” into the pledge, [4] explaining:

Mr. Speaker, I think Mr. Docherty hit the nail squarely on the head. One of the most fundamental differences between us and the Communists is our belief in God. [5]

Two days later, on February 10th, Senator Homer Ferguson from Michigan introduced the Senate Joint Resolution (S.J. 126), [6] explaining to the Senate:

Our nation is founded on a fundamental belief in God, and the first and most important reason for the existence of our government is to protect the God-given rights of our citizens. . . . Indeed, Mr. President, over one of the doorways to this very Chamber inscribed in the marble are the words “In God We Trust.” Unless those words amount to more than a carving in stone, our country will never be able to defend itself. [7]

These resolutions were passed, and on June 14, 1954 (Flag Day), President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill into law, officially adding the words “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance, telling the nation:

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. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country’s true meaning. . . . 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. [8]

Who could have imagined that a single sermon could have such an impact? Yet American history is full of such accounts. On February 7th, take time to read this remarkable sermon, remembering that we are indeed “one nation under God.”

Judging by the UPI report of the event, when Congress added the name of God to the Pledge of Allegiance, the only controversy had to do with the competition for pride of place between the Republican senator and the Democratic Member of the House who introduced the legislation that made the change official. In the midst of America’s “Cold War” against “Godless Communism,” neither political party appeared to be preoccupied with the “separation of Church and State” now generally alleged to be a requirement of the United States Constitution.

We shouldn’t jump too quickly to the conclusion that the addition of the words was a sign of the times, however. In its 1948 decision in McCollum v. Board of Education, the United States Supreme Court addressed the alleged “separation of church and state” issue. In the case an atheist, Vashti McCollum, objected to the Champaign Board of Education decision to allow public school students to attend religious education classes, sponsored by a private association of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish people, and led by clergy and lay members of the association. The court ruled 8-1 in favor of McCollum.

Though later decisions are better-known to the general public (especially the school prayer decision), this was the case in which the SCOTUS first asserted the unconstitutional power to address the subject of religious establishment the First Amendment withholds from federal jurisdiction. As the federal government is forbidden to make law, there can be no power to dictate what the law is (which is, after all, the meaning of the term “jurisdiction.”)

In the decision he wrote for the majority, Justice Hugo Black asserted that “the First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its sphere.” It’s obvious from even a cursory reading of the First Amendment that Justice Black’s assertion has no basis in fact. The Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Given that language, what the U.S. Supreme Court should have done is acknowledge that, since the case in no way involved congressional action in violation of the Amendment’s prohibition, it had no jurisdiction to address the issue. The notion that the First Amendment allows the federal government to police state and local decisions in respect of the free exercise of religion assumes that the Constitution somewhere delegates the power to do so to the federal government. In fact, the First Amendment’s language withholds from the federal government any authority to make law “respecting” (in respect to, on the subject of, regarding) an establishment of religion.

At the time the people of the United States ratified the First Amendment, 10 of the 13 original states had laws in force “respecting an establishment of religion.” The First Amendment undeniably aims to prevent the federal government from interfering with such laws. The notion that the language of the 14th Amendment somehow amends or supersedes this aim finds no support in that article’s language. For it says plainly that “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. …”

The language of the First Amendment withholds from the federal government the power to make laws concerning religious establishment. It cannot permit. It cannot forbid. It cannot address the subject. The power to do so is therefore not among those delegated to the federal government. The 10th Amendment states that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states, respectively, or to the people.”

The power to address the subject of religious establishment, withheld from U.S. government by the First Amendment, is reserved by the 10th to the states, and the people of each state. In 1948, Illinois and its people therefore had the power to address the subject the First Amendment withholds from the U.S. government. It was and is constitutionally reserved to them. Therefore, it is among their belongings, a property of sovereign power left in their possession.

But the 14th Amendment forbids the states to “make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” The power to make law respecting an establishment of religion is “reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.” Each state is therefore obliged to refrain from enforcing law that abridges the privilege this reservation entails.

This logic entirely forbids the federal government, in any of its branches, lawfully to deal with the issues pertaining to the subject of religious establishment. It is entirely up to the states, respectively, and the people. When people appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court concerning issues regarding an establishment of religion, its only properly constitutional course has ever been to disclaim any power to address them. Every shred of SCOTUS jurisprudence that relies on the alleged “separation of church and state” dogma is thus a travesty of the Constitution. The only possible exception concerns the enforcement of the constitutional provision (Article VI.3) against requiring a religious test “as a qualification for any office or public trust under the United States.

States and people alike, aligned with different religious perspectives, are constitutionally invited to work together in the interest of the nation. But the nation as a whole is constitutionally forbidden to prohibit, persecute or otherwise by law interfere with the corporate and personal privilege of the people to govern themselves and their worship in the way established (i.e., grounded and built) upon their conscientious understanding of the Creator, God. And what people with the sense God gave them would fail to acknowledge, the authority that made liberty our privilege, and the self-government it obliges our sovereign national right? Only a law-abiding people duped into believing that the Supreme Law of the land requires this irreverent failure. Pray God the better angels of their good nature will carry far and wide the reasoning that proves this dogmatic separation of God from their self-government is a lie, as fatal to their self-government as it is to the good character required to sustain it.

Source:


  1.  George M. Docherty, One Way of Living (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1958) p. 158, “One Nation Under God.” See also “History,” New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (at: http://www.nyapc.org/history).
  2.  “History,” New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (at: http://www.nyapc.org/history). See also, Congressional Record (Volume 100 Session 2) p. 1700 Feb 12, 1954 “House Joint Resolutino 243 to Amend the Pledge of Allegiance to Include the Phrase ‘Under God’: Extension of Remarks of Hon. Louis C. Rabaut (at http://www.archive.org/stream/congressionalrec100aunit#page/n894/mode/1up).
  3.  Congressional Record, (Volume 100, Session 2) p.1697 Feb 12, 1954 “Abraham Lincoln: Extension of Remarks of Hon. Charles G. Oakman” (at:  http://www.archive.org/stream/congressionalrec100aunit#page/n892/mode/1up). See also George M. Docherty, One Way of Living (Harper & Brothers, New York, 1958) p. 164. See also Congressional Record (Volume 100 Session 2) p. 1700 Feb 12, 1954 “House Joint Resolutino 243 to Amend the Pledge of Allegiance to Include the Phrase ‘Under God’: Extension of Remarks of Hon. Louis C. Rabaut (at http://www.archive.org/stream/congressionalrec100aunit#page/n894/mode/1up).
  4.  Congressional Record, (Volume 100, Session 2) p.1522 Feb 8, 1954 (at:  http://www.archive.org/stream/congressionalrec100aunit#page/n803/mode/1up).
  5.  Congressional Record, (Volume 100, Session 2) p.1697 Feb 12, 1954 Abraham Lincoln: Extension of Remarks of Hon. Charles G. Oakman” (at:  http://www.archive.org/stream/congressionalrec100aunit#page/n892/mode/1up).
  6.  Congressional Record, (Volume 100, Session 2) p.1600 Feb 10, 1954 (at:  http://www.archive.org/stream/congressionalrec100aunit#page/n844/mode/1up).
  7.  Congressional Record, (Volume 100, Session 2) p.1600 Feb 10, 1954 “Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag” by Mr. Ferguson (at:  http://www.archive.org/stream/congressionalrec100aunit#page/n844/mode/1up).   See also Congressional Record, (Volume 100, Session 2) p.1601 Feb 10, 1954 “Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag” by Mr. Ferguson (at:  http://www.archive.org/stream/congressionalrec100aunit#page/n844/mode/1up).
  8.  Dwight D. Eisenhower: “Statement by the President Upon Signing Bill To Include the Words “Under God” in the Pledge to the Flag,” The American Presidency Project, June 14, 1954 (at: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=9920).

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