Support for keeping "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is popular in America. Even some atheists, as well as normally staunch defenders of secularism and church/state separation, question whether it's necessary or appropriate to remove "under God" from the Pledge. A variety of arguments and claims are offered by apologists for the current Pledge of Allegiance, all of which fail. Either they ignore the basic arguments of critics or they are historically and factually inaccurate. The best defenses and justifications for keeping "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance offer no good reasons not to get rid of it.
It's Traditional to have "Under God" in the Pledge of AllegianceTradition is one of the most popular arguments in defense of any violation of the separation of church and state. Some seem to believe that violations of church/state separation are somehow rendered constitutional so long as the government is able to get away with it for long enough. In effect this would create a statute of limitations on violations of the Constitution, a situation that would not be accepted in any other situation. Who would allow government violations of free speech or the Fourth Amendment simply because it's "tradition"? Even if this were a legitimate excuse, though, the phrase "under God" was only added to the Pledge in 1954; a Pledge without "under God" is, if anything, an older tradition.
Pledge of Allegiance is Not About Recognizing Historical BeliefsApologists try to claim that today "under God" merely expresses the fact of America's religious heritage, but that isn't why it was placed there in the first place and it's certainly not why the Christian Right fights so hard for it today. The Pledge of Allegiance is not a historical artifact that is kept around to remind of our past; instead, it is an active statement of patriotism which expresses a promise of loyalty to the nation as well as to the ideals which the nation is supposed to create. The Pledge of Allegiance is about what sort of nation we want to have, not about the personal beliefs which citizens in the past happened to hold. Why should the government tell us to want a nation that is "under God"?
Phrase "Under God" is Not a Sentiment that Encompasses AllSometimes apologists for the phrase "under God" argue that it's a sentiment that is inclusive of all Americans, not a divisive statement of religious faith. These apologists are essentially saying that belief that we are all "under God" applies everyone and that no one fails to believe that America is under God. This would mean that other theists who believe in different gods or a different conception of God as well as atheists who don't believe in any gods really think that America is "under God." That's just absurd. The phrase was not added to the Pledge of Allegiance to encompass all Americans and it does not magically do so today. It always was and remains today a divisive religious statement.
Pledge of Allegiance is Not About Freedom of SpeechSome argue that whether or not one says "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is a matter of free speech and therefore atheists are trying to infringe on free speech by taking it out of the official Pledge. It would be generous to call this an incoherent argument. No atheist wants to deny the right of any individual to voluntarily insert "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, just as they can insert "under Jesus" or "under Allah" if they choose. It's the official government declaration that the Pledge include "under God" which atheists challenge and government actions are not protected by First Amendment free speech jurisprudence. A secular pledge without any gods is the only one which a secular government should be supporting.
Pledge of Allegiance is Not About Simply Mentioning God in the Public SquareMany Christians lament an alleged problem with talking about or even mentioning God in the "public square." They give the impression that individuals are being oppressed, but in reality they can and do talk about their god and their religion as much as they want. What is opposed are official government statements in support of any gods or religious beliefs. Removing "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance would not prevent anyone from mentioning God in public, nor would it make that more difficult. It would only stop the government from supporting the bigoted idea that belief in a particular sort of god is connected with patriotism or citizenship.
Pledge of Allegiance is Not Just a Voluntary ExerciseSome apologists for the phrase "under God" point out that no one is forced to say it, so it can't be unconstitutional. This fails on several levels. The government is not prohibited only from doing things which involve force; students could at one time leave classes rather than participate in Bible reading and prayer, but those practices were unconstitutional. Students who leave out the phrase or don't say the Pledge at all can be harassed and bullied. Adults like Rep. Jim McDermott who leave out "under God" are attacked mercilessly by the same conservatives who insist that no one is forced to say it. Replacing government force with mob pressure and violence cannot make the phrase "under God" moral or constitutional.
Pledge of Allegiance is Not a Minor, Unimportant MatterA popular objection to lawsuits against the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is that the issue is relatively unimportant. Such an objection tacitly acknowledges that the legal and moral arguments of critics are basically correct, but objects that it's not an issue worth fighting over. Unfortunately, it's rarely explained why removing the phrase “under God” isn’t an issue worth fighting for. Some say that it is merely a symbol and not substantive, but that idea strikes me as silly at best, dangerously naive at worst. It’s absurd to think that symbols aren’t important and aren’t worth fighting for. Moreover, if the issue really were unimportant, why do Christian Nationalists fight so hard and get so anxious over it?
Opponents of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance Have Thin Skin
In the past, Christian social and political power made it harder to minorities to object to Christian privilege
and discrimination; today, people are more likely to realize that the injustice of this discrimination can be remedied. It isn't "thin skin" for a blacks or Jews to object to being told that they are inferior or less patriotic because of their skin color or religion. Why should atheists keep quiet when they are told that being patriotic and even being an American is something they should be excluded from? Why should atheists keep quiet when schools are used to indoctrinate children into the idea that they should all believe in God and that America is a place for people who trust in God?
Saying "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is HarmlessWould apologists for the Pledge consider it "harmless" if the government said that we should pledge allegiance to "One Nation under Jesus" or "One White Nation"? Most would regard that as harmful, but then the people being harmed would be non-Christians and non-whites. It's acceptable to object when they are being harmed; when it's non-theists who are being harmed, that's OK. Not even all atheists can be counted to object to atheists being harmed. Would Christians feel harmed if they had to recite "under Buddha"? Yes. Would Muslims feel harmed if they had to recite "under Jesus"? Yes. Would Jews feel harmed if they had to recite "under Odin"? The harm is the same: a government declaration that you are inferior and/or less patriotic.
Challenging the Pledge of Allegiance Will Not Make Atheists More Unpopular
Other atheists sometimes argue that we should avoid angering religious theists by objecting to how the Pledge of Allegiance promotes their religion and denigrates atheists. Apparently, atheists are better off if they keep their heads down and not make waves. This claim doesn't argue that the legal and moral objections to "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are wrong, just that religious theists will hate atheists even more. It's the same argument as saying that so-called "New Atheists
" make things worse with public, unapologetic criticisms of religion and theism. There is no evidence for this, though, and given how much atheists are already distrusted — in part because of things like the Pledge — the reality is arguably the opposite.
Pledge of Allegiance is Not Challenged Solely by Atheists
Many miss the fact that isn't not just secular atheists who object to the phrase "under God." When Michael Newdow
filed his original lawsuit, supporting briefs were filed by both Buddhist and Jewish organizations. There have also been Christians who agree that the Pledge of Allegiance has been transformed into a religious pledge and that this is both illegitimate and immoral. Jehovah's Witnesses have been persecuted for refusing to say the Pledge. It's been convenient, though, for supporters of "under God" to ignore or even deny that these groups exist and focus instead solely on atheists. They are relying on anti-atheist bigotry and encouraging anti-atheist bigotry to support an official government expression of anti-atheist bigotry.
Removing "Under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance Does Not Endorse Atheism
The worst argument on behalf of keeping "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance has to be the claim that leaving God out of the Pledge would mean endorsing atheism. First, this implicitly acknowledges that the Pledge of Allegiance currently endorses a type of theism. Either that's just as bad (and the person should support atheists' effort), or only endorsing atheism is bad (and the person is a bigot). Moreover, the absence of something does not indicate that the opposite is being promoted. The absence of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance could no more promote atheism
than the absence of "under Jesus" could promote anti-Christian sentiments or even just non-Christian beliefs.