Weekly AG Newspaper Columns
Preserving the Pledge of Allegiance
Preserving the Pledge of Allegiance
By Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas
Half a century after Congress added the words "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised
to consider whether those words make it impermissible for children to recite the Pledge in our nation's public schools.
Michael Newdow, the man at the center of the case now before the Court, contends that requiring students to say the
words "under God" in the Pledge unconstitutionally establishes religion. An overwhelming majority of others, including
Texas and all other states, strongly disagrees.
The case, which originated in California, has obvious implications for every state. In a brief I submitted this week to
the Supreme Court, I argue on behalf of all 50 states that reciting "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance in public
schools is well within the confines of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In Texas, for example, schools
must teach students to be "thoughtful, active citizens who understand the importance of patriotism." One way school
districts are accomplishing that goal is by having students recite the Pledge of Allegiance once during each school day.
Yet, an adverse ruling from the Court would undermine that law and those of at least 42 other states that specifically
provide for public school children reciting the Pledge.
It's no secret that many of the founders of our nation and state not only believed in God, but also sought Divine
guidance in fashioning our system of government. That they chronicled this reliance on God stands to reason, and it
explains why so many of our historical documents, speeches and even architecture acknowledge God in one way or another.
The Declaration of Independence alone contains four references to God, including its unambiguous statement that all
persons are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." Likewise, the Texas Constitution begins by
"invoking the blessings of Almighty God."
The Pledge of Allegiance, too, is part of our common heritage. After an early form first appeared in a youth publication
in 1892, the Pledge grew in acceptance and changed form until Congress officially adopted it in 1942. Twelve years later,
Congress changed it once more, inserting the phrase "under God" to make the Pledge more reflective of the nation's character.
Congressional committee reports from the time of the 1954 amendment echo the Declaration of Independence, noting that
our government recognizes the importance of each person as being "endowed by [God] with certain inalienable rights
which no civil authority may usurp." The addition of "under God" meant the Pledge was not the first, but simply the
latest, historical and patriotic acknowledgment of our nation's undeniable religious heritage.
I am encouraged by the fact that virtually every reference to the Pledge of Allegiance by the Supreme Court and by at
least 12 individual justices over the decades has agreed the Pledge is entirely consistent with the First Amendment.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, for example, expressed her view in 1985's Wallace v. Jaffree that the reference to God
in the Pledge of Allegiance "serve[s] as an acknowledgment of religion with ‘the legitimate secular purposes of
solemnizing public occasions, [and] expressing confidence in the future.' " Even Justice William Brennan, one of
the Court's more liberal members, admitted in the 1963 case School District of Abington Township v. Schempp that "[t]he
reference to divinity in the revised pledge of allegiance . . . may merely recognize the historical fact that our Nation
was believed to have been founded ‘under God.' "
The Court clearly has acknowledged a key distinction between government-sponsored religious ceremony or display, and
simple historical and patriotic recognition of religion by government institutions. To be certain, there are others like
Mr. Newdow – a self-described atheist – who do not see themselves as personally "under God." The U.S. Constitution
protects their right not to believe in God, just as it safeguards others who choose to do so. But that is not the issue
here. Ultimately, what is at stake in preserving the Pledge in its current form is whether our school children will
continue to be taught the truth that acknowledgment of God is woven just as tightly into our nation's fabric as are
the other elements of our heritage.
Information on this and other topics is available on the Attorney General's Web site at www.oag.state.tx.us.