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Divided Under God
By Scott Nicholson

The flap over flag allegiance is not only about the words “one nation under God.”

The word that follows is perhaps just as vulnerable to change by those who see the country’s guiding documents as a way to promote religious, political or moral agendas: “indivisible.”

It is rare that we as a nation are united in our mutual opinions on anything. The closest in recent memory was the near-universal condemnation of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

A Federal Court of Appeals ruling temporarily and theoretically suspends the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. While at least one U.S. citizen, the one who brought forth the civil challenge, feels those words are an unfair and un-Constitutional imposition on personal liberty, the majority of Americans, particularly its politicians, were quick to attack and criticize the ruling of our own court system.

Often lost in the rush to be seen wrapped in the red, white and blue is that the original pledge did not contain the words “under God.” The words were inserted by Congress in 1954, and no one has claimed that freedom, national strength or personal religious views were harmed by the lack of those words in all the years preceding 1954.

The original pledge was drafted by an educator named Francis Bellamy in 1892, and spread to other educators who used it in public schools. His version pledged allegiance to “my flag and (to) the republic for which it stands.” At a national conference in the 1920’s, the words were somehow changed to say “the flag of the United States of America.” The U.S. Government stepped in 20 years after that and “officially” recognized the pledge. The next year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public school children could not be forced to recite it.

The average reasonable person can assume that the God referred to in 1954’s updated version is a God of each person’s personal belief. That individual belief, or the lack of it, is the most important personal freedom each person has. People in certain other countries are routinely jailed or killed if they don’t embrace the “God” or “Maker” recognized by the official state religion. The varying sects, denominations, and belief systems are only important to those who clamor that theirs is the “only” or “correct” religion.

Ours is a nation of individuality. Our strength and greatness derive from our ability to recognize that we are united in our desire to be free. In a free country, we should be indivisible by our mutual freedom of expression. No matter where we stand on any issue, most of us are willing to accept that the next person has a right to a different opinion.
The words “under God” will be restored, make no mistake. The next court will rule that the words are not overly harmful to even a non-believer, as long as that person is not forced to recite or accept the doctrine.

The very fact that we have the debate is evidence of democracy’s vigorous health. It doesn’t matter how loudly you shout from the steps of the Capitol Building, which church you attend, or how often you must remain silent when others around you are praying to something in which you don’t believe. In the end, you alone face your God.

If you believe in God, no one can take that away from you, no matter what decree is handed down by a court or legislature, no matter what name your God goes by. Likewise, if you don’t believe, then it’s doubtful that you’ll have a change of heart merely because a judge think it’s a good idea.

Those two words that may or may not be erased from the pledge are not the most important in preserving our national dignity and spirit. The most crucial words, as usual, are left to the very end: “With liberty and justice for all.”

Not the one. Not the few. Not the many. For all.

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