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One Nation Under...Who?

One Nation Under...Who?

Sarah Krinsky.JPGWe can do it on autopilot. For some, the words no longer mean anything, the intonations come out automatically. No matter what time, no matter what age, no matter what state, many Americans can instantly and accurately recite the famous Pledge of Allegiance without a blink of an eye or a moment of thought. Yet a recent scandal involving a video introducing the US Open brought to consciousness once again the presence of the words "under God" in this ubiquitous American mantra.

The original pledge did not contain this controversial phrase. Written in 1892, and intended to be recited in under 15 seconds, it simply read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It wasn't until 1954 that the fourth and final round of changes introduced the words "under God" to the pledge, with then-President Eisenhower giving the following Cold War-esque justification: "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 and war."

prayer_room_glass_sm.jpgUnfortunately, the story isn't such a simple tale of patriotic victory. The 1950s was a time of incredible religious revival, and the church/state barrier--so crucial to the very essence of our country--began to be chipped away at ever so slowly. The effects on American public life were wide-reaching. A prayer room was created in the Capitol (look left for a picture of the stained glass window in the room). The words "In God We Trust" showed up on our paper bills. A Constitutional amendment declaring that Americans obeyed the "authority and law of Jesus Christ" was introduced in Congress, though it didn't make it out of committee.

Though some of these occurrences may seem as natural to us as the monotonous recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance, and although the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld many of them as permissible under the Constitution, I believe they threaten the spirit of separation of church and state enshrined in our Constitution. And while it might not seem like a huge deal that each day Congress begins with a prayer, freedom not just of religion, but also from religion is a vital cornerstone of our democratic values. We must continue to fight for the religious freedom to which we are all entitled, and to realize that the little things can, and often do, really count.

And who knows? Maybe one day we really can become a nation that provides "liberty and justice to all," regardless of religious belief.

Sarah Krinsky is a participant in the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action program, interning at DC Lawyers for Youth.

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