Saturday will mark 60 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower legally added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.
For many, those extra words, repeated millions of times by schoolchildren and adults, have been a source of pride and reflect part of the nation’s rich heritage. For others, the phrase has stirred controversy.
The inclusion of “under God” holds great meaning to members of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization. In the early 1950s, the national organization sought to add the words and for a few years petitioned the nation’s president, vice president and every member of Congress.
The pledge itself was officially recognized by the U.S. Congress in 1942. It was written by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy to celebrate Columbus Day in 1892 as well as the Chicago World’s Fair.
The wording was tweaked over the years until the president’s action in 1954. Eisenhower later wrote the Knights a letter thanking them for their efforts in the change.
An atheist, Dr. Michael Newdow, filed a lawsuit over the pledge in 2002. His daughter was a student in a California school that recited the pledge each morning. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the pledge violated the First Amendment. At a higher court level, Newdow lost on a technicality, as it was ruled he didn’t have legal standing to file the case on behalf of his daughter. He tried twice again and lost in 2010 and 2011 as courts ruled the pledge constitutional.
Even today, not all agree the language is appropriate. Sarah Jones speaks for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State in Washington.
“The phrase (under God) is a relic of the Cold War,” Jones said. “Eisenhower added the phrase ‘under God’ to the pledge in a misguided attempt to distinguish America from its allegedly godless Soviet nemesis. Now, the phrase has the potential to be unnecessarily divisive.”