By David Waters
Vandals inserted the words “Under God” into the original phrase from the Pledge of Allegiance — “One Nation Indivisible” — displayed on a billboard in North Carolina.
Wait. Didn’t Congress already do that in 1954?
Okay, there was a difference. Back in 1954, Congress legally inserted the words “Under God” into the original Pledge written in 1892 by a Baptist minister. This time, vandals with spray paint defaced private property — inserting the two words on a billboard placed along a highway named for famous Baptist evangelist Billy Graham.
On the other hand, many civil libertarians argue that what Congress did in 1954 defaced the secular spirit of the Pledge as well as the U.S. Constitution’s attempt to keep government out of the religion business.
And you have to admit that what the vandals did in North Carolina was clever and relatively respectful, considering that the billboard was placed along Billy Graham Parkway by a coalition of atheists and agnostics.
William Warren of Charlotte Atheists & Agnostics said the coalition plans to restore the billboard to its original intent. “We’re doing this to raise the consciousness of the people of North Carolina,” Warren told the Associated Press. “We want to let them know that not everybody here is religious. There are atheists in North Carolina, and we expect to be recognized and treated like everybody else.”
Meanwhile, the original intent of what Congress did in 1954 remains in dispute.
In 1954, President Eisenhower said that adding “Under God” to the Pledge was a symbol of “the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.” But last March, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that “we find the pledge is one of allegiance to our Republic, not of allegiance to God or to any religion.”
If the Pledge conveys the same meaning with or without the words “Under God,” why bother adding or erasing them?