There are a number of reasons for people to be uncomfortable with the Pledge of Allegiance, including, according to an atheist Acton couple, the words "under God," which to them imply that only believers are patriotic. On behalf of their three children, they have asked the state Supreme Judicial Court to ban the daily practice of reciting the pledge in schools.

The words "under God" were not in the pledge until 1954 when the U.S. Congress voted to add them in the middle of the Red Scare that was then poisoning discourse in Washington, D.C., and the nation. The words were included to further differentiate the United States from atheistic Communists during this time of Cold War paranoia, and to challenge this proposal was to risk being called a "fellow traveler," which at that time was a career-ending label. Not surprisingly, the additional words were added without challenge.

This was not a good reason to change the pledge, and it could be argued that it made the pledge even more jingoistic than it already was. Does pledging allegiance to the United States mean knee-jerk support of malevolent enterprises like the invasion of Iraq? The words seem to state so, but Americans don’t feel legally bound to the pledge and remain free to dissent. It is easy enough to stand for the pledge and show respect just as it is easy enough to stand for the singing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at ballgames even though the lyrics endorse violent military action.


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Similarly, the presence of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, in spite of its wrong-headed political motivation, does no harm to the Acton couple’s children or anyone else. The same goes for the references to God seen throughout Massachusetts and U.S. documents and on courthouses and other public buildings.

Three years ago, a Massachusetts judge correctly ruled in response to a lawsuit brought by the Acton couple that the words "under God" do not "convert the exercise into a prayer." Should the SJC rule otherwise it would unleash a blizzard of other God-related lawsuits inevitable in a litigious society where lawsuits are often brought not because injury has been inflicted but because somebody simply doesn’t care for the way things are done. It’s unlikely that the SJC will make that mistake.