You’d think that in a case set up to decide once and for all the constitutionality of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Supreme Court would have cleared up whether the separation of church and state extends to religious references in general.
It wasn’t meant to be. Ruling in a unanimous 8-0 decision, the Court decided to leave the issue for another day, stating only that the father cannot sue on his child’s behalf–only the custodial mother has that right, and the final say in such decisions.
But even though the Court did not rule specifically on the constitutionality of the Pledge, Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote in the majority decision that “[t]he phrase ‘under God’ in the pledge seems, as a historical matter, to sum up the attitude of the nation’s leaders.”
He continued: “Examples of patriotic invocations of God and official acknowledgements of religion’s role in our nation’s history abound.”
A quick look at history clears up any confusion.
Although our Founding Fathers decreed in the Constitution a separation of church and state, if their message were absolutely exclusionary, it sure was lost on America at the time. Indeed, many of the original states had official religions. The federal government, in an attempt to remove the new America from the trap of England’s Church, would carry no specific requirement.
Justice O’Connor expanded on this idea.
“Certain ceremonial references to God and religion in our nation are the inevitable consequence of the religious history that gave birth to our founding principles of liberty,” she wrote separately.
Although the phrase was added to the Pledge in 1954, no child is required to recite it due to a 1943 Supreme Court ruling involving Jehovah’s Witnesses.