Autopsy of the Pledge of Allegiance

Looking Forward: The Pledge in the Twentieth Century

<a href="/items/browse?advanced%5B0%5D%5Belement_id%5D=50&advanced%5B0%5D%5Btype%5D=is+exactly&advanced%5B0%5D%5Bterms%5D=Francis+Bellamy+Pledge+Salute">Francis Bellamy Pledge Salute</a>

Students reciting the Pledge using Bellamy's original salute.

1924 - 1953: Expansion

The period after World War I, during the Great Depression, World War II, and into the early years of the Cold War, focused primarily on the spread of the flag code, with the main emphasis at the local level.  Although there was some opposition to making the pledge part of the public school curriculum,this opposition was countered with strong organizational backing from schools, government, and private organizations ranging from the Boy Scouts of America to even the Ku Klux Klan

On June 3rd, 1940 the court case Minersville School District v. Gobitis  determined that students could be expelled if they refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This was before the flag code was made into official law. Two years after Minersville v. Gobitis, a joint Congressional resolution established the U.S Flag Code as the law of the land. The law set rules for use and display of the flag, conduct during the playing of the national anthem, and the words of the Pledge of Allegiance to be recited. 

The decision in Minersville v. Gobitis was essentially overturned in 1943 in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. The 1943 case ruled that children could not be forced to recite the Pledge, but ruling included no provision for making students aware that it was in fact optional.

Further change would come to the Pledge in the 1950s, as the Cold War's fight against "godless Communism" added new possibilities to the ritual of the Pledge. The changes began with a few recitations by the Sons of the American Revolution and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization, who first added the words "Under God" to the Pledge. This change ignited a movement that soon came before Congress in 1953.

1954 - 1999: Reaffirmation

The official campagin to add the words "Under God" to the pledge began with a 1952 campaign by the Hearst newspaper chain, supported as well by the Knights of Columbus. 

After the first few bills failed, the campaign the campaign gained traction with a few U.S. senators in 1954, before being passed also by the House of Representatives. On June 14, 1954, President Eisenhower signed the law adding the words "Under God" to the pledge.

The addition of "Under God" presented a few problems for those who disagreed with the change. First, to reference "God" in a national pledge introduced religion into an otherwise secular pledge. Second, the concept of the nation as under any god could be seen to violate the principle of  separation of church and state. Third, to have students recite "under God" at school would teach an incorrect understanding of American ideals, as far as the separation was concerned.

In the decades that followed, the ruling has been challenged in court numerous times, but opposition to "under God" has always been shot down.In 1963, Abington v. Schempp ruled that reciting the pledge was not a religious exercise. 1983, Marsh v. Chambers ruled that "Under God" does not violate the establishment clause of the first amendment. And in 1985, Wallace v. Jaffree ruled again that "Under God" was not unconstitutional.

In 1999, the Pledge made its way from the classroom into governmental practice, when the U.S. Senate instated pledge recitation each day following the chaplain's prayer at the outset of congressional session.

2000 - Present: Reanalyzation

The Pledge of Allegiance came under a barrage of attacks from new court cases in the beginning of the 21st century. Most prominently, Michael Newdow argued in the 2002 case "Newdow v. United States Congress, Elk Grove Unified School District, et al" that the words "under God" violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit Court declared, to everyone's shock, that the pledge was an "impermissable government endorsement of religion", and thereby  unconstitutional. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court, but not before other branches of government weighed in on the matter.

During and in the wake of the case, all branches of the U.S. government worked to strengthen the pledge as currently worded. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed a bill supporting the "Under God" in the Pledge which referenced the phrase as a "national motto". The legislative branch took more action than just approving the President's bill; in 2003, the U.S Senate officially declared support for the pledge in a 94-0 vote. That same year, the House of Representatives passed a resolution in favor of overturning of the Newdow decision by a vote of 400 to 7. Finally, in 2004, the Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Court's order on the grounds that Newdow did not have standing to bring the initial suit, because he did not have custody of his daughter, on whose behalf the original lawsuit had rested. 

Next, the Pledge Protection Act passed in 2006, which held that lower courts must respect the Federal courts in certain cases and controversies involving the Pledge of Allegiance. Newdow renewed his suit, but this time it did not make it apast the 9th Circuit Court. A 2013 challenge was also dismissed swiftly by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which held that the pledge does not discriminate against non-religious students.