Recent court and legislative decisions have fueled the debate over separation of church and state.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stunned nearly everyone when it ruled “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional. “They have just gone way too far,” said Delegate Marian VanLandingham. “I remember when those words were added and can’t see that there is a real problem here. I think that we have far more significant things to worry about than this.”
The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the “new world.” As part of the Massachusetts State Education Board, Bellamy was charged with organizing the state’s Columbus Day celebration.
He decided to craft a pledge that school children would say aloud in front of the flag—a pledge that would reflect his socialist beliefs. The first version read, “I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Bellamy considered using the word equality but changed his mind because some of his fellow Board members objected to equal rights for women and African-Americans.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower added the phrase “under God” in 1954. “These words will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded,” Eisenhower said at the time.
Bellamy, a Baptist minister, would not have approved of Eisenhower’s change to his pledge. He was forced to leave his Boston church in 1891 because of his socialist-oriented sermons.
US CONGRESSMAN James P. Moran, (D-8) believes that the Pledge should remain as it is. “The Pledge of Allegiance is an integral part of a child’s education and our American way of life as is the freedom to worship as we wish,” Moran said. “The Pledge, however, is not a prayer or religious practice and recitation of the pledge is not a religious exercise and does not prohibit support or infer government preference of one religion over another.” Moran said.
Cathy David lives in Mt. Vernon and is an elementary school principal in Alexandria. “Saying the Pledge of Allegiance is a regular part of our daily routine,” she said. “We have a very multicultural school and I have had no complaints.”
The courts’ ruling has been appealed.
WHILE THE NINTH CIRCUIT COURT was banishing God from the Pledge of Allegiance, the Virginia General Assembly was passing a law that requires “In God We Trust” to be “prominently displayed” in all public school buildings.
“The governor tried to insert an amendment that would have required the State to pay for this but it was defeated,” said Delegate Marian Van Landingham. “Many of us just saw this as another piece of pseudo legislation and figured we weren’t going to argue about it because we had more important issues to consider.”
The Family Policy Network has volunteered to produce posters with the required verbiage for use in all of Virginia's schools. “I have received an e-mail with a replica of what the poster is going to look like but we haven’t gotten the posters yet,” said Paul Regnier, the director of public information for the Fairfax County Public School system.
“In the meantime, we have instructed principals to make hand-written signs and post them on the walls. The law took effect yesterday so we didn’t want to wait for the posters.”