Atheist group responds to school that apologized for omitting “under God” from pledge

Below is the text of a letter the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s Andrew L. Seidel sent to Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools Superintendent Dr. Teri Staloch addressing a high school’s apology for leaving “under God” out of the pledge on Monday. The letter can be viewed here.

Screenshot of the school's apology
Screenshot of the school’s apology

Dear Dr. Staloch:

I am writing on behalf of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) concerning a recent apology PLSAS made after the Pledge of Allegiance at Prior Lake High School omitted the words “under God” on January 5.

FFRF is a national nonprofit organization with more than 23,000 nonreligious members across the country, including 500 members in Minnesota. We protect the constitutional separation between state and church and educate the public about matters of nontheism.

The full text of the apology, appearing on the PLSAS Facebook page reads as follows:

A mistake was made in the reading of the Pledge of Allegiance this morning at Prior Lake High School, and the phrase “under God” was unintentionally left out. The reader got distracted, which resulted in the mistake. The Pledge will continue to be recited each week in its entirety, as it has been for the past several years.

We write to remind the PLSAS that this theistic phrase was not in the original pledge, is controversial, and excludes or alienates a sizeable portion of the student population.

Francis Bellamy wrote the original pledge in 1892. Bellamy was a Baptist minister who thought the pledge complete without references to his personal god. More than 60 years later “one nation, indivisible” was literally divided by god: “one nation, under God, indivisible.” The truant insertion came during the height of the McCarthy era, when fear and distrust allowed Congress to impose a majoritian religious view on all Americans. It falsely equates piety with patriotism. Our godless and entirely secular Constitution bars any religious test for public office; there should likewise be no religious test imposed on students for receiving their education.



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The pledge without the truant theism. This hangs on the wall at FFRF headquarters.
The pledge without the truant theism. This hangs on the wall at FFRF headquarters.

This phrase, because it entails a monotheistic belief, has been the subject of much litigation and increasing controversy—students are reluctant to violate their conscience by pledging to a deity in which they do not believe. As you may know, the Supreme Court ruled over 70 years ago that compelling a student to recite the pledge and salute the flag infringes upon a student’s First Amendment rights. See W. Va. Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). The court eloquently noted:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us. Id. at 642.

More and more Americans are leaving religion and god behind. Overall, 23% Americans identify as nonreligious.[1] That 8 point increase since 2007[2] and 15 point jump since 1990 makes the “Nones” the fastest growing identification in America.[3]  Nationally, about 35% of millennials—born after 1981, i.e., your students—are nonreligious.[4]

“Under God” in the pledge is outdated and it alienates those nonreligious students. It should be left out of the pledge, without apology.

Sincerely,

Andrew L. Seidel
Freedom From Religion Foundation
Staff Attorney

 

[1] America’s Changing Religious Landscape, Pew Research Center (May 12, 2015), available at www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/.

[2] “Nones on the Rise: One-in-Five Adults Have No Religious Affiliation,” Pew Research Center, The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (October 9, 2012) available at http://www.pewforum.org/Unaffiliated/nones-on-the-rise.aspx

[3] Barry Kosmin, National Religious Identification Survey 1989-1990.

[4] Id. 

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