Two words make all the difference

Sept. 12, 2002, midnight | By KC Costanzo | 21 years, 9 months ago

The debate over "under God” in the pledge

Popular magazines put out articles every day that get passionate responses from readers around the country. In the late 1800s, The Youth's Companion put out an item that would also receive its fair share of responses, but what differentiates it from the rest is that it is still getting a great deal of attention today as it would eventually become the Pledge of Allegiance.

Since the pledge's first printing, it has undergone a few changes, most notably the addition of the words "under God" in 1954. In June, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that these words make the pledge unconstitutional because they are an "endorsement of religion." The decision has kicked off intense debate that won't be resolved until well after the appeals process has been completed most likely several years in the future.

In school today, the pledge gets a mixed response from students. Some have expressed support for the patriotic exercise while others regard it as offensive. Junior Sean Danus recites the pledge every day out of appreciation for the United States. "I say the pledge because this country's been good to me," he says. "I might as well give a little respect."

Chris Mulligan, also a junior, feels differently. While he does stand, he has difficulty getting past the words. "I stand because I respect the country and what it stands for," he explains, "but I don't say it because I disagree with the words."

Blair's administration asks students to stand during the pledge each morning but actually repeating the words is another matter. Principal Phillip Gainous encourages students to rise out of consideration. "We have people here from all over the world and if they don't want to say it that's fine," he says with a shrug. "It's just like if you go to another country; you respect their pledge but don't necessarily say it."

Given the opinions held prior to the court ruling, it is not surprising that students were divided on the issue of the words "under God" as well. Some have strongly disagreed with the ruling and are among what informal polls done by many websites, such as and, have shown to be the majority. Danus opposes the decision and says the words are now part of US culture. "I think it'd be stupid to change it because it's well accepted in our society except for a bunch of atheists who are trying to start [trouble]," he says with a trace of annoyance. "Our parents have been saying it well before us and it's just customary now."

Junior Christian Brown does not like having the words "under God" in the pledge and he does not mutter the words to it with the rest of the class, but he agrees with Danus that declaring the pledge unconstitutional is wrong. "I don't think outlawing the pledge in schools is a solution," he says firmly. "It seems to me that either the pledge should be fixed, or students should really be allowed to not participate."

On the other hand others have embraced the verdict. People have taken issue with the words "under God" largely on the basis that they breach the establishment clause of the First Amendment which states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Mulligan felt that the two out of three judges who voted the pledge unconstitutional were in the right for just this reason. "I think it was the correct choice because it does in fact violate the First Amendment and the separation of church and state," he explains calmly. "It's been infringing on the rights of millions of students for years."

While he believes the words should be left in the pledge, Gainous acknowledges the validity of the opposing viewpoint. "While those folks are in the minority," he says, "I still think they have a right to have their view heard."

Indeed, while some like Danus believe that taking up court time for a ruling on two words was a waste, many agree with Gainous. Vice-principal Linda Wanner says that while there are several issues more important than "sticking [two words] in the pledge or taking [them] out," the government is set up to handle more than one problem at a time. "I think that the country is big enough and great enough that it can look at several issues at once," she says.

Brown explains that while there is a need for the country to come together after the events of September 11, 2001, it is important not to ignore the basic principles of the nation. "Yes," he says, "the US should be showing unity, but only in a manner which supports freedom, including the freedom to not worship a god."

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KC Costanzo. Keith "KC" Costanzo is one of the brand-spanking-new editors-in-chief of <i>Silver Chips Online</i>. His responsibilities include maintaining the journalistic integrity of the paper and making sure no one spontaneously combusts due to the stress of deadlines. KC enjoys late night frisbee games and long hours … More »

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