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Family sues over 'under God' in Pledge of Allegiance

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A New Jersey family is suing its local school district demanding that the words "under God" be removed from the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The suit alleges that including "under God" discriminates against atheists, which violates New Jersey's constitution. The suit states that it "publicly disparages plaintiffs' religious beliefs, calls plaintiffs' patriotism into question, and forces [the child] to choose between non-participation in a patriotic exercise or participation in a patriotic exercise that is invidious to him and his religious class."

The suit was filed in conjunction with the American Humanist Association.

The family has chosen to remain anonymous, fearing reprisals from the resentful.

Most people supporting the Pledge in its current guise know very little about its origin or its author. The Pledge was written by Francis Bellamy – a Christian socialist. Christian socialism became the driving religious force in 19th century America. It was based on scripture that stressed charity, helping the poor, and social justice. They typically saw capitalism to be idolatrous and rooted in greed, which they considered to be a mortal sin.

The movement manifested itself everywhere in the 19th century: In the writing of Charles Dickens, the founding of the Salvation Army and soup kitchens and in the abolitionist movement. John Brown, for example, was a deeply religious man who believed his fight against slavery was in direct consonance with Biblical teachings. Christian socialists opposed child labor, supported public education, fair wages and backed union movements.

Bellamy never included a reference to any god in his pledge. And ironically, it was written for capitalistic purposes. In 1891, a magazine publisher had begun a campaign to sell American flags to public schools as a premium to solicit subscriptions.

A year later, some 26,000 schools had bought American flags but the market for flags was slowing down even though it was hardly saturated. The publisher hit upon the idea of using the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus reaching the Americas to give the schoolhouse flag movement a new push. The magazine called for a national Columbian Public School Celebration to coincide with the World's Columbian Exposition (also known as The Chicago World's Fair). A flag salute and pledge recitation was to be part of the official program for the Columbus Day celebration to be held in schools all over America.

So the pledge was actually part of a marketing ploy to sell flags, not salute them, let alone honor the country – at least as far as the publisher was concerned. That salute was replaced with a hand-over-heart gesture during World War II (because before snapping a salute, the original form involved stretching the arm out towards the flag first, which, for some, resembled the Nazi salute).

The original pledge was as follows: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

No "god" in there.

The word "god" was inserted by Congress in 1954, with something Congress had perfected long before: The empty symbolic gesture. They decided that by inserting the word "god" in the Pledge, it would be a fantastic response to the perceived threat of Communism, because them folks were godless commies.

Bellamy's original text was revised on a couple of occasions, most notably, the adding of our nation's name, the United States of America. You can see that version stated in the 1939 Porky Pig cartoon "Old Glory," in which Porky struggles to memorize the Pledge. By cartoon's end, he has it down, complete with the salute, not the hand-over-heart gesture (and 48 stars on the flag). He does not say the word "god." He says:

"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

In another ironic twist, you can find this cartoon in full on a website called "GodTube," which uses videos to preach about Christian values. The irony, of course, is that the video doesn't mention the word "god." And neither did the original Pledge.

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