I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The Pledge of Allegiance is repeated daily in many U.S. institutions and alludes to the existence of a God, along with our country’s motto: “In God We Trust.” In a secular nation, how has such a contentious entity become ingrained in the framework of our government?
The easy answer is that Judeo-Christian ideals are embedded into the U.S. Constitution and, as such, remain a pertinent point of reference in legal precedent and policy. This becomes a huge problem when the idea of a monotheistic — specifically Abrahamic — God is normalized through constant media exposure, symbolism, canonical text, and ritual.
“In God We Trust” is engraved in stone in the House Chamber — where the entire nation often tunes in to hear the State of the Union and other such formal addresses. Take out any U.S. paper money and find the same words inscribed. The word “God” is pervasive, and understanding its implications is crucial to realizing the influence of Christianity on our “secular” government, society, and public and private lives.
It is often necessary in research to trace ideologies back from whence they were adopted, and so, to begin a discourse on religious symbolism in the United States, the religious history of the country must be examined. When the Puritans arrived in the 1620s to establish colonies, they carried with them a separatist brand of religion — but a brand of Christianity nonetheless. In 1779, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg,” but words are trivial compared to the hegemonic notions set in place even years before our constitution was signed.
No Establishment Clause can ensure religious freedom when other basic freedoms are not afforded to all citizens. Anthropologist Talal Asad asserts that we are not living in a direct-access society, and, as such, liberty belongs only to those in power, according to hegemony.