Under God

Why we keep tripping over that fine line between church and state

Why we keep tripping over that fine line between church and state

July 09, 2002|by Jessica Hanlin

The 1st amendment - every teenager's best friend. Under this, everyone is guaranteed freedom of speech, press, assembly, petitioning and religion.

It seems simple enough. Wrong. For every action that someone commits, trying to use the constitution as their protection, there is someone who will claim the same action violates their constitutional rights.

So in the case of the Pledge of Allegiance, where exactly is that wall of separation between church and state built?

Two weeks ago, a 3-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it is unconstitutional to ask students in school to say the Pledge, due to the usage of "under God in the text."


So what is the determining factor in this case, while the First Amendment simply calls for religious freedom? Well, there are two little loopholes tied to freedom of religion. They are the sometimes contradicting Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.

Okay, so they sound big, bad, and confusing. But basically the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from mandating anything that favors one religion or another while the Free Exercise Clause prevents the government from not allowing people to follow a religion of their choice.

Using these clauses, prayer has been taken out of school, while our coins continue to read "In God we trust." This is why the line of separation is so blurry.

Nonetheless, every weekday morning, we all head to school. But before we start the learning part of our day, we all are asked to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. So we stand and drone out "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."

Okay, so not everyone monotonously recites this oath. Some are very patriotic, proudly declaring their allegiance, while others remain seated in defiance, or simply because they disagree with the values stated in the Pledge.

"I've never been without it," says Barb Rosania, a recent high school graduate. "But it seems that not saying the pledge is like saying we're not part of one nation." However, she feels that it wouldn't be a big deal if "under God" were to be taken out of the Pledge.

"I'm not a religious person," says a North Hagerstown High junior, "but 'under God' doesn't bother me. Everyone is too uptight."

Others shared President Bush's sentiment, saying that the ruling was "ridiculous." At the same time, there are people opposed to the pledge, saying that references to God signify that the government supports only one religion, and does not represent other Americans with different beliefs.

However you feel, don't throw your arms up in celebration, or start to protest the ruling just yet. The decision has been stayed to allow for review and possible reversal. Many experts expect the ruling to be overturned.

But even if the decision holds up, this will only affect the 9 western states under the jurisdiction of the court that made the ruling. But don't think this won't affect you at all. There may be more landmark cases like this one.

So now is your time to think about what you feel is right.

Here's the question: Is it constitutional to say "under God" in the pledge of allegiance?

Jessica Hanlin will be a junior at North Hagerstown High School this fall. She can be reached by e-mail:

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