One Nation, Under God
All the man wanted was a quarter cask of wine. Even at 1780s prices, it wasn’t much pay for designing a flag. And though the evidence is sketchy, the person who actually designed our country’s flag probably was a man—Francis Hopkins, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Sentimental favorite Betsy Ross may have merely sewed what Hopkins designed. Either way, one of them created the most recognized national symbol in the world.
The Pledge of Allegiance, of far more recent origin, definitely involved multiple hands. An early version written by civil war veteran George Batch read, “I pledge allegiance to my flag, and the republic for which it stands. I pledge my head and my heart to God and my country. One country, one language, one flag!” In 1892, Baptist socialist minister Francis Bellamy penned a different version: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Published as part of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s expedition to the new world, Bellamy fervently hoped that the Pledge would restore a sense of patriotism in the country. Soon schools were buying flags, and children were reciting the Pledge daily.
In 1923, the words “my flag” were changed to “Flag of the United States of America” to help immigrants recognize their new loyalties. In 1954, a Joint Resolution of Congress signed by President Eisenhower added the words “under God”. Eisenhower wrote that the words “will help us to keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded.” The words distinguished the American way of life from the totalitarian systems of the world, most notably Communism.
Totalitarianism is a system of government in which the state controls the exercise of rights and freedoms. Communism is one of its several forms. Its hallmark is the elimination of religious beliefs and practices, often brutally so. The 20th century provided some horrendous examples. In Communist Russia, Josef Stalin nearly liquidated the entire Russian Orthodox Church, and vigorously persecuted other denominations. In Mexico, priests were hunted down like dogs; thousands of priests and religious were killed. In Spain, the persecution was as bad if not worse. In China, Christians were regularly targeted for imprisonment and death.
Why? It’s all about liberty: who gives it, and who controls it. Properly understood, liberty is a gift of God. No person, and no government, grants liberty. Instead, it comes with our humanity and gives dignity to it. God gives us a mind to freely think all sorts of thoughts. Ironically, an atheist can freely reject the existence of God thanks to the mind that is itself a gift of God. And God gives us a will to freely and actively pursue what is objectively good—the greatest pursuit being God, who is all-Good. Those who recognize these gifts give their allegiance to God. This is what so galls the totalitarians of the world; they view themselves as the source of all rights. They want total control over everything, and they have no use for anything keeping them from taking control. Not even God. Especially not God.
Though liberty is God’s gift, it is in man’s power to take it away. So a free society understands the need to establish God’s role and limit man’s role. Our founding fathers held “self-evident” the truth that we are endowed “by our Creator” with the “unalienable” rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Governments are only intended to “secure” these rights, not to restrict or ban them. It’s why our Constitution limits the role of government. And it’s why we enact law: to codify those moral principles needed to protect our rights. In doing so, we recognize that liberty is a blessing and that God is its Author.
Now 240 years old, our country is in serious trouble. We are losing sight of God’s role in our existence. In a speech covering the Declaration of Independence, President Obama deleted the words “by our Creator.” He’s done it more than once. At a recent Hillary Clinton campaign stump, a presider read from the Pledge of Allegiance, but deleted the words “under God.” Standing next to her, Clinton did nothing; some say she laughed about it. Clinton, a devout Methodist, would likely say that she didn’t hear the remarks, or that nothing disrespectful to God was intended.
But this type of conduct must be seen in a wider context, particularly as it relates to legal abortion. When the Supreme Court struck the abortion laws designed to protect the right to life, it did not—and could not—recognize a new-found freedom. Liberty comes from God, not from a court. Instead, the Court was authorizing the killing of humans awaiting birth—for any reason whatsoever. This is the opposite of liberty because liberty seeks the objective good of all. By contrast, abortion is the exercise of raw power: the imposition of the strong’s will on the weak. It is the essence of “might makes right.” After all, does anyone honestly think that God has given us the liberty to kill defenseless humans for no greater reason than that they are alive?
Worse, Clinton’s reaction to the moral problem of abortion exposes a real danger to us all. Just last year, Clinton said that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” as to abortion. Get that? Religious beliefs must change, not the killing. Clinton, who no longer thinks that abortions should be rare, continued: “Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will.” Get that one? The almighty state must assert its power. Not even her Methodist Church supports her; it recently withdrew from a coalition of pro-abortion groups. But if elected, she will likely appoint three Supreme Court justices, which will ensure that the killing continues for generations to come, long after she is gone.
Are we still “one nation, under God”? Based on our current state of affairs, it is hard to say yes. We are a nation divided because of abortion. Whether we still consider God as the Source of our blessings is a question that this election—and the Catholic vote—may answer.
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.