The Cold War and the Pledge of Allegiance The Cold War touched the lives of Americans in many ways. People dug bomb shelters in their back yards, stockpiled food in their basements and joined civil defense groups. In 1950, Congress created the Civil Defense Administration to set up public fallout shelters and run the Emergency Broadcast System. Schools added civil defense classes to their curriculum so students could learn basic survival skills and about the effects of radiation. Students practiced “duck and cover” exercises for protection from a bomb’s flying debris. A turtle, named Bert, was featured in a popular civil defense film that instructed millions of children on what to do to survive a communist attack.
The fear that communists with their atheist beliefs were infiltrating the government, the military, the entertainment industry and other professions, led Congress to do something in 1954 that still causes controversy. To emphasize the difference between the ungodly Soviets from America, the words under God were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.
The original pledge was written by Francis Bellamy in 1892 in honor of Columbus’ arrival in the New World four hundred years earlier. Leaflets with The Pledge were sent to schools nationwide. On October 12th, 1892, twelve million students recited the Pledge beginning what would become a tradition in schools for decades – opening each school day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1942 Congress officially recognized the Pledge as the nation’s patriotic oath and added it to the Federal Flag Code.
The first time that the constitutionality of the Pledge was challenged was in 1940. Two students, who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, sued a school district when they were expelled for refusing to recite the Pledge and salute the flag. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the district’s policy that required students to stand, recite the Pledge and salute the flag. However, in 1942, the court reversed itself and ruled that no person could be forced to recite the Pledge and salute the flag.
In 2004, in Newdow v. the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Michael Newdow could not challenge the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance. Mr. Newdow, an atheist, had filed suit because he was opposed to his daughter hearing the words “under God” when her class recited the Pledge. The Court said that he could not sue because he did not have legal custody of his daughter. The 8-0 ruling reversed a lower court’s decision that the Pledge of Allegiance violated the establishment clause of First Amendment and was unconstitutional. In its most recent ruling, the Court did not address the issue of constitutionality and the Pledge. What are your thoughts on the Pledge of Allegiance?
Questions for discussion:
When do you say the Pledge of Allegiance?
Can your teacher require you to stand and recite the Pledge?
What is the appropriate thing to do if you object to reciting the Pledge?