[Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) photographer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

June 14, 1954: America Becomes A Nation ‘Under God’

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On June 14, 1954, the United States of America officially became a nation “under God” When President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill to insert the phrase into the Pledge of Allegiance. First designed in 1892, the pledge originally avoided referencing religion. 

In 1892, Francis Bellamy, a minister from upstate New York, reportedly wrote the Pledge as an expression of fealty to the U.S. It read: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Some consider Bellamy a socialist and his creation a criticism of rampant greed and hyper-individuality, writes Business Insider.

Over the next 50 years or so, the version would eventually include “of the United States” after “flag” and a simple “to” before “republic.” It wasn’t too controversial.

Then, an attorney from Illinois, Louis Bowman, shook the wording up a bit. At a meeting of the Sons of the American Revolution in 1948, he added “under God,” claiming Abraham Lincoln used the same phrase in his Gettysburg Address. Almost all reported transcripts from the speech do include “that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom.”

Finally, the government became involved. In 1953, Louis Rabaut, a democrat from Michigan sponsored a resolution to add the words “under God” to the Pledge. It failed. But by then, the decision was up to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Recently baptized as a Presbyterian, he heard a sermon, arguing the words “under God” from Lincoln’s speech set the United States apart from others as a nation. At the time, the Cold War was gaining steam, and Eisenhower was fighting communism across the globe.

The next day, the president encouraged Charles Oakman, a Republican from Michigan, to re-introduce the “under God” bill and Congress sent it to his desk. The president signed it into law on June 14, 1954. Ike believed the new version would add a spiritual weapon to our nation’s resources against the Soviets.

The day after the signing, Eisenhower said, “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country’s true meaning.

Especially is this meaningful as we regard today’s world. Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”


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