Legion supports New Jersey “under God” ruling

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Legion supports New Jersey “under God” ruling

Judge says reciting the full Pledge of Allegiance is not a violation of the state’s constitution.

New Jersey State Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman last week ruled that saying “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance at Matawan-Aberdeen schools is not a violation of the state’s constitution. Prior to the ruling, The American Legion filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief supporting that position. 

In 1954, when Congress passed a bill to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, then-President Dwight Eisenhower praised the move. “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… 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.”

For the last 60 years, the addition of “under God” to the pledge has been under fire, both publicly and in the courts from groups like the American Humanist Association.  It had long been accepted, and the Supreme Court had agreed, that no student or citizen need either stand for the recitation, or include the words “under God.”  Supreme Court Justice Richard H. Jackson, in a case from the 1940’s dealing with allowing children of the Jehovah’s Witness faith to remain seated during the pledge, stated that “if there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

Recent legal challenges attempting to strike “under God” from the pledge altogether have failed. Included among them was a  suit last year addressed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which concluded that “all students are presented with the same options; and one student’s choice not to participate because of a religiously held belief is, as both a practical and a legal matter, indistinguishable from another’s choice to abstain for a wholly different, more mundane, and constitutionally insignificant reason.”

The American Legion’s friend-of-the-court brief in the New Jersey case stated that, “participation in the Pledge is completely voluntary, and as the statute makes undeniably clear, any student who has any ‘conscientious scruples’  may decline to recite the pledge.  And although a student’s decision not to participate may be noticed, the school is not required to explain the decision to anyone.  There is no requirement that any school official inquire, record, or take any action with respect to students who chose not to recite the Pledge for whatever reason.”

Judge Bauman agreed with the Legion’s position. “The Pledge of Allegiance, in this historical context, is not to be viewed, and has never been viewed, as a religious exercise," Bauman wrote in his decision.  He added that the pledge is a way to “transmit core values of duty, honor, pride and fidelity to country.”

At the 2006 National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Salt Lake City American Legion members passed Resolution 270  supporting continued efforts to keep the pledge as it is.  In part, that resolution stated that “ The American Legion encourages the nation’s schools to include the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance by teachers and students in regular school activities and events…”

“The American Legion, at all levels, (will) continue its unyielding support for the Pledge of Allegiance and its provisions of national loyalty by using all means practical to inform Americans about the belief in and the reliance in God by our nation’s founders in forming our democratic Republic.”

The American Legion is also involved in a number of cases which involve war memorials which contain religious imagery.

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The photo is interesting, as the students have their hands in a salute position over the heart versus the contemporary position of being laid on the chest over the heart.

To claim that any student is free to abstain from saying "under God", and therefore there should be no concern or objection to the inclusion of that phrase is unrealistic and disingenuous. If one is really honest about it, the unpleasant truth about youthful human nature is that young people usually are very concerned about being accepted by their peers. Add to that the unfortunate tendency of young people to ostracize peers whom they perceive to be "different" or acting outside the conventional norms, and you have all that is needed to encourage active harassment of any student who elects not to recite any or all of the Pledge. I think religious observances belong in houses of worship, the home, and in private moments alone, not in schools or any other institution which, by implication, bears a governmental stamp of approval. Furthermore, I think the American Legion should not take sides on religious issues. There are much more important things to focus our time and energy on, rather than religion, which has a tendency to stir up divisiveness and controversy. Why introduce issues that distract from our core missions? Thanks for considering my opinions.

Why is the American Legion commenting on this? Are we a religious organization or a VETERANS organization? What does this have to do with Veterans issues? And given the well documented swing away from organized religion by younger Americans how is commenting on this going to help this organization recruit and retain the younger (frequently non-religious) veterans that it needs?

Its really quite simple. Look at the American Legion Preamble's first phrase; "For God and Country, we associate ourselves together....

You may know the answer to this from attending meetings, conference and conventions. The American Legion is an organization dedicated to God and Country. As part of our Legion Rituals, we open our meetings with prayers, POW ceremonies, and by reading the preamble to our constitution, "For God and Country" we associate ourselves together for the following purposes...We have elected or appointed Chaplains. We don't distinguish between which God. We know that we have military chaplains that offer their services to our men and women in harms way. We task ourselves with helping veterans, sometimes that help is of a religious matter. We don't judge a person by who their God is or if they have one. We are a veteran's organization who believes in helping the whole veteran, not just everything but his or her religious needs. One of our Americanism goals is to have flags and the pledge said in every classroom. Since our organization was founded with God, our actions and projects also reflect God. The Legion believes the removal of these words will set a precedent that questions the propriety of numerous references to a supreme being in historical documents, on currency, and on many government buildings and military memorials on public grounds. Yes it is true that we want to recruit younger veterans. We invite all veterans who have earned the right to be a part of the American Legion. It is possible that some veterans won't want to join an organization that is dedicated to God and Country, young and old. But that is who we are and that is a decision each veteran has to make for themselves. To get more information of why the Legion has this stance, you can talk to your Post, County, District or Department Americanism chairperson. Mary 3rd District Commander of the American Legion of Wisconsin.

I am a veteran. I am proud of that. I am an atheist. I am proud of that too. There are others like me. A great many others like me. If the Legion is intent to push all things "God" and in particular all things Christian where does that leave atheist and agnostic veterans?



Unless I'm mistaken the responses from Greg and Mary seem to indicate that your status as a believer is more important than your status as a Veteran. Maybe this isn't the organization for you (or me).
That's a shame too, because like Don mentioned above younger Americans are moving away from religion in greater numbers every year. What does is say about the future of this organization when it fails to address the concerns of younger Veterans?
Anyway, Chris, you should take a look at the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers (MAAF). (Google it for the website.)

The pledge was just fine without the additional wording which implies that only Christian believers are truly part of the community. The Legion should be neutral. I did not renew membership due to the right leaning sentiments championed by the Legion. If you lean left, you do not feel welcome. I will donate my normal dues and giving to the Legion to Disabled Veterans of America. The Legion should pay attention to helping vets and stay out of politics.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.