It's incredibly moving. Each time I hear it, tears well up in my eyes. I'm talking about Red Skelton's rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance. On January 14, 1969, during his weekly CBS comedy variety show, Skelton introduced it as a lecture given by Mr. Laswell, the principal of the Harrison School in Vincennes, Indiana. Skelton said the man was a sage of his time. His recitation of Mr. Laswell's remarks concerning the Pledge of Allegiance have won 42 awards and twice been read into the Congressional record.
But Skelton's closing commentary at the end of Mr. Laswell's remarks is just as remarkable -- even downright prophetic. Skelton says: "Since I was a small boy, two States have been added to our country, and two words have been added to the Pledge of Allegiance: 'Under God.' Wouldn't it be a pity if someone said, 'That is a prayer' -- and that be eliminated from our schools, too?"
In June 2002, a panel of Ninth Circuit justices held in a 2-1 decision that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance was a violation of the First Amendment's prohibition of government sponsorship of religion. Fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously overturned that decision on a technicality, charging Michael Newdow didn't have legal authority to represent his daughter, whom he didn't want exposed to the phrase. But in January 2005, Newdow filed a new suit representing three Sacramento families against the Pledge. Sadly, last month, Judge Lawrence Karlton of the Eastern District of California ruled, "one nation, under God" is a violation of the students' right to be "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God." The case has now been appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court to be heard a second time, where Karlton's decision is likely to be upheld. In all probability, the matter will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and the high court will then have to hand down a decision on the merits of the case.
Red Skelton, unquestionably, would have found it ironic, as each of us should, that just as the effort to remove school prayer was lead by atheist, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, it's now an atheist, Michael Newdow, who pilots the effort to eliminate the Pledge. Essentially, O'Hair, Newdow and all the rest of their ilk have wanted to make America a secularistic -- atheistic -- State. However, the First Amendment was never meant to prevent the State from acknowledging God.
George E. Badger (1795-1866), once a Superior Court Judge, Secretary of the Navy, a U.S. senator from North Carolina (1844-1866) and U.S. Supreme Court nominee, as part of a Congressional investigation once declared: "The [First Amendment] clause speaks of 'an establishment of religion.' What is meant by that expression? It referred, without doubt, to that establishment which existed in the mother country .... They intended, by this amendment, to prohibit 'an establishment of religion' such as the English Church presented .... But they had no fear or jealousy of religion itself, nor did they wish to see us an irreligious people .... They did not intend to spread over all public authorities and the whole public action of the nation the dead and revolting spectacle of atheistic apathy."
William Orville Douglass (1898-1980), a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, in the 1952 case of Zorach v. Clauson, asserted: "The First Amendment ... does not say that in every respect there shall be a Separation of Church and State .... That is the common sense on the matter. Otherwise the State and religion would be aliens to each other -- hostile, suspicious, and even unfriendly. Municipalities would not be permitted to render police or fire protection to religious groups. Policeman who helped parishioners into their places of worship would violate the Constitution. Prayers in the legislative halls; the appeals to the Almighty in the messages of the Chief Executive; the proclamation making Thanksgiving Day a holiday; 'so help me God' in our courtroom oaths -- these and all other references to the Almighty that run through our laws, our public rituals, our ceremonies, would be flouting the First Amendment .... We are a religious people and our institutions presuppose a Supreme Being .... No Constitutional requirement makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against the efforts to widen the scope of religious influence .... A fastidious atheist or agnostic could even object to the supplication with which the Court opens each session: 'God save the United States and this Honorable Court.'"
Quite frankly, I believe Newdow's case ought to be knocked down on the basis it promotes atheism. Newdow told the San Francisco Chronicle: "Imagine you send your kids to school every day, and the teachers made them stand up and say, 'We are one nation that denies God exists' ... that's exactly what goes on against atheists." The fact of the matter is, however, no one is required to say the Pledge of Allegiance and government should discourage the open denial of God. Moreover, the First Amendment doesn't even address the plight of atheists.
In fact, in 1838, the Massachusetts Supreme Court heard the case of Commonwealth v. Abner Kneeland, which involved a Universalist who claimed "freedom of the press" as a defense for publishing libelous and defamatory remarks about Christianity and God. The Court's decision stated "freedom of the press" was not a license to print without restraint. They declared: "It is a willful and malicious attempt to lessen men's reverence of God by denying his existence, of his attributes as an intelligent creator, governor and judge of men, and to prevent their having confidence in him ..." In its decision the Court also cited the Constitutions of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine, which declared the open denial of God as a crime. Vermont's Constitution referred to open atheists as disturbers of the "peace and tranquility of the State" -- offenders "against the good morals and manners of society." They added concerning the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution: "[The First Amendment] embraces all who believe in the existence of God, as well ... as Christians of every denomination .... This provision does not extend to atheists, because they do not believe in God or religion; and therefore ... their sentiments and professions, whatever they may be, cannot be called religious sentiments and professions."
Red Skelton was a clown and comedian, but he was no fool. The Holy Scriptures proclaim, "The fool hath said in his heart, 'there is no God'" (Ps. 14:1). Only a fool nation would listen to an atheistic fool and eliminate the Pledge of Allegiance because it acknowledges the Almighty.
[Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 5, 2005.]
Rev. Mark H. Creech (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.