(RNS) Sit down and shut up.
That’s the message of a campaign launched Monday (Sept. 8) by the American Humanist Association, asking Americans to refrain from standing and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance until Congress removes the phrase “under God.”
The 29,000-member humanist activist group, which also advocates on First Amendment issues, holds that the phrase “under God” is an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
“Until the Pledge is restored to its inclusive version, we can take it upon ourselves to refuse to participate in what’s become a discriminatory exercise,” the campaign’s website, Don’t Say the Pledge, says. It also describes the current pledge as “twisted, with divisive religious language that implies true patriots must be believers.”
In addition to the website, the campaign includes You Tube videos, as well as bus advertisements in Washington, D.C., and New York City. The website includes resources for parents and a place where those who have faced discrimination or bullying for refusing to say the pledge can contact AHA for support.
“We had a hunch that the more you educate people about the pledge the more they realize placing ‘under God’ in it in the 1950s was not such a good idea, and taking it out is a good one,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the humanist group.
Indeed, the “under God” phrase was not included in the pledge written by minister Francis Bellamy in 1892. The phrase was added by an act of Congress in 1954 at the height of the McCarthy era’s “red scare” as a means to cull out “godless Communism.”
The AHA campaign is based on the idea that most Americans do not know that the pledge was altered and that if they did, they would support restoring it to its original form. In May, AHA conducted a survey that found 34 percent of Americans supported the phrase’s removal when told it was not original to the pledge. That number climbed to 62 percent of those who identify with no religion, and dropped to 21 percent of those who identified as Christians.
“I think there is a critical mass of people, especially young people, who support the removal of ‘under God,'” Speckhardt said. “We are reaching out and saying sit out the pledge until they fix it.”
Christians are less enthusiastic. “As a Christian, I would have serious reservations about pledging allegiance to a nation that was not under God,” author Lee Duigon wrote on his eponymous blog. “Very serious reservations indeed.”
A 2013 poll conducted by LifeWay Research, a organization affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, found that only 8 percent of Americans supported the removal of “under God.”
On Twitter, responses hashtagged #undergod — a hashtag promoted in the Don’t Say the Pledge campaign — were largely supportive of removing the phrase, though some were critical of the entire issue.
“Why don’t (people) just say it the way they want Instead of forcing (people) to say what we don’t want?” someone named Autumn, a self-described stay-at-home Ohio mom, tweeted. “I’ll say #underGod. Say what u want.”
AHA has challenged the pledge before. In May, it lost a case in Massachusetts asking that state to ban the pledge on grounds it discriminated against nonbelievers. The state court ruled that because reciting the pledge is entirely voluntary, its daily recitation in state schools is not discriminatory. A similar case brought by the AHA is ongoing in New Jersey.
“Through the daily pledge exercise, our public schools are defining patriotism by promoting God-belief while stigmatizing atheist and humanist children,” said David Niose, legal director of the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “This violates the principles of equal rights and nondiscrimination, which is why we are currently challenging ‘under God’ in the pledge with a lawsuit in New Jersey.”
YS/MG END WINSTON