Husband & Wife Articles


“Under God” – A Pledge Worth Making

The author has a personal connection to the recent court cases

By Mary Rice Hasson

Kindergarten, 1966.

Thirty-one little boys and girls stood proudly and recited – shouted, almost – the words of the Pledge of Allegiance. We’d been in school just a few weeks, but already we’d learned the words of the Pledge and now our teacher wanted to hear them loud and clear. Many parents were in the room, assembled to witness our first proud recitation.

Mary Rice Hasson
Mary Rice Hasson and Family

Mary Rice Hasson and her husband, Seamus, are shown at Notre Dame graduation of Jim, a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. Army. Other children are, from left: Brigid, P.J., Mary, John Paul and Patrick. Missing from photo is eldest son Mike.

The hot, sticky September weather brought beads of sweat to our foreheads and sent them trickling down our shirt collars, but few of us moved to wipe them away. Our hands were much too busy, holding that perfect hand-over-heart posture until the Pledge was finished.

We didn’t understand every word of the Pledge (and our childish vocabularies substituted many a rhyming word for the actual verses – “one nation under God, and a vegetable”), but saying it together at the start of every school day fostered a shared patriotism, evoking images in our young imaginations of patriots and soldiers ready to defend the ideal of “liberty and justice for all.”

We knew America stood for freedom – and we took for granted that America was –
Is – a nation “under God.”

Little did I know that decades later my husband, Seamus Hasson, would be defending that very same Pledge, and those two crucial words – “under God” – in U.S. courts. Or that he would do so on behalf of the Knights of Columbus and several Knights’ families whose children attend public schools.

“Hey, we’ve got a new case,” he announced to us over dinner.

“We’re defending the Pledge of Allegiance. Somebody’s suing to get the phrase ‘under God’ taken out,” he said. By “we” he meant the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the public interest law firm he’d founded a decade earlier to defend the vision of religious liberty as a universal human right.

“Why would anyone want to take out ‘under God?’” one of our kids asked.

Memories of my first proud recitation of the Pledge that sweaty September day years ago sprang to mind as our kids asked questions.

Why would anyone seek to throw out “under God”?

An atheistic gadfly took offense that the phrase “under God” rolled off the tongues of impressionable schoolchildren. His lawsuits, eventually filed in numerous states, sought to strike the phrase “under God” from the Pledge, alleging that it created an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Americans overwhelmingly disagreed with that line of thinking, but ultimately the matter would be decided in court.

The Becket Fund, on behalf of the Knights of Columbus, fought back – and won those cases, establishing a crucial principle in law.

For me, as much as for our children, watching the cases unfold, hearing the arguments, and waiting for the decisions proved exciting. And we are proud both of Seamus’ work in the cases and the key role played by the Knights of Columbus.

But, more importantly, the cases offered a chance for us to reflect on why those words – “under God” – are so significant, not only for our country but for our own understanding of human rights.

As my husband pointed out, “This is about a lot more than just how school kids start their day. It’s about where the next generation thinks its rights come from – the Creator or the State.”

So, teach your children:

As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput states, “At the heart of the American model of public life is ‘a Christian vision of man, government and God’… Man is first and fundamentally a religious being with intrinsic worth, a free will and inalienable rights. He is created in the image of God, by God and for God.”

America’s founding principles have always assumed that we are a nation under God. The addition of “under God” to the Pledge was an explicit affirmation of our country’s first principles, not a sectarian add-on.

As my husband has pointed out, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address express the basic American philosophy that core civil rights are inalienable precisely because government does not create them in the first place – they are inherent in every human being.

And don’t forget to thank the Knights of Columbus for all its good work, including its instrumental role in helping us, as President Eisenhower said,  “keep constantly in our minds and hearts the spiritual and moral principles which alone give dignity to man, and upon which our way of life is founded.”

© 2011 Mary Rice Hasson

Mary Rice Hasson blogs at Words from Cana