Breyer says that the pledge serves the purpose of unification at the price of offending only a few. Newdow says that “for 62 years [before it was amended in 1954] the pledge did serve the purpose of unification … it got us through two world wars and a depression.” But he adds that the idea that if adding in “under God” is not divisive, why did the country go “berserk” when the 9th Circuit opinion came down? Rehnquist asks what the vote was in 1954, when it was amended. Newdow says it was unanimous. Rehnquist queries how that reveals divisiveness.
Newdow: “It doesn’t sound divisive? That’s only because no atheist can get elected to Congress.” Here is where people actually applaud like it’s a ball game. And here is where Rehnquist, who may be feeling the sting of Newdow’s comeback, threatens to clear the court. Stevens asks Newdow the same question he asked Olson: whether the words “under God” have the same meaning today as they did when the pledge was amended. Newdow replies that 99 out of 99 senators stopped everything to stand on the steps of the Capitol when the 9th Circuit decision came down. He adds that the words “under God” reference the Christian God, observing that at the ceremony celebrating the addition of the words to the pledge, “Onward Christian Soldiers” was played. He closes with the words of the pledge, as originally written, without the words “under God.” And I confess, it sounds pretty good.
A particular turn of phrase in the New York Times article on the story leaped up at me:
Congress added the phrase at the height of the cold war in an effort to distinguish the American system from “Godless Communism.”
Kinda funny when you think that, for a large portion of the world’s population, the United States is now the “Godless” evil empire which justifies various forms of religious extremism.