January 9, 2015

One Nation Under God

Having completed my reading about Peter Marshall (A Man Called Peter and The Prayers of Peter Marshall) who pastored the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington DC from 1937 until his death in January 1949 and served as Chaplain of the United States Senate from 1947 until 1949; I have moved on to reading the autobiography of George M. Docherty, I've Seen The Day, who succeeded him at the church in 1950.

I had the opportunity to share in a pastoral wedding with Dr. Docherty in 1992 for his niece.  We had a wonderful visit before the wedding, on the drive to the reception, and during the reception meal that he offered to send me a copy of his book which I received - autographed and inscribed Christmas 1992.

In his book, Dr. Docherty describes how he came up with the idea in the fall of 1953 of adding the phrase under God to the Pledge of Allegiance, to read "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands; one Nation under God indivisible, with liberty and Justice for all."  As Dr. Docherty recalls the phrase under God refers back to President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

The concept was shared first in a sermon in the fall of 1953 and again on February 7, 1954 when President and Mrs. Eisenhower were present and sitting in the "Lincoln pew"  The next day the sermon was given national coverage and printed in full in the Congressional Record.   The new Pledge of Allegiance was first repeated on Flag Day, June 14, 1954, in the House of Representatives.

To those who were concerned that the newly worded Pledge forced new atheistic citizens to pledge allegiance to God, Docherty argued that they pledged allegiance not to God, but to a flag. The phrase under God describes the historic fact that the nation was founded by men who held a profound belief in divine providence. The Constitution preserved the individual's right to free exercise of religious faith and guaranteed the right to observe no religious faith if one so desires. [I've Seen the Day, p. 160]