Grosse Pointe's Role in "One Nation Under God" Controversy
Not only do eastside students recite the Pledge of Allegiance to our nation's flag today, but the words being contested before the U.S. Supreme Court are the very words added to our Pledge 50 years ago with the help of a Republican from Grosse Pointe.
It was none other than Grosse Pointe's Homer Ferguson (1889-1982) who in 1954 sponsored the bill adding the words “under God.” Ferguson, first elected to the U.S. Senate from Michigan in 1943, introduced the Senate bill in 1954 while serving his second term.
The current flag flap involves a constitutional challenge to public school children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance that includes the two added words. The case came to the Supremes after a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' panel
decided the two words violated the First Amendment's establishment clause. Unless overturned, the 9th
Circuit opinion applies in nine western states, although enforcement has been suspended pending the appeal. >> Read "Supreme Court Preserves 'God' in Pledge
Fifty Years Later--2004
Michael Newdow, a Sacramento atheist, claimed that having his eight-year-old daughter present when the Pledge was recited amounted to "daily indoctrination of religious dogma." Although not directly related to the question of constitutionality, in the court of public opinion it is instructive to consider the fact that Newdow never married the girl's mother, who says that she has become a Christian since her daughter's birth and that the girl even enjoys leading other fourth-graders in the very Pledge now challenged by her biological father.
Newdow first filed suit in 1998 on behalf of his then-four-year-old daughter, while living in Florida. After the courts threw it out because his daughter wasn't even in school, he moved to California and tried again.
Although the girl's mother has no objection to Newdow pursuing his case, according to her attorney, "She does object to the daughter being included in this litigation without being consulted. The daughter is a Christian, is being raised in a Christian family and goes to church weekly. She enjoys saying the Pledge of Allegiance, so there is no injury being caused."
Wayne County's Role
Back in 1954, others joined Grosse Pointe's GOP Senator Ferguson in his bipartisan effort to amend the Pledge. Two congressmen from Wayne County sponsored the measure in the U.S. House of Representatives. One was Louis C. Rabaut (1886-1961), an eastside Democrat representing Michigan's 14th District. The other was Charles Gibb Oakman (1903-1973), a Republican representing Michigan's 17th District.
One reason cited for the “under God” insertion was to recognize America's heritage and to differentiate the American Pledge from a pledge that could be made to any flag of any country, especially an atheistic, Communist nation. According to the Congressional Record
, Oakman commented, "We profess our faith in a Supreme Being on our coins marked 'In God we trust.' It seems more appropriate to me to recognize the Deity in our spiritual dedication to the flag, the symbol of our God-given freedom. Our belief in God highlights one of the fundamental differences between us and the Communists."
The two words added, “under God,” were taken from Lincoln's 1863 Gettysburg address. The same words were quoted in 1889 by Detroit's Maj. Edwin B. Wight, speaking in Gettysburg to dedicate the battlefield monument in honor of the Twenty-Fourth Michigan Infantry “Iron” Brigade. Wight quoted the immortal words of “Our Great War President” who in 1863 said, “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this Nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
Ceremonious 1954 Signing
Senator Ferguson introduced the legislation in the Senate, where it was approved as a joint resolution, and signed into law June 14, 1954, by President Dwight Eisenhower. Addressing those assembled at the Flag Day signing ceremony, Ferguson commented, "Mr. President, the verbal manifestation of an American's loyalty and patriotism is the Pledge of Allegiance to our flag. Recognizing that the pledge did not specifically acknowledge that we are a people who do believe in and want our Government to operate under divine guidance, I introduced in the Senate a resolution to add the words which forever, I hope, will be on the lips of Americans…These words --- 'under God' -- are at this moment officially a part of the Pledge of Allegiance. It gives me a genuine and real thrill to know that this very day these words of spiritual recognition are being uttered throughout the length and breadth of this great and free Nation of ours."
Ferguson concluded, "I hope, and respectfully suggest, that every newspaper in the country -- at least once before the Fourth of July -- print on its front page the new Pledge of Allegiance with the words 'under God' in bold-face type."
President Eisenhower said, "From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country's true meaning. Especially is this meaningful as we regard today's world… cruelly torn by violence and brutality…In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning… reaffirming the… religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way, we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war."
Homer Samuel Ferguson (1889-1982)
Ferguson was born in Harrison City, Pa. In 1913 he graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and was admitted to the bar the same year. He then established a law practice in Detroit.
From 1929 to 1942 Ferguson served as circuit judge of the circuit court for Wayne County. He was also professor of law at Detroit College of Law from 1929 to 1939.
He was elected as a Republican to the U.S. Senate in 1942, and reelected in 1948. It was during this second term that the Michigan Senator introduced the added Pledge language, and served as chairman of the Republican Policy Committee (83rd Congress). Following his Senate career, Ferguson was appointed Ambassador to the Philippines, where he served from 1955 to 1956.
Ferguson then served as judge of the United States Court of Military Appeals at Washington, D.C., from 1956 to 1976. Beginning in 1971 he was senior judge of that Court. He was a resident of Grosse Pointe until his death in 1982. He had one child, daughter Amy Ferguson Beltz (1918-2000) also of Grosse Pointe.
The Boy from Indiana
We'll never know how Ferguson would have reacted to the current Pledge controversy.
But in January 1969, a visionary American patriot and former U.S. Army Private from neighboring Indiana reflected on the 1962 Supreme Court decision
barring official state prayers from being read in government schools. He said, “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's a prayer' and that would be eliminated from schools, too?”
The American was none other than Indiana-born comedian Richard “Red” Skelton (1913-1997), speaking personally and from the heart, as he often did, on a serious issue. >>Listen to “Red Skelton's Pledge of Allegiance.”