Blog

Religious Liberty Blog Series

One nation, under God.

Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

As a girl, I recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning at school. In my public elementary school in Texas, my Christian middle school in Minnesota, and my public high school, also in Minnesota. In fact, I clearly remember one wintery day in 8th grade standing to say it with the rest of my class, and as we started, I began to feel my classmates staring at me. Having had 3 of my own kids pass through middle school, I know they always thought people were looking at them during those years, and I told them many times that I used to feel that same way at their age, but really, no one paid close attention to them. 

Front view of happy school students standing in outside corridor at school while holding american flag

Well, except for this time. People were most definitely staring at me that blustery, cold day in 8th grade on the top floor of a centuries-old school building, standing in the same classroom that my mom stood in to say the pledge at that same age. As I tried to ignore the stares, I felt something dripping down my hand – and onto the white sweater I chose to wear that morning. Just then, my teacher, Mr. Souza, the man who convinced me I was actually good at math, let me know I had a bloody nose. Sure enough, I did, and I hurried to the bathroom to see what I could do to stop the bleeding and clean up. Moral of the story: maybe, sometimes, people are actually staring at you, even in 8th grade. 

One nation, under God.

Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

For most of my life, when it came time to stand and face the flag, and say the pledge in unison with those around me, I didn’t think much of it. But, in the past years, I have wrestled with standing to say the pledge at all. As I saw people of color and their allies kneel during the national anthem in peaceful protest to the fact that liberty and justice have NOT been for all in this country – certainly not from the very beginning when some humans were not seen as a whole person solely because of their skin color, and not in 2020 as the nation – no, the world – watched George Floyd have the breath squeezed out of him by an officer off our law, sworn to uphold justice and peace. Could I pledge allegiance to a country where violence and discrimination continue to happen disproportionately to my neighbors who have darker skin than I do? Of course, police violence against black bodies is not the only area where our country is falling short of liberty and justice for all. Take my state, Minnesota, for example. We have one of the largest education achievement gaps between black and white students. In fact, the year before Floyd’s murder, Minnesota ranked 50th when it came to racial disparities in high school graduation rates.  

A man holds a megaphone at the Black Lives Matter protest in Washington DC 6/6/2020 (IG: @clay.banks)

From June of 2020 until earlier this year (2023), I didn’t say the pledge when it was recited at events I attended. Not even at school board meetings, where I am currently in my 2nd term as a school board member. I would stand, put both hands over my heart, close my eyes, and use that time to meditate and pray that we could take the next right step as a community in truly living up to what we pledge. A couple months ago, after attending a conference on religious liberty and dismantling Christian nationalism with my colleagues in the BJC fellowship, I began to say the pledge again. Still with my hands over my heart, standing, with my eyes closed, and still in an attitude of prayer and meditation. But, I don’t just let it roll off my tongue and out of my brain – I am intentional to renew my dedication to equity, inclusion, and justice with each recitation. 

One nation, under God.

Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

Are we truly one nation that is indivisible? Are liberty and justice available to all? And, what about this phrase UNDER GOD?

Those 2 words will be the focus of this blog series. I asked a handful of my close friends to share with me their thoughts on religious liberty, freedom, and inclusion in our country and I will be sharing their truths with you throughout each blog. We’ll hear from atheists, Muslims, Jews, and Christians. I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you, either – their answers showcase the reality of just how far we have to go to ensure we are living up to the things we collectively pledge over and over again. 

I’ll end this first blog with a thought experiment: If you could only say the things that are TRUE, which of these phrases from the pledge would you say out loud? Which ones do you believe and practice personally? How about professionally? Which phrases are true about your local government? State government? How about our federal government? Lastly, what phrases would the rest of the world say are true about America, billed as the land of the free and the home of the brave? 

crowd of people and american flag

We might as well start being honest with each other. Heck, that’s the only way we are going to drive the injustice, fear, hatred, pain, violence, and apathy out of our bones. We deserve liberty and justice. ALL of us. As for me and my house, let me say that we will speak the truth in love until I am certain that my privileged teenagers (white, culturally Christian, born in America) have the same opportunities for joy and peace as their friends do, no matter their skin color, familial religion, or country of origin.