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Understanding the Pledge of Allegiance

Most students begin their day at school by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. But how many know what it really means — especially the phrase “one nation under God”?

Many Christians rightly feel that public schools turn a cold shoulder toward anything related to America’s Christian heritage. Yet they overlook the daily recognition in our schools of one of the most remarkable expressions of American thinking — that our unalienable rights come from God and not the government.

Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”

He reflected this idea in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Eric Buehrer, founder and president of Gateways to Better Education, points out that the idea of our freedom coming from God at the time of America’s creation is central to the American experience. Indeed, Chuck Colson called those famous words from the Declaration “the American creed.”

And as Buehrer writes, “rooted in Christian history, the idea of being under God is reflected in important developments in every century of American history.”

In the 1800s Lincoln recognized our liberties coming from God when he delivered his Gettysburg Address. He famously said, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

And in the latter part of the 20th century, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. appealed to the same principle of divinely-bestowed rights for all people as the underpinnings for the Civil Rights movement. In his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” (which, by the way, Chuck Colson absolutely loved and often quoted) King referred to the “transcendent Law of God, governing us all.” And then, in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, he famously said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’”

Each time school children recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they are being reminded of what Jefferson called the “only firm basis” for liberty — a conviction that these rights come from God, not from the government.

Your children’s schools may not teach them this important principle, but you can. As a family you can read and discuss what the Pledge of Allegiance means.

To help you do that, our friends at Gateways to Better Education are offering BreakPoint listeners a free lesson explaining each phrase of the Pledge — including what it means to be one nation under God.

The lesson is being used in public school classrooms across the country. To download your free copy of the Pledge of Allegiance lesson for your family or for your classroom, visit Simply click on this commentary and we’ll link you to it.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: September 17, 2012

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