- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

The minister whose 1954 sermon at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church put "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance said yesterday its elimination would amount to "the god of big money defeating" monotheistic faith.
The Rev. George Docherty, 91, who now lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, said in an interview that society has become "so secular and materialistic" he is not surprised judges would be offended by an allusion to a deity.
"But to say that the word 'God' is unconstitutional is heretical," said the native of Scotland. "This was a nation built under God. Unfortunately, the god we worship today is money."
In April 1953, the Korean War prompted suggestions to put Abraham Lincoln's "under God" from the Gettysburg Address into the Pledge, which Congress had codified in 1942.
A reported 15 such resolutions got nowhere in Congress until Mr. Docherty preached a sermon attended by President Eisenhower and the national press corps Feb. 7, 1954.
Yesterday, Mr. Docherty said he did not write the sermon because of the resolutions of which he was unaware but because his son told him one Wednesday of a pledge he had recited in his second-grade class.
"I had never heard of it, so I asked, 'What is that?'" said Mr. Docherty, who had arrived in Washington from Scotland in 1950. He served the Presbyterian church until his 1976 retirement.
"So I wrote a sermon to amend the Pledge of Allegiance," he said, recalling that he had drawn inspiration from references to a deity in Scotland's ceremonial hymns. "And I preached that."
The sermon said: "Apart from the mention of the phrase 'the United States of America,' it could be the pledge of any republic." Then he added, "In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow."
Afterward, he asked Mr. Eisenhower, who was in the front pew, what he thought. "And he said, 'I agree.'" The news story flashed across the nation, and in the next weeks Mr. Docherty received hundreds of letters.
"The whole nation was taken up by it," he said. "There was no obvious division."
Three days after the sermon, Sen. Homer Ferguson, Michigan Republican, sponsored a bill, and it was approved as a joint resolution June 8, 1954.
Mr. Eisenhower signed it into law on Flag Day, June 14, saying in a statement, "From this day forward, the millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."
Mr. Docherty recalled that one member of Congress asked for 2,000 mimeographed copies of the sermon. He also recalled that for the Flag Day ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, "There was only one obvious absence: They didn't invite me."
The Pledge of Allegiance first appeared in 1892 in the popular children's magazine, Youth's Companion, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus arriving in the Americas.
It was in wide use by 1917, when the United States entered World War I. When dissenters and Jehovah's Witnesses refused to acknowledge the Pledge and the U.S. flag, the Supreme Court ruled in 1940 that school boards could compel students to recite the oath but reversed itself three years later.
In 1942, Congress said that only it could change the wording.
Mr. Docherty said it violates history to deny that the United States was founded on the idea of God, just as the Soviet Union was founded on the idea of atheism.
"So for example, if an atheist wants to come to this country and be a citizen of the United States, he starts by saying the Pledge of Allegiance," Mr. Docherty said. "And if it says 'God,' that's too bad for him."


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