Note: The Pledge of Allegiance is a statement often recited in the United States to express allegiance to the country’s flag and values. The current pledge reads: ‘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.’

What’s going on in the United States, the so-called land of the free?

On 10th June, a high school student from Virginia recited the Pledge of Allegiance but used the word “Allah” instead of “God.” As expected, the Republican Party and those at the right-wing news channel Newsmax flipped out and could not have any of it.

The Republican Party and the Christian right, through the American media, spreads Islamophobia, under the justification that the US is a Christian nation. There have been countless baseless allegations that Muslims are here to take over the US through Shariah Law. This could not be any further from the truth. In this case, those who perpetuated the outcry equated the Arabic language to mean Islam. The word Allah is used by Arab Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other religions, as well as non-Muslim communities in other countries such as Malaysia (though not without its own controversies).

Thomas Jefferson

The Newsmax panel that took offence to the use of Allah in the Pledge of Allegiance said: “It’s un-American, it’s unpatriotic, and quite frankly, it’s upsetting.” Later, a Republican strategist expanded on this, claiming that the United States was founded as a Judeo-Christian nation – a talking point that has been used by the Christian right to gatekeep other communities for years.

Something that Republicans and the Christian right seems to ignore is what the Founding Fathers’ intended for the US to be. Despite the faults of the Founding Fathers, one thing is crystal clear: that the US has no basis as a Judeo-Christian nation. In fact, Jefferson himself said that the legislature should “…make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and state.

The inclusion of “under God” was not part of the pledge from the start. It was only in 1948 that Louis Albert Bowman, an attorney from Illinois, suggested the addition of it. It was subsequently adopted by many during the Cold War. With the encouragement of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Pledge of Allegiance was later amended to include the term, thus distinguishing the United States from the communist Soviet Union. In the original Pledge of Allegiance, Francis Bellamy made no mention of God. For the Republican Party and the Christian right, the inconvenient truth is that Bellamy was a Baptist who believed in the separation of church and state.

Francis Bellamy

The baseless statements did not stop there. Mark Vargas was part of the panel and, after first speaking about the “unpatriotic” and “un-American” use of Allah, later alleged that the student committed a crime and demanded that the state attorney look into the issue. It’s not a crime; she is protected by the First Amendment, which upholds freedom of speech and belief.

What those at Newsmax were implying is that to be American means being Christian and to be Muslim means being anti-American. What they don’t realise is that Muslims have always been a part of the fabric of the United States. Many Founding Fathers had high opinions of Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad, and Jefferson even specifically mentioned Muslims when he was defending religious freedom. Benjamin Franklin specifically mentioned “Mohammedanism” in his defence of religious freedom, and Thomas Jefferson held the first unofficial iftar dinner for a visiting dignitary. In the Treaty of Tripoli, John Adams wrote that the US had no “character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen.”

It does make me wonder: are those who spread these lies and misinformation aware of it, or are they genuinely unaware of the lack of truth in their statements? And, in this case, the historical background of the issue?