Ron Hatzenbuehler

“Under God”: Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Civic Religion

In her 2004 dissent in the case of Elk Grove School District v. Newdow, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was a statement of “civic religion” and, therefore, did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  Integral to her decision was the fact that presidents have frequently referred to God in their Inaugural Addresses or other public pronouncements.  Speaking at the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg in November 1863, for example, President Abraham Lincoln coined the phrase “under God” in expressing his hope that the United States “shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”  This presentation investigates the role of religion in the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and whether they established precedence for the concept of “civic religion.”