2016-07-27
It's often assumed that the fight over the separation of church and state is between people who are religious and those who are atheists. In the court ruling about the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, the plaintiff was an avowed atheist, further reinforcing this idea. But the original 9th Circuit Court of Appeals' decision, which stated not that the words "under God" in the pledge enforced religion on the public, but that they enforced monotheism, demonstrates that it's no longer just a fight between the religious and the non-religious, but a fight over how religion is expressed.

The U.S. is an increasingly diverse nation. The religious spectrum of the country continues to expand--we've gone from calling the U.S. a Christian nation, to a Judeo-Christian nation, to more recently, a nation founded on Abrahamic ideals (to include Islam). Now non-Abrahamic religions, or at least religions aside from Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, are gaining more of a presence in the U.S. The American Religious Identification Survey in 2001, by Egon Mayer and Barry Kosmin of the City University of New York, found that 78.3% of American adults adhere to one of the Abrahamic religions, and 14.1% of the U.S. population claims no religion. That leaves 7.6% of American adults belonging to a non-Abrahamic religion--not a startling amount but a group growing in numbers and significance. Here's a look at how the pledge ruling affects some of these groups.




Buddhists
How Many in the U.S.
There are about 1,080,000 Buddhists in the U.S.

Under Who?
Buddhism posits no Creator or ruler God. However some Buddhist doctrines do include belief in higher being or an absolute reality. In Buddhism, any person can potentially achieve Buddhahood, transcending personality and becoming one with the impersonal Ultimate Reality, which is Infinite Bliss (Nirvana). There are countless Buddhas presiding over countless universes. Bodhisattvas--humans and celestial spirits who sacrifice their imminent liberation (Buddhahood) to help all others to become liberated--are revered or worshipped as gods or saints by some.

Reactions:
Buddhist Beliefnet member ommani wrote in reaction to the pledge ruling: "Removing the 1950's addition of the words 'under god' does not refute the existance of a creator god, so I don't see what all this uproar is about." (Respond.)

Hindus
How Many in the U.S.
Estimates of the number of Hindus in America range from 766,000 (American Religious Identification Survey, 2001) to about 1.1 million (National Council of Churches), making up 0.4% of the U.S. adult population.

Under Who?
Hindus believe in many different gods and goddesses (as many as 33 million), but most believe that all of these gods and goddesses are incarnations or aspects of the one ultimate reality, or Brahman. The Hindu trinity of Brahman is the creator (Brahma), the preserver (Vishnu), and destroyer (Shiva) of the universe. (More about Hinduism)

Reactions:
Arvind Sharma, a Hinduism expert and Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University, told Beliefnet the pledge ruling wouldn't be likely to make waves in the Hindu community. "Hindus tend to be a little laid back about these things; they would be less excited about it as an issue," he said. "That said, most Hindus believe in God. Contrary to popular opinion, they are not polytheists, they are monotheists." Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the Hindu Temple Society of North America, is in favor of keeping the words "under God" in the pledge and does not feel the phrase excludes Hindus. She told Beliefnet, "The court's decision is extremely disappointing and distressing. The phrase 'under God' doesn't designate any one faith. In Hinduism there is only one God--we may believe in different forms of God, but ultimately it is one supreme reality, Brahman. This is not good for the nation."

Jehovah's Witnesses
How Many in the U.S.
There are about 1.3 million Jehovah's Witnesses in the U.S., making up 0.6% of the U.S. adult population.

Under Who?
Jehovah's Witnesses are far from polytheists or nonbelievers. They believe in one God, and that Jesus was the son of God but is not part of the Godhead. However, the group does have an interesting stance on the Pledge of Allegiance. Jehovah's Witnesses do not recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They give serious credence to the biblical injunction not to bow down to graven images. They believe all prayers should be directed toward God, not to any saints, images, or even Jesus. Saluting the flag is considered to be like praying to a graven image.

Reaction:
So far the Jehovah's Witness Office of Public Information hasn't released a statement about the pledge ruling, but it is unlikely the decision will affect how members of this faith feel about the pledge. Jehovah's Witnesses have already done battle in U.S. courts about students' right to refrain from saying the Pledge of Allegiance. In a 1943 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that forcing students to say the pledge was unconstitutional, in a case brought by a Jehovah's Witness family.


Discuss Jehovah's Witnesses on the message boards.

Native Americans
How Many in the U.S.
The 2000 U.S. Census recorded nearly 2.5 million American Indians and Alaskan Natives in the U.S. According to the American Religous Identification Survey, there are an estimated 103,000 Native American adults in the U.S. who self-identify as following Native American religion.

Under Who?
Although the beliefs in Native American spirituality are very diverse, it is common for the spirits throughout nature to be seen as a single creative force, sometimes referred to as the Great Spirit, Mother Earth, or Wakan-Tanka.Many do not consider their spiritual practices a religion, but simply part of their way of life.

Reaction:
No official Native American reaction, though some Native groups do promote an "Indian Pledge of Allegiance," in which indigenous people pledge allegiance to their tribe.

Discuss Native American spirituality here or learn more about indigenous traditions.

Pagans/Wiccans
How Many in the U.S.
There are about 300,000 pagans in the U.S., including people who identify as Pagan, Wiccan, and Druid, according to the American Religious Identification Survey 2001. These numbers have grown substantially since 1990, especially among Wiccans, who have increased in number from 8,000 to 134,000.

Under Who?
Wiccans and other pagans have diverse views about the nature of God. Many Wiccans believe in a feminine divinity--the Goddess, or Mother of all living. Many pagans find divinity in nature. Other pagan religions, such as Asatru and some other Reconstructionist religions are polytheistic. Modern heathens who practice the pre-Christian religions of Greece and Rome recognize a pantheon of gods, from Aphrodite to Zeus.

Reaction:
Most pagans on the Beliefnet message boards welcomed the appeals court ruling about the Pledge of Allegiance. "I'm plenty patriotic and I've got no problem with Christians expressing their faith. I don't want others religon pushed on me or my government to promote one religious belief in a multi-faith nation," wrote member Contrary_Asteria. (Respond.) "I agree with the ruling," wrote member beachgirl477. "Growing up in a family who didn't belong to any one religion, I remember finding it odd that we had to be 'one nation under God' every morning when I said the pledge at school." (Respond.)

Learn more about Reconstructionist religions and Earth-based religions.

Unitarian Universalists
How Many in the U.S.
629, 000, or about 0.3% of the U.S. adult population.

Under Who?
There is no consensus among Unitarians about the existence or non-existence of God, and Unitarians welcome all beliefs about a deity, or lack thereof. Many Unitarians are nontheistic, while some do have strong belief in God. Some Unitarian congregations do have a Christian bent, with members sharing faith in God and Jesus Christ.

Reaction:
The president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev. William Sinkford, issued this statement about the pledge ruling: "America is increasingly becoming more religiously pluralistic. This pluralism is a blessing. For many, the language of God is an affirmation, but this language does not resonate with all Americans. The ruling of the federal appeals court in California, which undoubtedly will be appealed, raises questions about what it means to be an American, to be patriotic. The question is not what metaphor we use for the holy; the question is what commitment we make to justice.

"It is important to understand that the court's ruling does not strike down the Pledge of Allegiance; it merely says that Congress made a mistake in 1954 when it added the words 'under God' to the Pledge. The original Pledge was recited for many decades without any religious reference. We applaud the court's efforts to restore the original Pledge."

Discuss Unitarian Universalism on the message boards.

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