The Pledge of Allegiance is only 31 words long, and it might lose two of them in public schools in the state of Massachusetts. A case appeared before the state Supreme Court last week over whether to strike the words “under God” from the pledge.

A lawsuit brought by an atheist family and the American Humanist Association claims the phrase discriminated against nonbelievers by linking belief in God with patriotism. Critics of the prosecution’s arguments assert that the phrase “under God” does not constitute an endorsement of any religion.

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Though some critics have gone so far as to allege those responsible for the lawsuit are un-American, and even gone so far as to call for them to leave the country if the don’t like the phrasing of the pledge, the fact is the phrase “under God” is a late addition to the original Pledge of Allegiance by Francis Bellamy.

Bellamy was a Baptist minister based out of Boston who was a figurehead in the Christian Socialist movement, as explained by Fox News.

The original words of the Pledge of Allegiance read:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The pledge was first published in a children’s magazine in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas. Quick and to the point, the pledge was meant to be an easily recited affirmation of patriotism. Backed by Congress and Congress and President Benjamin Harrison, the pledge was quickly adopted nationally.

Originally, the pledge was supposed to be said while performing what was known as the Roman salute, where a person stood at attention with the right hand pointed outward. Later, that custom was revised to a hand-over-the-heart gesture due to the rise of fascism and later the Nazis in Europe.

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In 1923, the first changes to the phrasing of the Pledge of Allegiance were made, changing “my flag” to “the Flag of the United States” so that immigrants wouldn’t confuse their loyalties. Bellamy disagreed with the revision.

On the pledge’s 50th anniversary in 1942, Congress adopted it into the national flag code, and some states went so far as to require public students to recite it everyday. This requirement in fact led to the first lawsuit against the pledge in 1943, when Jehovah’s Witnesses claimed a religious objection to reciting it. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor.

More than a decade later, Congress in 1954, after lobbying from the Knights of Columbus and amid a red scare over the threat of the Soviet Union, added the phrase “under God” to the pledge, which even then drew lawsuits over the constitutionality over its inclusion. Congress reaffirmed the use of the phrase “under God” in 2002 after a legal challenge to the verbiage went all the way to the Supreme Court.

How far the latest challenge to the pledge will get in court has yet to be seen. Massachusetts’ highest court is expected to return with a ruling in the coming months.

Photo: A class of third graders recites the Pledge of Allegiance. Credit: Corbis Images