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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI student wants ‘under God’ kept in pledge

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His essay on the subject selected for national publication

KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 6 , 2005 -- Nathaniel Nelson, a University of Rhode Island senior majoring in political science, doubts he’ll ever run for political office. He does chair the State College Republicans and has worked on four local political campaigns.

“Political office is appealing to me, but I like to say what I believe, which isn’t always what people want to hear,” the 21-year-old Coventry resident says with a smile.

Nelson tackles a variety of often controversial topics in the bi-weekly column he writes for URI’s student newspaper, The Good 5 ¢ Cigar. One of those columns called “Under God,” is included in the book What We Think: Young Voters Speak Out, which was published this fall. For more information about the book, click on

The book’s editors, two college seniors at Gonzaga University, compiled the non-partisan book to prove that 18- to 24-year-olds were anything but apathetic. The pair received more than 400 submissions from nearly 100 universities. The 99 essays they selected for publication represent a cross-section of opinions and subjects.

Nelson wrote “Under God” last spring when Michael Newdow, an atheist, was calling the “under God” phrase in the pledge of allegiance unconstitutional because it was a violation of his “religious” rights. Newdow asked the Supreme Court to remove the phrase, claiming the government was indoctrinating his daughter by having her recite the pledge at school and more precisely, insinuating that her father’s beliefs were wrong.

The court dismissed the cast last summer saying that Newdow’s partial custody of his 10-year-old daughter did not give him sufficient standing to raise the constitutional challenge in her behalf. This week Newdow filed another lawsuit, this time joined eight co-plaintiffs, all either parents or children.

Before writing “Under God,” Nelson did what he generally does when he hasn’t formed an opinion about a topic, the URI student researched it.

The URI student finds the phrase, “one nation under God,” which was added to the pledge during the Cold War years of the 1950s to establish the moral and religious distinction between America and Lenin’s “godless tyranny,” compatible with the constitution’s insistence that there be a separation of church and state.

“The constitution forbids a state-sponsored denomination,” Nelson argues. “The pledge doesn’t say, one nation under a Christian God. It simply says one nation under God, which recognizes a higher power. Our country was founded with a state sponsored set of beliefs or morals. Our Founding Fathers acknowledged that our liberties did not come from government, but from a “higher being’, “an all knowing being” and from “Divine Providence.” So right from the beginning we recognized we conformed to a higher ideal, I think government has the responsibility to promote that ideal.

“If we remove “under God” from the pledge, he adds, “we should keep in mind that there is a difference between a merely secular government and one which is atheistic.”

Raised a Baptist, Nelson now regularly attends Christian Hill in West Warwick. He has been nominated for URI’s Rainville Award, a competitive process that recognizes outstanding student achievement at URI. He was also selected by URI to be a member of Leadership Rhode Island’s Emerging Leaders Program. The program is designed to help college students with demonstrated leadership skills make the transition from college to civic engagement by providing information and experiential learning about Rhode Island history, issues facing the state, the nonprofit sector, public service and government, and community service at the workplace.

After graduating from URI this May, Nelson plans to attend graduate school to earn a doctorate degree in international relations, particularly Middle Eastern affairs.