(CNSNews.com) - Attempts to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance are part of an effort to undermine the religious freedom established in the United States by its founders, the author of a new book on the controversy told an audience in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.
"Religious freedom was important to the founders, because they did indeed believe it was the first liberty, and without it, no freedom, no liberty could exist at all," said William J. Murray, president of the Religious Freedom Coalition and author of "The Pledge: One Nation Under God." He gave a speech at conservative Heritage Foundation.
"In 1955, when we put 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance, it was with the understanding of what we faced in the Cold War," said Murray. "Godless nations, officially atheist nations, in the 20th century murdered more of their own citizens than people who died in all the wars in all the history of mankind."
As a result, the U.S. "chose to say that 'we are not like them, we are not godless, we hold to a higher standard, and we will obey God,'" he said. "We have religious freedom in our country because of our Christianity, not in spite of it."
During the past 230 years, the enemies of America have been those nations devoid of religious freedom, he said, adding that this country's "first two wars were fought against England, where religious dissent was repressed."
America then fought Islamic pirates in the Barbary Coast. Nazi Germany did not have religious freedom, said Murray, and Japan "was a near-theocracy."
"In Vietnam and Korea, we fought those who killed Christians for sport, and during the Cold War, we faced nuclear annihilation at the hands of a godless dictatorship in the Soviet Union whose goal was to eradicate all religion," Murray said.
Today, atheist leaders in China and North Korea have nuclear weapons, "and the mullahs who rule Iran are no less fascists than Hitler's Nazis," said Murray.
"The resistance to freedom in Iran and the willingness of men to die as suicide bombers from Baghdad to London illustrates the desperation of those who oppose religious freedom," the author continued.
"If religious freedom is successfully planted in Afghanistan and Iraq, the fascist mullahs of Iran, the corrupt dictator of Syria, and the perverted monarchs of Saudi Arabia will join Hitler, Stalin and Mao in the dustbin of history," he said.
'Supposed new rights'
Murray also spoke of an "internal threat to our religious freedom" in which "the religious symbols of our heritage are being stripped from public view, and the courts have tried to suppress our freedom of religious speech."
He then asked: "How can we send good men and women to die in Afghanistan and Iraq in an attempt to establish something that our courts in the United States are so willing to remove?"
The courts are creating new rights, such as "the right" of a person not to be offended by another person, and that is the basis of the current debate over the Pledge of Allegiance, Murray said.
Atheist activist Michael Newdow said that his daughter was "offended by the use of the words 'under God,' so the core of the argument was that she was offended, and the separation of church and state would stop her from being further offended," Murray explained before dismissing atheism as "a big-selling fad."
However, Ellen Johnson, president of the group American Atheists, told Cybercast News Service on Wednesday that Murray's views are "the typical opinion of a Christian believer. There's nothing new under the sun here."
As for religious freedom being the Founders' "first liberty," Johnson said she did her master's thesis on the religious philosophy of Thomas Jefferson, and "I've never heard of that before."
Regarding the addition of the words "under God" to the Pledge, Johnson said that "even if a billion people were slaughtered in the name of atheism, it wouldn't justify turning our national motto into a Christian one."
"Nothing can justify that," she said, because "our government isn't supposed to make a statement one way or the other on beliefs in the supernatural."
Nevertheless, Murray stressed that "the historical record is clear: From the beginning of this nation, civil leaders and pastors alike believed America was founded 'under God' and that our nation had a special calling from God to fulfill history."
"If we do surrender and accept that government is the new god and that the legislators and judges are the new high priests, it is not just America that will lose that first and most precious right of freedom of religion, it will be all of humanity," Murray added.
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