One Nation Under God
May 1, 2004 - Country music artist Lee Greenwood is perhaps best known for his song "God Bless the U.S.A." He also has numerous top ten hits, a Grammy Award, and he was twice voted the Country Music Association's Male Vocalist of the Year. Recently he has agreed to serve as one of the spokespersons for the effort to protect the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, an issue currently under consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. In this interview Greenwood talks about the importance of the court's decision, what citizens can do—and his own faith in Jesus Christ.
by Bob Paulson
In June 2002, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California declared that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion because the Pledge includes the phrase "under God."
The case was filed by Michael Newdow, who claims that his daughter was injured when her teacher led her class in a ritual proclaiming that there is a God and that the United States is "one nation under God." Newdow says he also has been injured because having that phrase recited in a public school interferes with his ability to educate his daughter about his religious belief, atheism.
On March 24 of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case. The justices will reconvene in early June to discuss the case, with their decision to be announced soon afterward. A public education campaign called "One Nation Under God" is working to support the legal defense fund for preserving the phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Q: Why did you want to be involved in the effort to protect the phrase "one nation under God"?
A: I think that as Michael Newdow brings this case to the courts, he is trying to take the decision away from the people. I think he was using his daughter to bring his own belief to the courts. If he had said, "Let's just vote on it, shall we?" that would have been different. But to bring it to the court, the way he did, raised an issue that is as old as time.
I think the Christian community has some apathy about this issue, not realizing that it could lead to the very loss of our national heritage. Historically, America has answered to a higher authority. We see that heritage everywhere. It is on our money. It is in our court system as people put their hand on a Bible to swear an oath. It is in our everyday fiber. As an American citizen I wanted to step up and say something that had value. And as a Christian I find it extremely offensive that our heritage of believing that we answer to a higher authority is being challenged.
Q: Why should Christians be concerned about the Supreme Court's decision?
A: We have Christian roots in this country. When our forefathers put down roots in desolate places, the thing that allowed them to survive was that they had a faith to see them through the tough times.
The Constitution of the United States allows us to change; I don't have a problem with that. But if we get to the point where more people do not believe in a God than who do believe in God, we will have a hollow legal system—we will have something without heart. Some people may believe that their conscience is enough to guide them not to lie, be deceitful or do the other things God has commanded us not to do. I disagree. People who don't believe in God may have their own way of justifying some bad act they have committed. People certainly have the right to say, "I'm strong enough to be honest with my friends and neighbors—I can be a good American and not be a Christian." But I believe there is a decay that is eroding America, and as a result, God begins to disappear from our society.
Q: What will change if this phrase is taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance?
A: I believe that if "under God" were taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance, it would create a downhill locomotive that would begin to take out of our fiber all the things we believe in as Christians. Already we are struggling to keep a handle on morality and on our vision for this country. It bothers me to know there is the possibility that I as a Christian would be not only an underdog, but that I would be trodden upon if I claimed that I was a Christian.
I have no doubt that because of this frivolous suit, other people will gravitate toward it, even if that wasn't their intention to begin with. Once someone has had that kind of success, you can only imagine. Eventually the president may not put his hand on the Bible when he is going to take his oath. And people might not do that in court. When you put your hand on the Bible, you are saying something much stronger than just telling your peers that you're going to tell the truth.
The phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance doesn't say that everyone is a Christian. It doesn't even say that everyone believes in God. It just says that this nation is protected by God. I don't want that taken away.
Q: Why do Americans need to voice their opinions even after the case is heard by the Supreme Court?
A: I asked that question of One Nation Under God—the coordinating organization for this grassroots movement. I asked, "Can judges be influenced by public opinion?"
I learned that they can. Recently, the Library of Congress released the private documents of the late Justice Harry Blackmun. The papers reveal that in several key abortion cases, justices were keenly interested in the perceived public reaction to their rulings—indicating that courts can be influenced by public sentiment.
Also, one justice has recused himself from this case, so there is a possibility that it could end up in a 4-4 tie. If that happens, the lower court's decision to strike the phrase will be in force. At that point there could be congressional action to include "under God" in the Pledge.
So we can't be passive. We need to talk to the media; we need to talk to our representatives and senators. We have to be sure that we support this movement so that the Supreme Court and other leaders get the message.
We also need to help the legal defense of this phrase. The mother of Michael Newdow's daughter, Sandra Banning, is in debt from her part in this case. She wants the nation and the world to know that this suit brought by her daughter's father is frivolous. She wants people to know that her daughter is a Christian.
Q: Tell us about your own faith—how and when did you commit your life to Jesus Christ?
A: I was raised by my grandparents; my parents were divorced when I was a year old. My grandparents knew it was important that I understood Christianity and the Bible. But they never took me to church; they sent me to church.
So in my younger years, I was confused. There were things that I did not fall into, such as drugs. I persisted at my career, which was singing, entertaining and being a musician in one of the hardest places in the United States: Las Vegas. I believe I emerged there because God had something for me to do. I still think He has things for me to do. But as my career ascended, I grasped the "brass ring" and was thrown into the spotlight. That, too, confused me, because I don't think I had my feet firmly on the ground, and I didn't have Christ in my heart. Looking back now, there is nothing that has ever reached into the depths of my soul like knowing that I have disappointed God, not just myself.
Fifteen years ago I met the woman who is now my wife, Kim. She is a devout Christian. Her family is a wonderful Christian family. I fell in love with her while working on a USO tour. Upon pledging our love for each other, I also pledged my faith to God. And since then I have been a born-again Christian. It has changed me inside, enough so that my faith is steadfast now, and I'm a firm believer in keeping Christ in my heart.
Q: When you are not touring, are you able to be involved in church?
A: Kim and I attend church in Sevierville, Tenn. We go as often as I'm home on Sunday. Both of our sons go as well—every Wednesday they have choir. And we attend Sunday school. The church is a solid community; we all support each other.
I am on tour again because I have a new album. It is called Stronger Than Time, and it is my 24th album. As a senior artist I find touring a bit of a struggle, but I've been pleased that we've had success. As our record breaks on radio in the next couple of months, we are optimistic.
Q: Sometimes people blend patriotism and religious faith to an uncomfortable degree, as if being an American and a Christian are almost one and the same. Where do you see the line between patriotism and faith?
A: Talk to soldiers; that will be your best perspective. If a soldier is wounded in battle, and there is the possibility of him dying, the first thing he will do is pray. Even people who would say, "I'm not a Christian," might also say, "But I'm not taking any chances."
For five years we had a theater in Sevierville, but we closed it in 2000. I know that closing it was God-ordained, because if we had not, I would not have been available to be of any use to the nation after the terrorist attack on 9/11. After praying about it, my wife and I both agreed that I could be of better use touring the nation. So I was able to sing at the fireman's memorial at Yankee Stadium and again at Carnegie Hall for the police memorial. And each year since 2001, at the New York Stock Exchange, we light the tree and honor the families of the people lost in the terrorist attack.
It's always a spiritual experience. It is not just American; it is not just patriotism. I will put my hand on someone who has lost a son in the Trade Center towers or who has lost a soldier in Iraq, and we will pray together. There has never been a time when I have done that when someone has said, "Please don't pray for me, because I'm not a Christian." Never has anyone done that. At their core, when things really matter, people see a need to turn to God for strength and protection. Our nation has always recognized this. That's why I believe that we must never fail to affirm that we are indeed one nation under God.