WASHINGTON — An eight-year-old video of Rep. Betty McCollum omitting the words “under God” while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance went viral today, injecting a last-minute firestorm into what had so far been a fairly quiet 4th District race.
The year was 2002, and McCollum was leading the House of Reporesentatives in the pledge. From the video, she appears to pause between the words “one nation” and “indivisible”.
Yet apart from a brief stir at the time, the issue had largely died down, even after a local blogger found the clip and republished it in July. On Monday however, another blogger picked it up, crediting the original and saying it was “obvious” that McCollum “intentionally omitted the words ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance.” A day later, prominent conservative blogger Ed Morrissey posted it on Hot Air and conservative news site World Net Daily followed with its own story hours later. And that’s about when my RSS feed blew up.
GOP challenger Teresa Collett quickly released a statement this morning blasting McCollum for the omission.
“Our founding fathers clearly recognized that our most basic rights come from our Creator. The Pledge of Allegiance merely continues to recognize this fact. Minnesotans in the 4th district deeply respect our heritage of Judeo-Christian values, and it is troubling to think that their Congressional representative does not.”
Staffers said McCollum’s office has been inundated with outraged phone calls and e-mails today, and they responded with a statement on her website.
“Congresswoman Betty McCollum honors and respects the Pledge of Allegiance and believes the United States is one Nation under God,” the statement read. It was an inadvertent slip, her spokeswoman Maria Reppas told MinnPost, pointing to three videos of McCollum leading the pledge after this 2002 incident. They’re linked to here; in each one she clearly says the pledge with the words “under God.”
McCollum’s office also reported several profanity-laced phone calls and at least one profanity-laced death-threat letter — containing disturbing imagery and rhetoric — so far today, following the re-emergence of the video.
“Conservatives are using an eight year old video clip to incite hate, racism, and intolerance among Tea Party Republicans,” the statement from McCollum’s office continued. “This right-wing effort to call into question Congresswoman McCollum’s Christian faith, her belief in God, and her patriotism is blatantly anti-American and all too similar to the extremists who earlier this year mailed a soiled American flag to her Congressional office and threatened the Congresswoman with violence. Congresswoman McCollum rejects this radical agenda and condemns the extremist tactics behind this poisonous political exploitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Some historical context
The words “under God” were not a part of the original pledge, it should be noted, but were inserted by act of Congress in 1954. Some who backed it at the time said they wanted to set America apart from “godless communists.”
The phrase has been challenged in court several times, most notably by San Francisco attorney and atheist Michael Newdow, who had a suit dismissed by the Supreme Court on a technicality — for lacking standing to file it. After re-filing his suit with new petitioners, the case made its way to the 9th Circuit Court, which in March ruled 2-1 that the phrase could stay.
Writing for the majority, Judge Carlos Bea said the pledge “serves to unite our vast nation through the proud recitation of some of the ideals upon which our Republic was founded” and that the words “under God” constitute “a recognition of our founders’ political philosophy that a power greater than the government gives the people their inalienable rights.“
In dissent, Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote that “under no sound legal analysis adhering to binding Supreme Court precedent could this court uphold state-directed, teacher-led, daily recitation of the ‘under God’ version of the Pledge of Allegiance by children in public schools.”