Americanism vs. Godless Communism

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America's Protestant fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and Roman Catholics have often been divided sharply by theological and secular issues. In the 1930s and 1940s, however, they were united in their opposition to "atheistic Communism." Monsignor Bishop Fulton Sheen and Father Charles Coughlin took to the radio in the 1930s to decry what they saw as the Soviet Union's policies of repression at home and subversion abroad. Pittsburgh "labor priest" Charles Owen Rice helped build the Association of Catholic Trade Unionists (ACTU) in 1937 to combat Communist influence within the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).

Given the great number of Catholic CIO members, as well as their prominent leadership roles in the union movement, labor heeded the advice of Rice, Sheen, and Francis Cardinal Spellman to reject "red fascism." Representing 16 percent of the U.S. population in 1940, but accounting for one-quarter of the Democratic Party's national vote, Roman Catholics also exercised their clout at the voting booth.

Although a critic of the CIO, the New Deal Democratic Party, and Catholicism, Reverend Carl McIntire, a Protestant minister, was just as anticommunist as Spellman and Sheen. In 1941 McIntire founded the American Council of Christian Churches to combat Communism. McIntire's organization quickly grew to 1.5 million members. A second anticommunist Protestant organization, the National Association of Evangelicals—established in 1942—grew to 10 million members by 1952. The National Association of Evangelicals hailed Christianity as a bulwark of democracy and free enterprise against a rising tide of Communism.

Rejecting the not always subtle anti-Catholicism of his fellow Protestants, Reverend Billy Graham after World War II aimed his sermons against "demonpossessed Communism." In the context of the early years of the Cold War (1946–1991), Graham's ministry helped spawn a religious revival as church affiliation rose from 55 percent to 69 percent during the 1950s. Responding to the rising spirit of religiosity and patriotism in America, as well as to the prodding of the Catholic Knights of Columbus organization, the U.S. Congress in 1954 added the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Mainline Protestants—notably Episcopalians and Presbyterians—had never been as sharply anticommunist as their Evangelical counterparts, who in turn regarded them with suspicion. Given their opposition to labor unions, few Mainline Protestant clergy had won any influence with Catholics. By the 1960s, in the context of the divisive Vietnam War (1964–1975), many Mainline Protestant denominations denounced the Cold War.

Growing numbers of Catholics, mainly those who had moved into the ranks of the college-educated middle class, also lost their anticommunist ardor. To such Catholics, their church's historic "Just War Doctrine" was no longer operative in an era of nuclear weapons and bloody guerrilla warfare in which noncombatants suffered enormous losses. By the beginning of the 1970s, combating godless Communism was a pursuit of workingand lower-middle-class, socially conservative Catholics, Pentecostals, and Southern Baptists. Although such socially conservative, anticommunist churches were situated on the fringes of respectable church society and an increasingly secularized culture, they grew in terms of absolute membership. Antiwar, progressive Catholic parishes and Mainline Protestant denominations were losing hundreds of thousands of members to their anticommunist rivals. Thus, one effect of the Cold War on American society was to divide Protestant from Catholic churches.


Heale, M. J. American Anti-Communism: Combating the Enemy Within, 1830-1970. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990.

Heineman, Kenneth J. A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Re-form in Depression Pittsburgh. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

McGirr, Lisa. Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Ribuffo, Leo P. The Old Christian Right: The Protestant Far Right from the Great Depression to the Cold War. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983.

Kenneth J. Heineman

See also:Churches, Evangelical, 1946–Present; Churches, Mainstream; Communism and Anticommunism; Just-War Debate .


The "Pledge of Allegiance" is a verbal expression of loyalty to the United States of America. It was first used on the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America, when in 1892 U.S. President Benjamin Harrison di rected American school children to participate in patri otic observances on Columbus Day. The original text of the "Pledge of Allegiance" was derived from the Youth's Companion, a juvenile magazine, and read as follows:

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

In 1954 the U.S. Congress authorized an alteration in the text, adding the phrase "under God," creating the current version:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America

and to the republic for which it stands: one nation under God, indivisible,

with liberty and justice for all.

This pledge is routinely recited at public events when the flag is flown. Those in military uniform are obliged to stand and salute the flag, while those in civil ian dress are obliged to stand and place the right hand over the heart.

Yet the practice of reciting the pledge has been the subject of controversy because of this religious phrase. For example, in 1940 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8–1 that a state could require public school students to re cite daily the "Pledge of Allegiance," even the practice conflicted with a student's religious beliefs, as was the case with members of the Jehovah's Witness sect. In 2004 the question was again posed to the Supreme Court in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow. At issue was the constitutionality of a "public school policy that requires teachers to lead willing students in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which includes the works 'under God,' violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, as applicable through the Four teenth Amendment."

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Americanism vs. Godless Communism

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