Pastor who helped insert ‘under God’ in pledge dies
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill on Flag Day.
ALEXANDRIA, Pa. (AP) — The Rev. George M. Docherty, whose sermon before President Dwight D. Eisenhower helped push Congress to insert the words “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance, has died. He was 97.
Docherty died on Thanksgiving at his home in central Pennsylvania after a lengthy illness, according to his wife. Sue Docherty said her husband of 36 years had been in failing health for about three years.
“George said he was going to live to be a hundred, and he was determined,” she said in a telephone interview Saturday. “It’s amazing that he was with us this long.”
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Docherty moved to the United States in 1950 to become pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. He was unfamiliar with the pledge until he heard it recited by his 7-year-old son, Garth.
“I didn’t know what the Pledge of Allegiance was, and he recited it, ‘one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,’” he recalled in an interview with The Associated Press in 2004. “I came from Scotland, where we said ‘God save our gracious queen,’ ‘God save our gracious king.’ Here was the Pledge of Allegiance, and God wasn’t in it at all.”
Docherty then wrote a sermon saying that the Pledge of Allegiance should acknowledge God. There was little effect after he first delivered the sermon to a group of clergy visiting Washington in 1952; a 1953 bill went nowhere.
But two years later, after learning that Eisenhower would be in the congregation, Docherty decided to deliver it again, hoping it would inspire the president.
From the pulpit that morning, he said the pledge was missing “the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life. Indeed, apart from the mention of the phrase ‘the United States of America,’ it could be the pledge of any Republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer and sickle flag in Moscow with equal solemnity.”
The next day, Rep. Charles G. Oakman, R-Mich., introduced a bill to add the phrase “under God” to the pledge; a companion bill was then introduced in the Senate. Eisenhower signed the new law on Flag Day.
In addition to his wife, Docherty is survived by his son, Garth; and two daughters, Julie Jancosko, of Miami, and Bridget Fouse, of Alexandria.
A memorial service is planned at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church on Dec. 21.