[He] was summoned from his native Scotland in 1950 to become pastor of the historic church in downtown Washington, which Abraham Lincoln attended when he was president in the 1860s. Each year on the Sunday closest to Lincoln's birthday, Feb. 12, the church had a special service that was traditionally attended by the president.Those words may grate on some liberals' ears. Remember the oral argument in the Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality of the words "under God" in the Pledge?
On Feb. 7, 1954, with President Dwight D. Eisenhower sitting in Lincoln's pew, Rev. Docherty urged that the pledge to the flag be amended, saying, "To omit the words 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance is to omit the definitive factor in the American way of life."
He borrowed the phrase from the Gettysburg Address, in which Lincoln said, "this Nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom."
Rev. Docherty's inspiration for the sermon came from his son's schoolroom experience of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which was written in 1892 by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy. When Rev. Docherty realized that it had no reference to God, he later said, "I had found my sermon."
Without mentioning a deity, Rev. Docherty said, the pledge could just as easily apply to the communist Soviet Union: "I could hear little Muscovites recite a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity."...
But in 1954, with Eisenhower in the congregation and the threat of communism in the air, Rev. Docherty's message immediately resounded on Capitol Hill. Bills were introduced in Congress that week, and Eisenhower signed the "under God" act into law within four months....
"An atheistic American is a contradiction in terms," he said in his sermon. "If you deny the Christian ethic, you fall short of the American ideal of life."
Michael A. Newdow stood before the justices of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, pointed to one of the courtroom's two American flags and declared: ''I am an atheist. I don't believe in God.''...But Docherty was no arch conservative. From the first link:
Earlier, Dr. Newdow responded to Justice Stephen G. Breyer's suggestion that ''under God'' had acquired such a broad meaning and ''civic context'' that ''it's meant to include virtually everybody, and the few whom it doesn't include don't have to take the pledge.''
''I don't think that I can include 'under God' to mean 'no God,' '' Dr. Newdow replied. ''I deny the existence of God.'' He added, ''Government needs to stay out of this business altogether.''...
[The 9th Circuit court] ruled last year that the addition of ''under God'' turned the pledge into a ''profession of religious belief'' and made it constitutionally unsuitable for daily recitation in the public schools. Congress added the phrase at the height of the cold war in an effort to distinguish the American system from ''Godless Communism.''
During his 26 years as pastor, he became better known for his liberal social activism than for his quest to alter the Pledge of Allegiance. He promoted racial equality and led outreach efforts to feed and educate the city's hungry and poor. His church was often a staging point for civil rights and antiwar demonstrations, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. preached from its pulpit. Rev. Docherty was with King on the Edmund Pettus Bridge during the "Bloody Sunday" civil rights march in Selma, Ala., in 1965.