History

The Pledge

I regularly attended union meetings before I retired. Each meeting began with a recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. It left me feeling a little rankled. I love my country, and I believe that remaining a resident and citizen is proof enough of my allegiance. If I didn’t love it, I surely would leave it.

Why this constant renewal of vows? Why are we pressured by society to take this loyalty oath so frequently?

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in the late-1800s as a way of reunifying our country in the wake of the Civil War. Okay, I get that, but the Civil War ended over 156 years ago. Why does this loyalty oath persist?

I suspect it’s because of conspiracy theorists. There has always been a paranoid and vocal minority in our country that sees subversives lurking behind every bush. At one time they suspected Catholics were trying to take us over, and establish a papist dominion. And then there were the red scares, when paranoid folks suspected secret communist blocs were being established in every neighborhood.

We’ve also had the fear of Muslims and Sharia Law taking over our country. The Birther Movement fanned these flames when they claimed President Obama was a secret Muslim born in Kenya. According to Birther zealots, Obama was sneaked into our country and groomed to become our president, with the secret mission of destroying our nation and forcing everyone to convert to Islam.

What a ridiculous right-wing, radical conspiracy! (Try saying that fast, three times in a row).

The Obama threat has passed, and somehow we managed to avoid Sharia Law. But now the new threat comes from the right, according to the left. Left-wing conspiracy theorists claim that right-wingers, including anyone who voted for Trump, are all racists, and are conspiring to establish a white supremacist dictatorship under Donald Trump. They claim this is evident by the January 6th takeover of the U.S. capitol building by Trump supporters.

So it’s my theory that this is why we’re expected to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of public meetings and other kinds of gatherings. With all the groups we imagine are trying to take over our country all the time, we have to frequently renew our vows and demonstrate our loyalty.

I do recite the Pledge, because I would hate to be thought of as disloyal. But I feel uncomfortable with the traditional wording. And so I’ve rewritten the words to a pledge I would prefer over our current pledge. I’ll get to that, but first, here are the words to the traditional Pledge, according to the United States Flag Code:

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.

I feel a little uncomfortable pledging allegiance to a flag. My loyalty is to my country, and not to a piece of cloth. Besides, I’m no idol worshiper. And so I’ve written the flag out of the Pledge.

“. . . and to the Republic” are words that I’ve also omitted. I feel loyal to the Republic, but my Pledge already vows allegiance to the U.S.A. I find these words redundant, and I believe this tautology can be safely eliminated.

“. . . under God.” That really gets under my skin. I’m atheist. And there are plenty of other Americans who are also atheist. For us, freedom of religion means freedom from religion. Let’s embrace the First Amendment, and recognize the religious liberty of those who believe this nation is merely under the sky. It seems un-American to me, to have “under God” in the official wording of a pledge that the general public is asked to recite. As for me, I’ve taken those words out.

As far as “liberty and justice for all,” that’s a nice ideal, but it hasn’t always been the case. And I think “equality” would be a welcome addition in this day and age. The American Experiment has been about striving for these things, even though we’ve too often fallen short.

The entire Pledge seems ungrammatical to me. It comes off as a run-on sentence. I don’t know why the original writer of the Pledge, Francis Bellamy, made it so ungrammatical. After all, he wrote it for schoolchildren to recite. I don’t like sounding like some rube, so I’ve corrected the grammar by changing the syntax.

When I stand in a group, face the flag, and place my hand on my heart, here is the Pledge that I would prefer to recite:

I pledge allegiance to the United States of America, and to the Constitution, for which I stand. We are one nation, indivisible, striving for liberty, justice, and equality for all.

Some may consider me unpatriotic for changing the Pledge. But here’s what the Supreme Court had to say about the Pledge in 1943, in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette:

“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Here are some facts about the Pledge you may find interesting:

Francis Bellamy, the author of the Pledge, was a Socialist. When he wrote it in 1892, he initially considered using the words “equality” and “fraternity”. But he realized this would be unacceptable by the committee that would give final approval, because they were against equality for women and African-Americans. So he settled on the words, “liberty and justice for all.”

In 1923 the words “my flag” were changed to “the flag” to ensure that immigrant children would not think they were pledging to the flag of the country of their origin.

School children saluting the flag in 1941.

The original salute to the flag resembled the Nazi salute. War with Germany led to Congress changing the salute in 1942, to the current method of pressing the palm of the hand flat upon the chest.

The words, “under God” were added to the Pledge in 1954, following President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s conversion to the Presbyterian faith. Presbyterian pastor George MacPherson Docherty delivered a sermon that was attended by the recently-converted president, which promoted inclusion of these words in the Pledge. Within four months, Ike was able to convince a Republican Congress to pass the legislation needed to make the change.

Including “under God” was a popular change, of course. After all, anyone who didn’t believe in God had to be communist, right?

Categories: History

26 replies »

  1. Outside of the US, your pledge of allegiance is a bit of a joke … mainly for the reasons you state. I once had a tussle with US Border Security guys on a train from Toronto to Chicago. I was asked to produce my Passport, so I gave them my UK Passport, and my Canadian Citizenship card fell out of it.

    US “What are these?”
    Me “My UK passport and my Canadian citizenship card.”
    US “How can you have both?”
    Me “When I took out my Canadian Citizenship, I did not have to relinquish my UK Citizenship.
    US “So what country do you swear allegiance to?”
    Me “Oh …….. that is so cute.” (with big smile). “Whichever one is not giving me a hard time.”
    US “This is not funny. Which country do you belong to?”
    Me “Both Canada and the UK.”
    US “How do I know where you are from?”
    Me “It says Toronto on my rail ticket.”
    US “Hrmmmph” (and through my Passport etc into my lap!)

    Your border people have sever attitude issues!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Geez, that guy had no sense of humor at all. I’ve heard such stories about our border security before. Some are very nice people, but there are a few bullies who try to make life miserable for anyone crossing the line. Come to think of it, it’s very easy to cross the line with them, in a figurative sense.

      Liked by 2 people

      • We had a similar situation a long time ago. My son had got himself into some serious drug issues and, due to capacity problems in our local rehab centres, it was arranged for him to go to a Buffalo rehab program. Apparently Ontario and NYS have an agreement to share as necessary.

        I got cross examined as I tried to drive across into Buffalo. The Canadian side seemed to understand the situation … but the US side??? Hopeless! They did not want us to enter the US because of our drug addicted son. I explained the arrangement, but no. We were refused entry. I repeated the arrangement between Ont and NYC, and told them if they persisted with this stupidity, I would report them to both governments involved, and recommend that all US citizens enrolled in Ontario drug rehab programs be returned to the US. We were soon our way, leaving a very disgruntled idiot in uniform behind us.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, you are right! I almost wasn’t let back into the States when we visited Niagara Falls, years ago, when the kids were little. They didn’t like my birth certificate, said I could have copied it off the computer. Had ro go to into the border patrol office and they looked me up on their computer. It was really good that I didn’r have an evil twin!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. You make good points with your post. I have often wondered why we need to say it all the time as well. In 7th grade my son refused to recite the pledge. His teacher got mad at him, as he stayed seated when everyone else in the class stood to recite it. He wrote out on one sheet of paper why he refused to say ir and she accepted it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like your son was standing (or sitting) for his principles.

      I have an idea of what he went through. My mother was an on again/off again Jehovah’s Witness, and they don’t believe in pledging to the flag. So there were many times as a student, when I refused to participate in this ritual, due to my mother’s instructions. Usually teachers were cool about it, but I had a 5th grade teacher who really put me through the 3rd degree before she finally backed down.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ugh on being put through the 3rd degree! His teacher didn’t agree with him but she was impressed with what he wrote. I think it showed her that he wasn’t doing it just to be a rebel, he had strong convictions about it. Honestly I don’t know if he refused to do it in HS as well or not. He isn’t one to want to cause a scene but he also won’t be pressured into doing something that he doesn’t want to do. I pulled out my hair when he was a toddler. Strong willed for sure!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting topic. I once surprised our federal Representative (later state Governor) in that I disagreed with him that flag-burning should be illegal. My perspective is that the spirit of the First Amendment is that political free-speech is not sacrificed simply because it offends someone. I find it curious that the same argument for banning flag-burning is now being promoted from the opposite political persuasion.

    I remember the pledge as well as singing patriotic songs with words that made no sense to me as a kid learning Engrish. Why did I need to plead for lenience? And was a “republic” some kind of special stand for flags? And why were there lamb parts exploding everywhere? Poor animals…

    Patriotic ceremony can be rather disturbing, especially when it doesn’t make any sense. At least American kids aren’t forced to wish that, The Emperor should live for eight-thousand generations, or until pebbles turn into mossy boulders.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I agree with you about flag burning. I doubt I’d ever burn a flag, but I like the fact that it’s protected as a form of protest. What I really like is that we have such broad freedoms to engage in political debate, even to the point of insulting our leaders and calling them the worst, most despicable names. I generally don’t go that far, but it’s nice to know I have that kind of head room, without risking arrest.

      Yeah, very young kids must feel quite puzzled over rituals like the pledge of allegiance.

      And yes, before anyone complains about our patriotic rituals, maybe they should examine the rituals of North Korea and a few other nations. We’re very mild, compared with them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Any debate of the pros/cons of patriotism should consider two major factors:

        One aspect of our species is that there is a subconscious desire to “belong”. That can be as small as a family or small social group, or as large as our species … or somewhere in the middle, being a country.
        Countries, just like businesses, need the support of as many people as possible. For a country, the extreme could be an armed conflict. Businesses need us for profit. All of these entities are aware of our manipulation potential, and employ professional psychologists etc. to advise on how to get us to risk our lives (patriotism) or spend all our money (commercialism).

        My conclusion, embrace any sense of belonging at any level as it is a healthy position to be in, but be aware of professional manipulation. Because a handsome guy/beautiful woman on TV says that we just have to use (product), does not mean our lives will be incomplete without it. Just as a Prime Minister/President/King who tells us that all (nationality/religion/colour) are a threat to our well being should not be believed. Sadly, a large proportion of us can be manipulated (German anti-Jew sentiment in the late 1930’s).

        Our challenge is to not only acknowledge that manipulation is happening all the time, but to recognize the process and then act according to our “independent” will.

        So where do I belong? I was born English and adopted Canadian citizenship. I do not consider myself patriotic to either country as patriotism (to me) reeks of somebody telling me how I should feel/behave/react based on my country. I refuse that kind of control. I love England as a country, just as I love Canada as a country, I just prefer to live in Canada! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        • I would agree that patriotism is not necessary to love one’s country. We don’t have to pledge our allegiance, or fly a flag in front of our houses, or make any other demonstration. I like your spirit of independence from all that crap.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I just feel like many people mistake nationalism for patriotism. I have no problem with people respecting and caring about the people and the societies in which they live, or in making sacrifices to protect or to better those societies. But when it becomes a means to justify sociopathic behaviors, brutality or tribalism, then I would argue that it has more to do with indoctrination… or just brainwashing. I have great respect for the Japanese school teacher who tried to point this out in a society where the nail that stand out tends to be hammered down.

            My all time favorite political bumper-sticker read simply, “Think! It’s patriotic!”

            Liked by 1 person

            • Taking one’s patriotism to the point of bullying other countries is where I would draw the line. When we think we’re superior to others we give ourselves justification to go to war with them. And then the world becomes an ugly place.

              Liked by 1 person

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