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?

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