Taking the Pledge

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

That, Friends, is the original Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892 as part of an essay by Francis Bellamy (1855 – 1931).   The #1 family magazine of that day, Youth Companion, used the pledge on their cover, but gave no attribution to Bellamy.  Later, the magazine’s editor (Bellamy’s cousin, Edward) as well as its publisher (James Upton)  were sometimes given credit, even though neither claimed authorship.  The magazine, in its commitment to encourage patriotism in children, had  begun a marketing campaign to sell American flags to public schools a couple of  years earlier.

Bellamy’s views led him to become an anti-capitalist Christian socialist and a member of a utopian movement to nationalize the country.  He served  as chairman of a committee of state school superintendents in the National Education Association. He said he had wanted to use the words “equality” and “fraternity” but felt the words were “too fanciful… many thousands of years off  in terms of realization.”  He knew that the school superintendents did not believe equality should apply to women and blacks, even though equality was a part of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address.

Later that year,  a word was added:   “…and  TO the republic….”   Change #1.

President Benjamin Harrison decided to have public school children recite the pledge (15 seconds,  by Bellamy’s design) that year as part of a large flag day ceremony on Columbus Day.  It marked the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America.  The opening of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago had been planned to coincide with the Flag Day ceremony and the President felt it would help the children feel a part of the celebrations.   The flag salute Bellamy had designed was arm out, toward the flag, with the palm facing down, then turned upward at the end of the pledge.

It  was discontinued during WWII as being too Nazi-like.

In 1923, believing that immigrant children might misinterpret the words “my flag,” to mean the flag of their homeland,  the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion pushed the National Flag Conference to change it to “the flag of the United States.” “Of America” was added the next year.  Bellamy protested both changes.

The American Legion pushed the NEA and the US Dept. of Education to see that “100% Americanism” was the cornerstone of public school education and they adopted the pledge for recitation at their own meetings.   The Ku Klux Klan did, too.  So strong was their movement, the Oregon legislature mandated that all Catholic children must attend public schools.  Oregon’s law was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The pledge remained unofficial until Congress codified it in 1942, making the recitation of the pledge of allegiance a requirement in public schools.   Jehovah’s Witness members protested, feeling they could not participate because it put nation ahead of God.   The Supreme Court upheld the law, but after the ensuing backlash against Jehovah’s Witnesses, the court reversed itself the next year, saying that “compulsory unification of opinion” was unconstitutional.

In 1951, the Knights of Columbus (the world’s largest Catholic fraternal organization) added the words “under God” to their own recitations and asked their members to push Congress to do likewise.  Other fraternal, veterans, religious organizations,  and the DAR,  pushed President Dwight Eisenhower to have it added nationwide.  After hearing a sermon in his Presbyterian Church, Eisenhower, a former Jehovah’s Witness, decided he agreed.   It was changed in 1954.

My generation will be the last to remember that change.

Patriotism was very strong when I was a child.  Everybody knew someone who had fought in WWII or the Korean War.  We were taught that they did so to keep us free and were also taught what those freedoms are.  Each morning in elementary school, we gathered in the auditorium to recite the required Pledge of Allegiance to the flag–which had 48 stars then–and sing patriotic songs, making pride in our history and our country a daily ritual.   We didn’t talk about communism or immigration or  blacklists or Joseph McCarthy.   We talked about how our country was a beacon of light for the rest of the world and how lucky we were to live here.

I still remember the morning assembly when the principal told us about the new words being added to the Pledge of Allegiance.  Although she gave a short explanation, it didn’t ring true.   As far as I knew, everyone in our small Southern town, including my own family, was Christian.  Still, the words seemed a violation of people’s right to worship–or not–as they chose.  It wasn’t that I was a deep thinker;  it was simply a move at odds with what we had learned:  America was such a special country that we were united, despite religious beliefs.

Dearly Beloved grew up in another town and remembers thinking “that’s not right” about the addition of the words. One of the arguments against it was that it changed it from a pledge to a prayer.

The 1954 act was stated to be necessary to “deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism.” President Eisenhower said that “millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town … the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty.”

Oddly, in a Supreme Court ruling 50 years later, Justice William Brennan’s argument, in 2002 said  that “ceremonial deistic language is constitutionally permissible because it has become essentially meaningless.*

Less than two weeks ago, a California federal appeals court ruled  to uphold the words “under God.” They had decided  against the words in 2002, saying the pledge violated the First Amendment prohibition against government endorsement of religion.

Might there be other changes in addition to the four I’ve mentioned?

Maybe.  Here are a couple already out there:

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, born and unborn.’

A more liberal suggestion is a slightly revised version of Bellamy’s original Pledge: ‘I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with equality, liberty and justice for all.’

I don’t remember ever discussing that 1954 decision beyond that day in assembly, but lately, with the ruling back in the news,  I have wondered…does anyone else of my generation remember how they felt when the words were added?

How do you feel about it now?

Regardless of how you felt–how you feel– please share  your thoughts.   Like it or not, we’re history.

*Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press, 3/12/10


14 thoughts on “Taking the Pledge

  1. Brave post. I do remember when it changed, it was when I moved from the north where “indivisible” was the way I was taught and was amended to “under God” in the South. I am Christian but I am a firm believe in separation of Church and State. Religion should not be regulated, but should be observed and taught in ones home and place of worship, not made part of a curriculum.
    Pretty sure that will not be the popular response.

  2. I pledge to learn more history so I know this kind of detail on important things. THanks for a great post– what we think has remained unchanged, we believe to be more valid the longer it stands…not the case with the pledge. Adjusting the pledge -similarly the current decisions of the Supreme court, the recent intervention of Catholic bishops in the Health care debate, many others – erodes the broad and founding beliefs and opens the doors to manipulations.

  3. cw

    I remember … and like you, MerrilyMaryLee, I thought this just doesn’t feel right. Like so many things of true importance, this was hijacked by manipulating politicians and holier-than-thou Christians and is used to determine who ‘really loves’ the US of A and God. Such hogwash! A wonderful post – and so well said! Thank you!!!

    1. Is it true recent changes to the curriculum in Texas mandate that all students will now learn about Phyllis Schlafly? I saw her last weekend in Naples, Florida, during the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. Aggressively coiffed and accessorized, smiling her justifiably famous smile of unflappable complacency, she sat high on the backseat of a vintage convertible. No one loves hairspray and America more than Phyllis, so it makes good sense for Texans to set a place for her at the educational table.

  4. Birdie

    I do not remember this, but I went to several different elementary schools because of family transfers. What I do remember worrying a lot about was adding Alaska. I did not see how they could change 48 into 49 stars.
    DO remember church sermons in late 50’s about the importance of religious symbols on money and I was REALLY confused, because of Jesus answer to the Pharisee, (??)” render unto Caesar what is his, and unto God, . . .”
    After many years of college and graduate school, I think I have a firm grasp of what the writers of the Constitution were seeking to protect.
    I am disturbed by the failure of most Christians in USA to understand what the division of church and state really means.

  5. My goodness. That was fascinating! I appreciate the history lesson today – can’t wait to show my husband. The fact that the KKK had a part in adding the “under God” part really makes me queasy.

  6. My own feelings are echoed by the Supreme Court language–any set of words which we are obliged to repeat by rote again and again soon becomes meaningless. We simply don’t think about the words and what they mean.

    A side note–since I grew up in this church, I always heard that Eisenhower grew up in the Brethren in Christ church in Kansas. It is decidely not a Jehovah’s Witness church. See here .

    1. I think he was both, according to what I found. His family was Brethren in Christ until he was 5, then they joined Watch Tower Society, which later became Jehovah’s Witnesses. His father dropped out, but his mother remained a JW until her death.

      Isn’t Brethren in Christ the church Garrison Keillor grew up in?

      I found several articles on Eisenhower’s religious affiliation, including this one: http://www.seanet.com/~raines/eisenhower.html

  7. I was in second or third grade when the “under God” part was added and I do remember it but, since we were godless heathens who didn’t go to church, it didn’t really resonate at the time. Recently I read a quote from a woman judge here in Texas (land of “Gov. Goodhair” and home of secessionists) who said she thought it should be mandated that all judges should be Christian. We are doomed….

  8. If it is even possible, I love & respect you more because of this. You also single-handedly redeemed and now represent the fair state of NC in my mind. Too bad you don’t live in SC since that state imo needs a lot of redemption…

    How much do I love this post? Everything. Americans need more edumacation on this subject matter. I learned when I first came here (did a lot of reading ’cause I was puzzled by the people & this country) that “under god” was a creation during the McCarthy era. Out of Red Scare paranoia. The thinking goes: communists are atheist. So if we add Under God, we’ll be able to catch those godless people. Umm. So they are atheist, but they are HONEST atheists? Like, if I were a commie spy, I would not lie about it?! This always intrigues me and makes me chuckle.

    The new variation proposal, the one with “born and unborn” really really scares the heck out of me.

    Thank you for this post!

  9. unabridgedgirl

    I really enjoyed this post! I didn’t know a lot of this stuff about the pledge, so it has me thinking. I know plenty of kids in the up-rising generation that don’t even know the pledge, let alone care. Anyway, this gives me a lot of thought.

  10. I also remember the addition. My bible-thumping baptist parents were delighted. Being a child, I echoed their belief as well. Only as an adult did I find a problem, not only with the words, “under god” but with the concept of the pledge itself. I agree with Donna that a pledge forced by rote is rather meaningless.

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