What we know today as the Pledge of Allegiance was originally written in 1892 by Rev. Francis Bellamy. That’s right, that’s a Reverend in front of his name. Bellamy was a Baptist minister who wanted to come up with a pledge that could be recited by American school children on the quadricentennial celebration of Columbus Day.
The original text read as follows:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
Notice anything missing?
Well there have been a couple of changes over the 100-plus years since the Pledge was originally composed. In 1923, after the Pledge of Allegiance had become a staple in America’s public schools, the first National Flag Conference took up an issue: New immigrants to the U.S. might be confused about what “my Flag” meant.
So “my Flag” was changed at that 1923 conference to “the Flag of the United States,” and that was amended again the next year to read “the Flag of the United States of America.” The pledge remained unofficial at this point, and it wasn’t sanctioned by the government until the United States Flag Code (Title 36) which was passed in 1942. The very next year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that students in public schools could not be forced to recite the pledge.
But do you still notice anything missing?
Two words that are a part of the familiar Pledge of Allegiance didn’t make it in there until June of 1954. It was the early days of the Cold War, and the United States government thought it would be a good idea to differentiate ourselves from the “Godless Communists” (whatever) by adding two precious words that Rev. Bellamy didn’t think were necessary—”under God.”
I bring this up because the United States Supreme Court is again being asked to deal with the Pledge of Allegiance. You can read some of the details from CNN.com, but—in short—an atheist brought charges against his daughter’s school for having a recitation of the Pledge every morning.
Now, to be honest, I think this guy is full of crap. His daughter is not required to recite the Pledge (and children haven’t been since 1943), and she is not irreparably harmed by having a bunch of her classmates say “under God” in the midst of a patriotic statement every morning.
I, frankly, don’t think that this issue is any of the Supreme Court’s business. Two words—”under God”—are not a prayer, especially in the context of the clearly non-prayerful Pledge of Allegiance. Those words, the government’s sanction of them, or the recitation of them in classrooms is most definitely not a violation of the separation of church and state. It is not a “law respecting an establishment of religion,” nor does it prohibit “the free exercise thereof” (that’s from the First Amendment, by the way).
But before all of my liberal friends, enemies, and other readers jump down my throat with their beliefs that “God” has no place in public life, I must confess—I don’t think that “under God” belongs in the Pledge of Allegiance. It serves no purpose, except to be divisive. I support its removal.
Further, I think that “In God We Trust” should be removed from our currency, and the Supreme Court itself should quit starting each of its sessions with “God save the United States and this honorable Court” (yes, they do that, look it up).
I just don’t think the Supreme Court has legal authority to prohibit these things on constitutional grounds. They might not be right, they might be divisive and pointless, but they are not unconstitutional.
One of the most bizarre things about this case is that the conservative groups that want “under God” to stay, in their own arguments, actually support my opinion.
“How so?” you ask. Well, the liberal groups who want “under God” gone make the argument that those two words are a prayer and thereby are offensive and unfair to those who do not believe in God. In response, conservatives say that “under God” is not a prayer—in fact, they say, it has no religious meaning at all.
So why are conservatives fighting to keep “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, when they concede in their own arguments that the words are effectively meaningless? What’s all the hubbub about? Liberals say it’s offensive, conservatives say it’s non-religious and meaningless, so I think we can all agree that “under God” has no place in the government-sanctioned Pledge of Allegiance—or, at least, that it’s no big deal.
I’ll tell you why. Regardless of what arguments they make in public discourse and in the Supreme Court, those who want “under God” to stay feel that way because they want the government to bolster their personal beliefs in God.
I, for one, don’t need the government’s help to know that this country is “under God.” I believe quite firmly that it is, but I don’t think the government should make the assumption—as it did in 1954—that everybody agrees with me. Many Americans today do not believe in God, or they believe in a different God than the Christian God that the Pledge clearly refers to.
Today’s Pledge of Allegiance is not unconstitutional, but on some level it is—indeed—unfair. It excludes people, albeit in a minor way, because atheists and other non-believers cannot recite the entire Pledge. It doesn’t violate their civil rights, it doesn’t prevent them from being successful, and it isn’t worth crying or suing about—but it is wrong.
It’s a wrong that Congress and the president have the responsibility to set right, not the Supreme Court.
The Reverend who originally wrote the Pledge intended it to be an affirmation of allegiance to the United States that all citizens could happily recite in-full. It’s time that we return the Pledge to that wonderful purpose, and again make it into something that every citizen of the United States can say proudly from beginning to end.
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
Now that wasn’t so bad.