Yesterday, I read a story that was covered by both PZ Myers of Pharyngula and Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy about a group of Boulder high school students that protested the weekly recitation of the pledge of allegiance at their high school.
Of course the main issue raised is the wording “under God”, which was added to the pledge in 1954 after much lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service organization. The root of this objection is obvious: the pledge is a statement signed as bill by congress that endorses God, which many people see as an violation the first amendment if not a marginalization of non-theistic Americans.
Since this was the main issue, the protesters crafted their own pledge and recited it at the time that the official pledge was being broadcast over the loudspeakers:
I pledge allegiance to the flag and my constitutional rights with which it comes. And to the diversity, in which our nation stands, one nation, part of one planet, with liberty, freedom, choice and justice for all.
Personally, I’m not fond of it. It is chalk full of Democratic Party talking points, and while though I may agree with them for the most part, I find that partisan sentiments sewn into statements meant to represent the whole nation are rather off-putting. However, I have a bigger problem with reciting the pledge in schools and that goes down to its very nature.
The original pledge of allegiance was written by Christian socialist Francis Bellamy in 1892 for the Youth Companion, a popular youth magazine at the time. The original pledge is 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
The second “to” was added a month after it was originally published, when President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation to have it recited by school children. Bellamy wanted to encourage obedience to the state in youth, and this was a way to do it.
The pledge has been revised twice. The first time was in 1923 to replace “my Flag” with “the flag of the United States of America” to prevent immigrants from secretly pledging allegiance to the flag of their home countries. The second was as mentioned above, in 1954 during the height of the red scare when the Knights of Columbus pressured the Congress to add “under God”
An interesting side note, but not one of great substance is the Bellamy salute that was used when reciting the pledge until 1942. This salute was very much like Nazi salute, which was exactly why it was stopped in 1942, shortly after we had joined WWII. Here is a picture of the Bellamy salute courtesy of Crotonblog:
Though this is not actually an issue of much substance, merely something that startles us now with the similarity in appearance to the Nazi salute, it does highlight one of the main problems with the pledge and that is that the pledge is basically an oath of obedience to the government of the United States of America.
I have qualms with having children of an age not fit for assessing their loyalty to a government being compelled to rather mindlessly pledge their obedience to a government on a rather routine basis. In that sense, the pledge is an echo of the indoctrination that was found in totalitarian states such as Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy.
Of course, it may be argued that I am blowing this out of proportion and I readily admit that we do not have the same level of indoctrination as those totalitarian states did, but the idea that children should be indoctrinated with a pledge of obedience to the state before they can assess the situation for themselves is one that I find reprehensible in a democratic state.
A representative democracy such as our own requires critical thinking on the part of our citizenry to work effectively and this pledge runs counter to that. Nationalism has its benefits in its ability to unify people of different backgrounds, but it hurts our ability to challenge the assertions made by those in power. One could see that in action during our current President’s tenure when the administration used patriotism and the imagery of September 11 to make an almost jingoistic case for war with Iraq.
I know that my opinion is a minority in this country, as the debate continues over whether “under God” should be kept in the pledge, not whether the pledge should be kept. I hope that as time goes on, opinions in this country will shift enough to give this issue a critical look, though in part because of the teaching of the pledge, criticism of what is perceived as patriotic will still be very difficult.