What's its real purpose?

By Estelle Nora Harwit Amrani
September 16, 2005

At the start of every school day, most children all over America stand up, put their right hand over their heart and recite by rote the Pledge of Allegiance. Most are bored and do it robotically, without thinking about what they're saying, but they do it because it's just what one is supposed to do, without question. Just like singing the national anthem at baseball games - do your national duty and sing, and then you can play ball. Why do these go together, anyway?

The Pledge of Allegiance continues to receive several interpretations and alterations since it was originally written. Why it ever became a manditory oath in schools is beyond my comprehension. I feel the Pledge violates our rights and is contrary to the very principles it wants people to uphold. I feel reciting the Pledge is a ridiculous thing to demand from children or adults as a type of undying promise to the U.S.A.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in August of 1892 by Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), a Baptist minister. Bellamy was a Christian Socialist who expressed the ideas of his cousin, Edward Bellamy (author of "Looking Backward" and "Equality"). The Pledge was first published in "The Youth's Campaign". Francis Bellamy was also a chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education in the National Education Association. He prepared a program for Columbus Day in 1892 and structured it around a flag raising ceremony and his Pledge.

His original Pledge 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.' He considered placing the word, 'equality,' in his Pledge, but knew that the state superintendents of education on his committee were against equality for women and African Americans. [ * 'to' added in October, 1892. ]

From 1923 onward, there were some changes made to the Pledge that Bellamy protested (but no one seemed to care). In 1954, after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, Congress added the words, 'under God,' to the Pledge. The Pledge was now both a patriotic oath and a public prayer. That would not have pleased Bellamy, according to his granddaughter.

Bellamy's intent in the Pledge was to point out the salient points of our national history from the Declaration of Independence, the makings of the Constitution, the meaning of the Civil War, with the hopes of the people.

The Court has defended the right to choose not to say the pledge. A case was brought before the court because a father (an athiest) claimed his daughter was harmed by hearing the words "under God" in the Pledge. It is known that this was a custody case, but the courts took it literally. On June 26, 2002, an appeals court in San Francisco, California, ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because of the words "under God" added by Congress in 1954. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the phrase amounts to a government endorsement of religion in violation of the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which requires a separation of church and state. Since our currency says "In God We Trust" it may be difficult to justify this ruling. Can you believe that a child was truly "harmed" by hearing others say the words "under God?" The idea that God can be any God of your choice apparantly isn't the issue. Their reasoning is that the use of God implies religion - something I don't happen to agree with. It also doesn't imply any particular religion, just a belief in God. For those who don't believe in God, they don't have to say the phrase "under God" or be personally offended because others have a different belief. Religion is a choice, and freedom of religion is one reason the United States came into being, even though God is not mentioned in the Constitution because of the decision to keep the state and religion separate. But tell that to GW Bush who seems to show contempt for our Constitution by declaring a national day of PRAYER, making flags fly at half-mast for it, too. How about a national day of acknowledgement, or compassion and remembrance for those who perished and let people choose IF and WHEN and HOW they will pray (or not)? I know, prayer doesn't have to mean religious prayer, but it does imply it and I don't think it's the government's business to order prayer for the nation!

Other than the Palestinians, who brainwash their children early on to take pledge after pledge to torture and murder every Jew and Israeli and Christian and wipe Israel off the face of the planet, and to do so while committing suicide is even better, do you know a nation that has a pledge, other than the U.S?

Why should a child starting in pre-school, when they don't even know what the Pledge means, have to pledge allegiance to a flag and the nation for which it stands merely because the child goes to school in the United States? What could the purpose possibly be to contradict the whole purpose our nation was founded by saying the Pledge? Indoctrination and brainwashing, perhaps? Teach your kids as soon as they step into school to defend this nation and you might have an army when they grow up. If it's good values that is supposed to be passed on through the Pledge, why not do it in other ways, like through good deeds?

I asked both my sons (one 25 and one 16) separately (and they didn't hear what the other said) what they thought of the Pledge. One said he thinks it isn't right because it takes away our freedom of speech. He thinks it's alright to have a national anthem, but we shouldn't be forced to say the Pledge. He thinks it's bullshit. He's right - freedom of speech is removed IF a child is forced to say the Pledge. My other son said, "I think it's stupid. I believe that countries should have a national anthem, but not a pledge. My idea of being an American is living here and paying my taxes, being a lawful citizen, but not saying a Pledge." Is anyone else asking their own kids or students how they feel about saying the Pledge? Do you think pre-schoolers and kids all the way up their educational ladder discuss the Pledge's meaning and are told THEY HAVE THE OPTION NOT TO SAY IT? I doubt any children know who wrote the Pledge or why they say it.

I think the U.S. is a great nation and I love living here and I think we have the option to feel appreciation and gratitude for being here, to have pride for our nation, and defend it if we choose. When I was young and a student in school, I had trouble saying the Pledge. I didn't know WHY I had to say it, and I had more of a problem with the Pledge when I disagreed with how my government behaved. If it were up to me to decide what goes on in classrooms, I'd rather spend more effort on educating children about the Constitution and Bill of Rights, about what real liberty is.

And, by the way, why do we still have "The Star Spangled Banner" as our national anthem? Isn't it time to have an anthem that speaks of the natural beauty of this country instead of war? How about "This Land Is Your Land" (by Woody Guthrie)? Or, "America the Beautiful" by Katharine Lee Bates (even though "God" is in it). Now THOSE are amazing songs!

For a complete list of the Bill of Rights, please visit Cornell's page. Click here to read about the Declaration of Independence.

Baer, John. The Pledge of Allegiance, A Centennial History, 1892 - 1992, Annapolis, Md. Free State Press, Inc., 1992.
Miller, Margarette S. Twenty-Three Words, Portsmouth, Va. Printcraft Press, 1976. And, "A Short History" by Dr. John W. Baer

For more information about the history of the Pledge, be sure to read the three online chapters of
The Pledge of Allegiance, A Centennial History, 1892 - 1992 by Dr. Baer,
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