Patriotism and the Pledge of Allegiance

If you’re an American citizen, or went to public school here, or been a Scout, you have said the pledge of allegiance hundreds of times. Me too.

Even though I am deeply committed to my native country, I do not like this pledge. Pledging allegiance to a flag (??) proves nothing about a person’s patriotism.

My original Toastmasters club opened every meeting by saluting the flag, which I found particularly troublesome since members may not be American citizens (or believe in God, for that matter)  and what the heck does the pledge have to do with public speaking anyway???  I stood, but I didn’t speak or put my hand on my heart.

My aversion comes partly from my own spiritual makeup. I’m resistant to reciting anybody else’s pledges or creedal statements – if I’m going to pledge my commitment to my country or to God, I want to use my own words.

But my biggest problem comes from the way folks treat the pledge as a sacred text. Far from it! It resulted from a commercial advertising campaign.  (Hey, it’s America!)

Here’s the history:

In 1890 the owners of a popular children’s magazine, Youth’s Companion, were selling flags to schools as a premium to promote their magazine. They had sold 26,000 but after a year or two sales were flagging, so they asked Baptist minister Francis Bellamy to write a “Pledge” to accompany their flags, so schools had something to DO with the flags to help boost sales, which he did.

The original pledge: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”

The magazine publishers then lobbied President Benjamin Harrison to proclaim October 21 of that year a general holiday to commemorate the 400-year anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America – envisioning (their) flags flying over every schoolhouse in the country, and schoolchildren gathering to recite this pledge. Harrison obliged.

Pretty soon the pledge became a common way to start the school day. It was done with hand over heart then raised to the flag (heil Hitler style) till WWII, when it was deemed too Nazi-like, and since then we’ve kept our hand on our heart.

In 1923 the words “to the flag of the United States of America” were added

In 1954 “under God” was added. This was at height of anti-communist fervor during the Cold War – Senator McCarthy was equating atheists with godless communists – as if a change to the pledge would stamp out atheists.

There have been objections to the pledge since Day One:

  • People thought it was wrong to indoctrinate school kids with a nationalist pledge, especially when most of them had no clue what the words meant. Indeed, I remember wondering for years about our “invisibility”. Ours is the only western country where many schoolchildren take a pledge of allegiance daily.
  • Some religions forbid praising any image (the flag) as idolatrous.
  • Some objected to the word “indivisible” because they support the right of states to secede from the union.
  • And some objected to the addition of the words “under God” as not separating church and state.

My other problem with the flag salute is that it smacks of forced but empty patriotism.

The very word “patriotic” is problematic these days.

  • “Patriotic” to the Bush administration has meant “Shut up and trust us. If you disagree with us, you’re un-American, unpatriotic, unChristian, and you’re supporting the terrorists.”
  • “Patriotic” to me is about deeds, not words. It means being an informed and active citizen who is unafraid to speak out, and who gets involved in making our country accountable to its lofty ideals.

So… what do you think about the use of the pledge of allegiance? When is it appropriate? How do you feel when you say it? Talk to me.

4 responses to “Patriotism and the Pledge of Allegiance

  1. Well said, Joy. We really are not as free and as individualistic as we think we are. So long as we are governed by our emotions we shall be a nation of sheep.

    I appreciate the bit of history, too.

  2. B”H
    The pledge includes the words (As you stated) “…one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”
    Since there have been over 40 million abortions since 1973 (over 40 days is murder acc. to The 7 Noahide Laws) it seems there is NOT liberty and justice for all. Only those who can speak and have money to hire a lawyer.
    We are a nation of murderers, like it or not!

  3. Thanks for your comments, Boruch.

    Although I do not share your anti-abortion stance, it’s true that America lacks “liberty and justice for all” in ways too innumerable to count. People of color, people with disabilities, people with non-heterosexual orientations, the wrongly incarcerated, immigrants, political prisoners … we’ve got a long way to go.

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