Recently, at school, I’ve opted out of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I have gotten heat from other students as a result, but I’m proud of it. They have suggested I leave the country if I won’t say the pledge. I’m curious as to who made them judge, jury, and executioner, or why they should be able to tell me what to do. Regardless of all of the abridgments of freedom in the past few years, I still have the right not to say the pledge, just as much as they have a right to say it. I attend a private Catholic school, and we say the pledge after prayer, which makes it even more significant of an act. That we place the flag in the same vein of thought as God seems a little odd. Very few people know the real history of what is known as the United States Pledge of Allegiance.
To start out, the man who wrote the pledge in 1892, Francis Bellamy, who was a Christian Socialist and Baptist minister, viewed the pledge as a means to express the ideas of his cousin, Edward Bellamy, who wrote the socialist utopian novels entitled Looking Backward and Equality. Bellamy and his cousin both addressed (in Francis Bellamy’s sermons, and Edward’s novels) how a socialist state could be conceived by a middle class movement that achieved equality on three levels- political, social, and economic. The pledge was originally published in an issue of The Youth’s Companion, comparable to Reader’s Digest today. Francis Bellamy had been hired as an assistant at that publication by Daniel Ford, the owner and editor, after Bellamy was pressured into leaving his church in Boston as a result of his radical sermons. Ford had witnessed Bellamy’s sermons and was rather impressed.
In 1892, Bellamy was a chairman of a state superintendents of eduction committee in the NEA. One of his duties was to prepare the program for the celebration of Columbus Day for the public schools. Bellamy and James B. Upham prepared the program in sync- Bellamy, to advance the pledge, and Upham’s intent being to sell copies of The Youth’s Companion, as well as selling flags to advance the cause of nationalism, something Randolph Bourne warns about in his piece The State The main point of Bellamy and Upham’s program was a flag-raising ceremony and a salute to the flag, that being Bellamy’s “Pledge of Allegiance”. The original way the students would pay homage to the flag, as opposed to today’s fashion of the right hand over the heart, was called the Bellamy Salute, similar to what is known as the Nazi Salute, the right arm extended out, and slightly angled up. As a result of this similarity, Congress amended the Flag Code language on June 22nd 1942.
Over the years, the words in his pledge were changed many times by different pieces of legislation. A phrase was also added: “under God”, after Congress amended the words of the pledge by a Joint Resolution on June 14th 1954, thus turning a patriotic oath of loyalty to the flag into a prayer as well.
There has been much controversy over the pledge in the past years, most of it having to do with the phrase “under God”, including the 2004 Supreme Court case, Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, brought by atheist Michael Newdow, who was opposed to his daughter having to say the pledge. The decision in this case ended with the rejection of Newdow’s claim due to the fact he was not the custodial parent of the child, and therefore lacked parental rights to vouch for his daughter. However, in January 2005, another suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California for three anonymous families. In September 2005, Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled in the favor of the families. He cited precedent set in the 2002 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and issued an Order that stated that he would enjoin the school district’s defendants from continuing the practice of leading children in the pledge of allegiance to one nation under God.
In 2006, in the Florida suit Frazier v. Alexandre, a Federal district court ruled that a 1942 Florida law making it mandatory for students to stand and recite the pledge violated both the First and the Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution. As a consequence, a Florida school district was ordered to pay $32,500 to a student whom opted out of the recitation of the pledge and was called “unpatriotic” by their teacher.
In 2009, in Maryland, a teacher harassed and had the school police remove a student who refused to say the pledge. The mother and the ACLU of Maryland, received an apology from the teacher whom overstepped bounds in that the state law and the student handbook both have a prohibition on students being forced to say the pledge.
Most recently, in November 2010, in a unanimous decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston, Massachusetts affirmed a ruling by a New Hampshire federal court which found that the reference to God in the pledge does not violate student’s rights.
My personal issue with the pledge is that I am familiar with the sordid history of it, as well as that I would much rather pledge to something else, perhaps the Constitution or something one can legitimately believe in. I do not feel a flag is something we should pledge to, even if it does correspond to the country we live in. I would much rather be an individual and refuse to say the pledge out of a room of 30 students than be like the rest of them who are marching to the same beat and nationalistic ideals (some unknowingly, and some who love the dominance our country has over much of the world).
I also take issue to it, in that this country is not what it should be. The U.S. goes to undeclared wars on false pretenses, devalues the currency to wage those wars, and uses its military irresponsibly in a way that endangers the men and women on the ground, the civilians of those countries, and American citizens at home and abroad.
There is no “liberty and justice for all” as the pledge says. Liberty would enable me to right of contract and not be government setting of a minimum wage. Liberty would enable me, as an adult, to decide what substances to put in my body. Liberty would enable me to choose the currency I wanted to use based on the market values. Liberty would forbid the government from making me register for the dormant draft, also known as the Selective Service System. Liberty would forbid the government from making me obtain a license to start a certain business.
As far as justice is concerned, justice would be best served by making federal agents obtain a warrant from a judge before breaking into someone’s house and rooting through their personal effects to find evidence of a crime. Justice would be best served by treating all citizens and terror suspects to due process and a speedy trial. Justice would be best served by allowing commercial pilots to be armed as to prevent another 9/11. Justice would be best served by ending sting operations; if I can’t sell drugs, why should a law enforcement officer be able to?
Simply put, “liberty and justice” are foreign principles in this country founded upon them.
Also, simply put, I do not pledge allegiance to that flag.
For more on the pledge, and to see a news story from a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ABC affiliate on the pledge in schools, see this video.
- On the history of the pledge.
- On the change in the salute to the flag: Leepson, Marc (2006). Flag: An American Biography. Macmillan. p. 171. ISBN 0312323093.
- On the addition of “under God” to the pledge: Pub.L. 83-396, Chap. 297, 68 Stat. 249, H.J.Res. 243, enacted June 14, 1954.
- On the Newdow court case: here and here.
- On Frazier v. Alexandre. More here.
- On the Maryland student.
- On the reference to God and students’ rights. More here.