The Pledge of Allegiance of the United States is an expression of fealty to the Flag of the United States and the republic of the United States of America, originally composed by Francis Bellamy in 1892 and formally adopted by Congress as the pledge in 1942. The official name of The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted in 1945. The last change in language came on Flag Day 1954 when the words "under God" were added.
Some Americans have a problem with the Pledge of Allegiance (henceforth Pledge). Concerns include a sense that pledging to a flag seems undemocratic; others wonder if associating our history with liberty and justice for all might be a bit of a stretch.
And then there is that mischief created by the Catholic interest group known as the Knights of Columbus. During the McCarthy era, Congress and the president caved to a campaign by this religious organization by adding under God to the Pledge, thereby turning it into a prayer. Take that you dirty godless Commies.
Now the Pledge has become a divisive ritual in which a substantial percentage of the population refuse to participate. One third of respondents to a recent poll (the Seidewitz Group, May, 2014) would like to change or eliminate the Pledge.
Nice work, holy knights.
Could a Pledge Do More Good Than Harm?
At present, the Pledge can only do more harm than good. As long as it remains in its current form, there will be conflicts. Growing numbers of citizens will not stand, will not place their right hands over their hearts and will not recite or silently/respectfully go along with a majority ritual they consider inappropriate, inaccurate and, in fact, unpatriotic. Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director of the American Humanist Association, recently stated that the current wording of the Pledge marginalizes atheists, agnostics, humanists and other non-theists because it presents them as less patriotic, simply because they do not believe in God.
However, the Pledge, even in its current theocratic form, could be useful in schools if it were discussed instead of recited. Such a shift in application would transform an indoctrination ritual into an educational forum. The focus would be on concepts and critical thinking, not words and conformity to social pressure. Students not gain a deeper understanding of civic issues and the nature of patriotism if they were guided to discuss rather than recite the words of the Pledge.
Herb Silverman, president of the American Humanist Association (AHA), outlined this meaningful patriotic exercise by suggesting that students start by writing a short essay about the varied elements in the current Pledge. The elements and sample questions for students to address might be along the following lines:
1. I pledge allegiance. (What does it mean to pledge, and what is allegiance?)
2. To the flag. (Why to a flag? Should it be to someone or something else?)
3. Of the United States of America. (How united are we, and what is America?)
4. And to the republic for which it stands. (What’s a republic, and why are we one?)
5. One nation. (In what sense are we one nation?)
6. Under God. (Are we all under God, under the same God, and is the U.S. the only such nation?)
7. Indivisible. (How are we indivisible, and what might divide us?)
8. With liberty. (What does it mean to have liberty?)
9. And justice. (Do we all have equal access to it, and does it ever conflict with liberty?)
10. For all. (Does that mean all people or only American citizens?)
Students might read their essays, followed by class discussions.
A follow up exercise would be for each student to rewrite the PoA in a way that is more meaningful to him or her. Instead of group recitation, the class can listen to and discuss each different pledge.
Sounds like an enjoyable and instructive exercise, don’t you think?
Toward a Better Pledge
Maybe this pledge business is too important or at least too interesting to leave to students, or to generals, the Congress or a religious interest group like the Knights of Columbus. Maybe we should all have a crack at it or at least an opportunity if inclined toward reform. This certainly seems suitable for those of us who embrace a philosophy and lifestyle wherein reason and liberty are valued as elements of good citizenship and a positive outlook for high levels of quality of life.
Would you welcome the opportunity? Want to try your hand at a new and improved Pledge, perhaps one that is secular, inclusive, honest and even inspirational, one that actually makes you feel a bit better about your country and thus more patriotic?
If so, there’s a forum for you. The AHA will give a prize for the best entry in a Pledge-writing contest they’re sponsoring. Send your suggested Pledge to
firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you prefer, send your entry to the AWR Better Pledge Contest - you might win a book that way, as well. That would be my new opus written with Dr. Grant Donovan.)
To create a mood for others to channel their inner Francis Bellamys, I hereby offer my own Better Pledge rendition. I hope you like it.
I pledge to be a good person, to be kind to others and to
identify and appreciate the best qualities of my country.
I pledge to be loyal to the idea that all Americans are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I pledge respect for the laws of society and a willingness to
help change any that do not measure up to the nation's goals of equal
opportunity, justice and due process for all.
I pledge to safeguard the absolute separation of church and state at all levels of government.
I pledge to take responsibility for my health and the quality of my life by living a healthy lifestyle on a foundation of reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty.
I pledge to always ask what I can do for my country and what together we can do for the freedom of mankind.
Be well and look on the bright side of life, to the extent possible. I pledge to do the same.