Last Monday, October 15, began a new tradition at Howell High School, in Howell, Michigan: the daily recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. This addition to the daily schedule is actually now required by state policy. Howell High was the last school in the Livingston County to adopt it. Although some may not agree on this action, it is necessary in schools to promote a feeling of national pride.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a pastor from Massachusetts. It was first published in Youth’s Companion to celebrate the 400 year anniversary of Columbus’s voyage, and within a year was being spoken daily in schools across the country. The original text was slightly different than today’s version: “I pledge allegiance to my flag, and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In 1924, the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) pushed to change “my flag” to “the flag of the United States of America,” for fear of immigrants saluting flags of their home countries.
It was not long after America became involved in World War II that Congress officially endorsed the Pledge.
Finally, in 1954, the Knights of Columbus pressured Congress into adding “under God,” making it into what is said today.
The inevitable argument that must be addressed is the clash between America’s supposedly rigid separation of church and state, and the phrase “under God” being present in the Pledge.
“Under God” is simply another reminder that The United States of America exists because Europeans came to North America in search of freedom from religious persecution. They sought a place where they could be religious without fear of judgment. There are bits of America’s religious history sprinkled all throughout the government: every constitution of every state includes a reference to God; when someone is sworn under oath in court, they say “…so help me God”; every session of Congress begins with a prayer; and every Supreme Court case convenes by saying “God save this honorable court.”
Not only is America a nation founded under religion, but it is also a country in which religion remains a part of its government and its people. The so-called separation of church and state was never intended by the founding fathers. Nowhere in the Constitution is separation indicated in any way. In fact, the Declaration of Independence states clearly: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” Patrick Henry, a founding father himself, said in a letter, “The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone that renders us invincible.”
As far as freedom of religion is concerned, the first amendment of the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …” This does not mean that religion is taboo. It means that a person cannot be kept from his or her chosen religion, and that they have the freedom to choose their religion. Having children recite the phrase “under God” does not bind them to a religion. “Under God” is not specific to a particular set of beliefs, since it doesn’t specify a god. All religions must have some sort of deity or central figure, since it wouldn’t be a religion otherwise. It also doesn’t say “under one God”, which allows for polytheistic religions as well (religions believing in more than one God). It was said by Antonin Scalia, LLB, Associate Justice for the United States Supreme Court, during a speech he made on Religious Freedom Day, Jan. 23, 2003 that “[Practices such as reciting the pledge] reflect the true tradition of religious freedom in America – a tradition of neutrality among religious faiths. Government will not favor Catholic, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, but the tradition was never that the government had to be neutral between religiousness and non-religiousness.”
To say that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning is a waste of time is shortsighted. In a time when patriotism and loyalty is beginning to falter, a chunk of time as small as it takes, once a day, is the least that can be sacrificed to instill a sense of national pride into the students of today which tomorrow will be the leaders of the country. The United States is beginning to fall victim to the global animosity that is growing every day, and something as simple as 31 words could be what is needed to maintain the feeling of nationalism that has held this country through the most difficult of times.
This can be concluded with a statement by Bellamy himself, reflecting on why he chose the words he did for his pledge: “The true reason for allegiance to the flag is the ‘republic for which it stands.’ …and what does that vast thing, the Republic mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation – the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible… and its future?
“Just here arose the temptation of the historic slogan of the French Revolution which meant so much to Jefferson and his friends; ‘Liberty, equality, fraternity.’ No, that would be too fanciful, too many thousands of years off in realization. But we as a nation do stand square on the doctrine of liberty and justice for all.”