Happy Birthday to the Pledge of Allegiance. Should We Still Say It?

Watch any football game these days, and the announcer will feel the need to point out if any players decided not to stand for it. They then will be identified by name.  The once sacred time before sporting events has now become a newsworthy event in and of itself as many wonder how the stars of the show will react to our anthem on a given night.  Long before this started becoming a hot topic of debate, our reaction to the Pledge of Allegiance brought with it similar arguments.  Today is the birthday of the first time the Pledge was ever published, a good day to reflect upon its past and ponder its future.

Francis Bellamy was a socialist, baptist minister who travelled throughout the northeast United States.   As the 1800’s drew to a close, Bellamy felt that people across the country were losing the patriotic spirit of the post civil war era.  He and a business partner  began a campaign to make sure that there was a flag in every classroom.  26,000 flags were distributed to schools for use in the classroom.  When the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus approached in 1892, Bellamy and his associates thought it would be a good opportunity to revive American patriotism.  Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance, and it was published in a magazine called, “Youth’s Companion.”  He then went to a national conference of school superintendents to pitch the idea of school children saying the pledge to the flag in their classroom every day.  The superintendents liked it, and thus a  tradition began.

For the first half century of doing the pledge, students where encouraged to extend their hand and arm towards the flag.  It was known as the “Bellamy salute.”  During World War Two  it was realized that this was far too similar to the Nazi salute to Adolph Hitler, so protocol was changed to a hand on the heart.

The Pledge was originally much shorter:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”

“My flag” was replaced by “The flag of the United States of America”, because immigrants often complained that it was confusing as to which flag they were pledging allegiance to.   “Under God” was added in 1954 as a response to “Godless Communism.”  God was also put on money and church attendance was at an all time high in America in the 1950’s, largely because of the cold war.

For years and years after, nearly every student in America began their day with a recital of the pledge of allegiance, but that gradually changed over time in response to student and parent complaints, and a series of court decisions regarding the Constitutionality of saying the Pledge in schools.

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WHY WE SHOULD SAY THE PLEDGE IN SCHOOL EVERY DAY:

Patriotism seems to be fleeting.  People often forget the many wonderful blessings and freedoms we are given in this country.  Americans don’t often remember to think about the fact that they already won the lottery by being born at this time and in this place, an action that involved as much skill as actually winning the lottery.  The pledge of allegiance gives us a few moments each day to remember that despite all of its imperfections, this is still a pretty great place.  

Those great blessings and freedoms came at a great price to many soldiers and their families.  The many gifts what we enjoy today were often paid for heavily by the currency of young lives.  Those casualties of conflict left have young widows left to raise children by themselves. It has left grieving mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives.  For them, the wars never ended.  As they fight each day to carry on with their lives, we can take a minute and honor what their sacrifice was for. For the many who sit at Christmas Dinners and birthday parties with an empty chair at the table, it really isn’t asking too much to show a little gratitude to the men and women who have protected our wonderful country.

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Unity is a word we don’t hear enough in our conversations today.  We hear far too much “them” and not enough “us.”  We forget that we are all on the same team, no matter who we worship, who we love, what color our skin is, or who we voted for.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we were given more reminders of that each day.  Perhaps by saying the pledge, we can teach kids to remember that the first word in “United States of America” is the most important.

WHY WE SHOULD STOP SAYING THE PLEDGE IN SCHOOLS:

You can’t force love or loyalty.  Remember when your parents made you do something you didn’t want to to, like piano lessons or football?  Chances are that your response was not to say, “Okay, I really don’t want to do this but I’m going to give it 100 percent anyway.”  In most cases, being forced to do something against our will only causes us resentment of whatever it is.  If we want to teach our children to love and appreciate our country, we have to teach them about it, and explain its preciousness to them.  We can’t just simply demand that they love it by making them say a pledge every day.

This country was founded on the principles of religious freedom and freedom of speech, which includes the right to not say something.  For a variety of reasons, most notably the inclusion of “under god”, students and families have reasons to not want to say the pledge.  For some, it is simply that they would be pledging allegiance to something other than God, which they feel is a contradiction to their faith they should not be forced in to. 24 percent of this country now defines itself as atheist, should they be forced to pledge allegiance “under god”?

Many say, “Well if they don’t want to say it, they can just remain silent, or sit down.  They don’t have to participate if they don’t want to.”  I get that, but for a second imagine being a child who chooses not to participate and the feeling of discomfort they would get by going against the crowd.  Do you think they would get a hard time from some classmates? I do.  Students should be able to come to our public schools and focus on learning and growing, regardless of their personal religious beliefs.  That is America.  I remember in grade school throwing an absolute tantrum because my parents would not buy me the trendy “Lawman” jeans, and instead I was going to have to wear Sears “Toughskins” to school. I was so furious that I would be different from the cool kids. I still am embarrassed for the things I said to my parents upon their refusal to pay for the trendy jeans.  I can’t imagine how I would have reacted to being the only kid in the class not saying the pledge.  There are many kids across America each day who’s primary goal is to simply fit in, not saying the pledge makes this extremely difficult.

WHAT DO I THINK?
It is a tough one.  There is validity on both sides of the argument.  We ought to use it as a moment to think about what America is, and what it represents.  Can we have disagreements like this while maintaining respect and humility towards those who take a different stance?  If we can’t discuss the pledge, or the national anthem without an understanding and respect for those who disagree with us, are we being true to the values on which America was founded?  Part of what the patriot is thankful for is the beauty of living in a place where dissent is not only okay, it is valued.  Perhaps on this birthday of our Pledge of Allegiance we take a moment to think about what that flag in the classrooms of our youths was trying to teach us.

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