A Pledge for Americans
The Pledge to the Flag
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Those words are the Pledge of Allegiance, commonly recited by elementary and highschool students at the beginning of each school day, and at the beginning of many civic functions, and at those great American pastimes, ball games.
Probably all of us in America have heard those words. Yet they were completely unknown to the founders of our nation, men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.
Its Brief History
The Pledge is a relatively recent development. It was first published in the September 8, 1892 issue of a magazine called The Youth's Companion. In its original form it read: "I Pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." Its authorship was disputed for nearly 50 years until it was attributed to Francis Bellamy by a committee appointed by the United States Flag Association in May 1939.
In 1923 the words "my flag" were replaced by "the Flag of the United States." In 1924, that was expanded to "the Flag of the United States of America." In 1942, Congress made the Pledge part of the flag code. The words "under God" were added by Congress in 1954.
The Pledge was once an obligatory ritual in public schools. When some students refused to say it for religious reasons, they were expelled from school and denied their tax supported education in the interest of "liberty and justice for all." The Supreme Court initially upheld these actions by the states but later reversed itself (West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette) and made its announcement to that effect on Flag Day in 1943.
The Pledge thus has no connection with great American thinkers or patriots. It was originally written for children and worked its way into our society by a backdoor, through the worst bureaucracy in Americathe public school system.
This is the same system that has given us:
- the teaching of human evolution (wrecks the morals of our kids)
- free condoms and sex education classes (helps them practice their new-found "moral freedom")
- self-esteem classes ( in case their conscience is bothered by their new "freedom", or any other bad behavior)
- principals who go from one extreme to another (convinces kids that adults can be utterly irrational and arbitrary)
- dismal student academic performance (frequently around 20-30 per cent of grade level in elementary schools)
One can only wonder what "stealth values" kids are picking up from being pressured to recite the Pledge in public schools. The Pledge is even taught in kindergarten, where kids are too young to understand its meaning (or even get the words right for that matter). What is that if not indoctrination and coercion? Things like this have undesirable side-effects, and I am still wondering what they are, and how they may have affected me now 40 years later.
For as long as I can remember, the Pledge has never made any sense to me. In my highschool days I regarded the flag as our nation's symbol, our trademark, and I had no idea what was meant by pledging my allegiance to a physical object (like flags, apple pie, school buses, or other "American" things). We engaged in no such customs for our state flag, neither saluting it, removing our hats, putting our hand over our heart, pledging to it, nor singing songs to it. Nor could I understand how the flag could be "desecrated" by the filthy ground for which it stood, yet not be desecrated by the blood of soldiers who died fighting for the same.
I also did not like pledging allegiance "to the Republic for which it stands." My little piece of the Republic had powerful adults who not only recited the Pledge, but who also said things like "My country, right or wrong, but my country!" and "America, love it or leave it!" These seemed like attitudes better suited to Nazi Germany than for America. Adults would get very upset and irrational when I pointed out these things, so I eventually concluded that reciting the Pledge was just a mindless way to start the day in, of all things, an educational institution.
Today, the rest of the Pledge seems just as faulty. Are we a nation "under God," for example? The United States has a murder and rape rate that is four times that in Britain or Germany, and about twenty times that in Japan. If we are a "nation under God", then what sort of God are we under? Or was that phrase just an ambiguous expression added by Congress to win a few votes during the Cold War with the godless Communists? We really should be careful about using this "under God" phrase. The Bible contains a very detailed account about what would happen to a real 'nation under God' that did not obey His commandments. Just read Deuteronomy 28. It is really scary stuff!
We pledge that we are "one Nation . . . indivisible." But are we? Canada is being divided by language, the Soviet Union went bankrupt and fell apart, Yugoslavia and other countries are being ripped up by nationalistic, tribal, and religious passions. Germany was a civilized "Christian" nation much like our own and yet it was nearly destroyed because people followed a fanatical dictator. Our country is being torn apart by fatherless families, crime, drugs, an irresponsible educational system, and the enormous costs of excess government. That saying on our coins, "E PLURIBUS UNUM," which means "out of many, one" can turn into "out of one, many" just as it has in other countries.
We became the world's victorious superpower, not by taking territory through armed aggression, but by pursuing our ideals of liberty and justice. How ironic that this very nation stands to rot into civil disorder and lawlessness while its peoples are proclaiming that we are "one Nation . . . indivisible."
Nor does our nation really have "liberty and justice for all." Our forefathers and constitution only gave us the opportunity for such things and that opportunity must be vigorously supported and defended, both from lawless people and from our own governmental agencies. The Declaration of Independence says that men are "endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." These rights are proclaimed as God's gift, not something that man grants; man can only take them away.
I think we Americans like the Pledge simply because it is a common ritual that we all grew up with, not because we really think about or believe the words. Like a spectator sport, it demands little of us, merely pledging and alleging, and maybe watching the pretty fireworks on the fourth of July. It is not a call to action, not a reminder of the sacrifices and lives that were required to make our country a reality. In my view, the Pledge is an empty ritual that produces neither loyalty nor allegiance. I believe it is actually un-American, and I would like to see it eliminated from the public school system. But people confuse nationalism with patriotism. And as the politicians say, "You can't fight something with nothing." For now, we need an alternative.
Creating a Symbol that Works
Like the flag itself, the Pledge is one of America's most visible national symbols. A symbol of such status needs to have a clear, just, and purposeful mission, such as supporting the role of the individual in a democratic society. It should not be confusing, disputable, nor easily lend itself to misuse by a well-intentioned lynch mob. It should encourage appropriate action, rather than passivity and a false sense of security.
Fortunately, we can call upon America's rich history to construct a pledge that supports both her people and her ideals. Such a pledge should allude to the following documents or events:
- The Declaration of Independence. This was written in 1776 to declare "that these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved." This is a remarkable document asserting that all men are created equal and have self-evident, unalienable rights; that people create governments to secure these rights (!); that the government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed; and that the people have the right and duty to abolish bad government. It was signed by 56 people, including Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, John Adams, and Richard H. Lee. The Revolutionary war ensued and many gave their lives to support the birth of this new nation thus declared.
- The Constitution of the United States. This is the world's oldest written constitution still in effect, and probably the one most esteemed around the world. It outlines that the Republic is to be governed by written law, and that the powers of this government be vested in three separate but interrelated branches of government, the responsibilities of each being listed in detail. It is to share sovereignty with the states, but its laws are directly enforceable on individuals.
- The Bill of Rights.This is comprised of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. It guarantees essential freedoms, such as freedom of speech, press, religion, the right to bear arms, the right to a speedy, public, trial by jury, and, among other things, the right to avoid being "deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law." It originally applied only to the Federal government, but portions of it have been extended to the state level through interpretations of the fourteenth amendment. (A State constitution might also explicitly acknowledge the Federal as "the supreme law of the land" as in Arizona's Constitution, Art. II, Sec 3).
- The Federalist Papers. This is a collection of 85 essays written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in New York state during a seven-month period beginning in October 1787. They were addressed "To the People of the State of New York" and their purpose was to convince them to adopt the new Constitution, and to show that it would support "a more perfect union." The essays proved to be an unexcelled explanation of the Constitution, Jefferson calling them "the best commentary on the principles of government . . . ever written." They are regularly consulted by U.S. Presidents and Supreme Court justices to clarify historical intents of obscure parts of the Constitution. They are studied by people around the world because they reveal the genius behind the American Federal system.
- The Civil War.Nothing tore this country apart like the Civil War. Originally, it was a war to "preserve the Union" when the country became split apart over the issue of slavery. After Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation it became a war of the free fighting the free on behalf of those who were enslaved. After terrible sacrifices, the war was settled so decisively that we emerged from it as "one nation."
- The Gettysburg Address. Lincoln gave this short memorial dedication during the Civil War a few months after the Battle of Gettysburg, the greatest battle ever fought on the American continent. He explained how our forefathers brought forth a "new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." A great civil war was being fought, testing the endurance of that nation so conceived. He dedicated "a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live". He and those present resolved that "these dead shall not have died in vain" but that this nation "shall have a new birth of freedomand that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
These historical events and documents fundamentally define what the United States of America is. They also remind us of the sacrifices that were made by its actual citizens in shaping this nation. An alternative pledge needs to remind us of these ideals and help us stay close to our historical roots.
An Alternative Pledge for Americans
Here is an example of how such a pledge could be worded:
"I pledge my efforts to support the responsibilities of freedom and a better nation in acknowledgment of the acts and sacrifices of our forefathers that served to define me as a citizen of the United States of America."
It would be recited while facing the flag, with the palm of the right hand turned outward as in taking an oath. Its use must be voluntary so that individuals have a means of expressing their choice.
This pledge is an empowerment of individual efforts in supporting the responsibilities of freedom and a better nation. It helps individuals focus on the right thing by implying questions like, What are the responsibilities of freedom?, What were the acts and sacrifices of my forefathers?, How do these acts and sacrifices define me as a citizen? And it fosters incremental improvement by asking, How can we make a better nation?
Active effort and support for a better nation is essential. Edmund Burke (1729-1797) stated "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
The traditional Pledge asserts that we are a nation under God and that there is (already) liberty and justice for all. The proposed one affirms that we have to work to attain those ideals and also work to preserve them. If you were a soldier in a muddy foxhole surrounded by the hazards of war, which Pledge would you want your kids saying for the next 50 years? If you are a citizen and enjoy these hard-won freedoms, which Pledge do you think will preserve America from its own efforts at unintended self-destruction?
America needs this powerful symbol, but it must work for the right cause and for the right reasons. Make a careful choice.
Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, (No. 02-1624)
"Hey, Klingons have feelings, too!" by Birdie Jaworski
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