A Pledge for Americans
Copyright 2003 by Brian Fraser

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 America—the public school system. 

This is the same system that has given us:

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.

My Experiences

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:

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)


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