Every day, millions of American children are forced to start their school day by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. They are told by their principals that it is required, but it is not. The Pledge is considered to be an oath of allegiance and it is a “government-sanctioned endorsement of religion,” that “violates the Establishment Clause of the first amendment to the US Constitution.”
The history of the Pledge shows that it is not, and never was, a pledge set in stone. It has been controversial since it began and continues to be so today. During its lifetime, it has been changed four times. The origin of the Pledge also was never intended as an oath of loyalty. It was designed to encourage people to buy more flags from one particular flag-making company.
The original Pledge of Allegiance was created by Francis Bellamy in 1892 as part of a campaign to sell more flags. It was not formally adopted by the United States until 1942 when the US Congress officially approved it.
The biggest objections to the Pledge have been on the grounds of religion. Those who oppose it cite the Pledge’s violation of the Establishment Clause in the first amendment to the Constitution. These objections on the basis of religion were well established by the time “under God” was added in 1954.
In 1940, the Supreme Court ruled that it was permissible to force students to recite the Pledge. Fortunately, in 1943, the Supreme Court reversed that ruling, forbidding a school from mandatory Pledge recitations. In West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, the Supreme Court concluded that the first amendment provides protection to students who do not wish to participate in certain types of speech. This extends to adults as well. The Court also said that the United States government cannot force a person to recite any type of speech.
In oft-quoted language, Justice Robert Jackson wrote: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
Despite this ruling, the Pledge remains in most public schools, with many students compelled to recite the pledge due to peer pressure, teacher and administration pressure, and fears of detention.
In 1954, “under God” was added to the Pledge to distinguish the United States from a perceived “Commie threat.” By adding “under God,” the United States aimed to make it known to the world that it was a religious nation, wholly separate and different from the Soviet Union, which was Communist and, supposedly, atheist. In doing so, the United States unconstitutionally endorsed religion as a part of the government. Since then, there have been repeated, and numerous, attempts to remove “under God” from the Pledge as well as remove it from schools altogether.
In 1978, the Pledge was back in court. In the case of Lipp v. Morris, the 3rd US Court of Appeals ruled that a New Jersey statute that required standing for the pledge was unconstitutional. Both the Supreme Court and the 3rd US Court of Appeals emphasized the fact that no one could be forced to stand and recite the pledge. To do otherwise would be forcing a citizen to conform to a particular type of conduct or expression of a government official.
In 2003, US District Court Judge Lewis Babcock ruled that neither teachers nor any member of staff can be forced to recite or participate in the Pledge. Judge Babcock stated that it does not matter who you are because, “It is beyond the power of the authority of the government to compel the recitation of the Pledge of allegiance.”
In 2005, another Us District judge, Lawrence Karlton, ruled that California had violated the Establishment Clause by requiring all students to recite the Pledge. In his ruling, Judge Karlton stated that he was bound by a 2002 precedent by the 9th US District Court of Appeals. In his brief, Judge Karlton affirmed that being forced to say, “One nation under God,” was coercing a person to state that a god exists.
In 2006, the 11th Circuit Court ruled in Frazier v. Alexandre that students couldn’t be forced to stand at attention because violated the First Amendment, however, it also ruled that students are allowed to be excused from the Pledge only at the written request of a parent. Even then, they would still be required to stand for the Pledge. The US Supreme Court and the 11th Circuit court has since refused to hear any further appeals in the case.
In the West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette case, the Supreme Court concluded, “The action of a State in making it compulsory for children in the public schools to salute the flag and pledge allegiance…violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.” The Court further stated that the decision was not made in regard to the religion of the person who refused to comply. It clarified that forced standing and recitation of a pledge “is not a permissible means of achieving ‘national unity.’”
The phrase, “under God” in the Pledge continues to be controversial with the Supreme Court opting to not hear appeals from lower courts. While many say that “under God” doesn’t specify any particular religion, it is a disingenuous comment from those who know very well that it is specifically referencing the Christian god. Jews us the word Hashem when referencing god while Muslims use Allah. There are those, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are forbidden from reciting oaths of any kind. Atheists do not recognize the existence of any god and feel that the Pledge is a defacto affirmation of one. This doesn’t even take into account the numerous other religious practitioners in the United States.
While the courts contend that “under God” is not an endorsement of any particular religion, the fact remains that, because so many people believe it is a reference to a specific god, the courts do not want to admit the Pledge is oppressive and offensive to millions of Americans. If a person believes in a god, it is reasonable for them to also believe that their country stands only because their god allows it. The Declaration of Independence, however, tells us that our government gets its powers from its citizens, not any god.
The recitation of the Pledge should be completely removed from the public school system. It is impossible for anyone to argue that a 5-year old fully understands the implications of either reciting the Pledge or opting out. They do it because their friends and classmates do it or because a parent tells them to. By the time they become old enough to understand what the Pledge says, they are merely reciting it because they are told to do so or else there will be some sort of punishment meted out to them. They don’t want to say it, but they don’t want to stand out or be punished, so they cave in and abide by the wishes of their teachers and administrators instead of being yelled at for choosing to express their rights.
James Perry wrote and excellent piece several years ago entitled, “What I expect My Child to Learn From Not Saying the Pledge of Allegiance.” In it, Perry details what an allegiance is and why it is an obligation of loyalty and devotion. If an allegiance is obligatory, then there is no choice, despite what numerous judges and Pledge advocates say. Pledging your allegiance is “pledging the fidelity of a subject owed to his sovereign or government.” Those are not the ideals of the founding fathers nor is it in our law.
Perhaps if American citizens spent more time learning that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are what define America, and not a flag, they would even see how our freedoms are continually absorbed by the central government with each passing crisis. To cite just a few examples of the process: the War between the States ended states rights and brought the first income tax. The Second World War brought us income tax withholding. The latest crisis has caused a massive expansion in the central government including “random” searches of pregnant women before they board airplanes “to protect us.”
If Americans studied these documents they might come to the conclusion that the pledge is antithetical to the spirit of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The spirit of those documents is not one of subservient vassals of the state, but of sovereign citizens. The nation is only indivisible to our detriment and for the strengthening of the central state. The War Between the States was a bloody suppression of freedom. Slaves were ultimately freed, but all of us are now subservient to the Federal government. The new King George resides in Washington, D.C.
One should never be forced to recite anything they feel uncomfortable with, especially if it is in violation of our Constitution. No school child should ever be forced to pledge their allegiance to something they cannot fully understand. Blind patriotism and indoctrination of children through the Pledge of Allegiance makes a mockery of the United States. Neither a child nor an adult should have to be faced with swearing their allegiance to the United States on a daily basis.
It would be best to eliminate the Pledge from education altogether as it is an antiquated oath that many do not believe in. Children should be educated in the history of the Pledge of Allegiance, but continually forcing them to recite it should be stopped. We are not now, nor have we ever been one nation under the same god.
Image from Wikipedia.