Running new pledge up flag pole


June 2002

Federal judge Alfred Goodwin of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this month that “The Pledge of Allegiance” was unconstitutional because of the phrase “under God.” And, behold, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth from conservative Christians throughout the land

However, this isn’t the first time the daily recitation in most U.S. schools has been viewed as controversial. The original version, written in 1892 by the Rev. Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and professor at Bethany Seminary, didn’t include “under God.”

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

Bellamy believed that, and I quote, “American children should attend the same schools, recite the same pledge and unite under the sacred flag.” He was particularly concerned that Catholic parochial schools, appealing to immigrants from Eastern Europe, were destroying what he viewed as “American education.” He wrote, “Our fathers in their wisdom knew that the foundations of liberty, fraternity, and equality must be universal education.”

The pledge was soon endorsed by the National Education Association and the American Legion fought to have it made mandatory.

John W. Baer, author of The Pledge of Allegiance: A Centennial History, 1892-1992, notes that “my flag” was changed to “the flag of the United States of America” because officials feared immigrants might think the pledge referred to the flags of their homelands. “Under God” was added in 1954 after the Knights of Columbus argued that the phrase would allow it to be used in both public and private schools.

However, this “one nation under God” has never believed in the kind of uniformity that the pledge’s author envisioned!

The Founding Fathers couldn’t even agree on the fundamental concept of God. Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson were “deists” who believed in a personal creator of universe, but didn’t believe that God ever did—or ever will—perform miracles including the resurrection of Christ. Jefferson removed all the miracles from his version of the Bible and left Christ in the tomb. At one point Paine wrote that Christianity is “too absurd for belief.”

As a result, freedom of religion—even the freedom to sacrifice chickens, handle snakes, or smoke peyote— has been a cherished, yet controversial and dangerous, freedom. (For every Billy Graham, there’s a David Koresh. For every Mahatma Gandhi, there’s an Osama bin Laden.)

In 1943 the Supreme Court ruled that compelling students to recite the pledge was a violation of their freedom of expression and free exercise of religion. (Amish, Jehovah Witnesses, and some Quakers or Friends, refuse to salute the flag or recite the pledge on grounds that their allegiance is to God alone.) The Court declared, the state cannot “prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion. . . . ”

With that in mind, I’m afraid creating a national pledge to which every American could give whole-hearted allegiance would end up sounding like this:

      I pledge allegiance to my own personal values and beliefs, and to the relative nature to which one can individually experience reality, a pluralistic society under a higher power of one’s own choice, tolerant with personal freedom checked and balanced with concern for the public welfare.

Okay, maybe it’s a bit wordy. May I run this up the flag pole and see if anyone salutes:

      I pledge to do unto others as I would have them do unto me.

It’s short, it’s non-controversial, and it would solve most of society’s problems if we all pledged our allegiance to it. (And, if conservative Christians can keep a secret, it’s straight from Jesus.)

I don’t want to be assaulted, blown up, conned, discriminated against, enslaved, framed, gassed, hated, interrogated without legal counsel, jailed unjustly, killed, lynched, manipulated, name-called, oppressed, persecuted, quoted incorrectly, ransacked, shunned, tortured, used, violated, wronged, xanthipped (a great Scrabble word for “nagged at”), yelled at, or zoned-out! So, I shouldn’t xanthippe anyone else either.

I think “I pledge to do unto others as I would have them do unto me” would make a great pledge. But of course, as an American, you’re free to disagree with me.

© Copyright 2002 James N. Watkins

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