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Pledging our allegiance

Posted Sunday, July 3, 2011, at 7:39 PM

"I pledge allegiance to the flag ... "

The Pledge of Allegiance we recite today isn't quite the same as the original Pledge of Allegiance.

The current wording of the pledge has a surprising, and surprisingly short, history.

Written by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy, it first appeared in 1892, in the September 8th issue of The Youth's Companion, a children's magazine, as part of the 400th anniversary celebrations of the "discovery" of America by Christopher Columbus.

The original text went like this:

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

Though a minister, Bellamy was also a socialist, and intended the pledge as a secular statement. He also devised a salute to be used as the pledge was recited. The right arm was fully extended, palm upward, with the palm flipped up at the end of the 15-second recitation. Except for the upward flip of the hand at the end, it was almost identical to the salute used by the Nazi party several decades later.

Over the next 50 years, the pledge became a staple of school recitation, usually spoken every day before classes began. There were a few changes in wording during that period, one of them to include "the flag of the United States of America." Despite the fact that the pledge wasn't popular with everyone, and the fact that it was not yet an official pledge, the Supreme Court ruled in 1940 that schools could compel children to recite it against their own will and that of their parents.

The pledge was finally officially adopted by Congress as the national pledge in 1942, with this wording:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

A year later, in 1943, the Supreme Court reversed its earlier decision, and declared that refusal to recite the pledge was a First Amendment right even for children. To punctuate the seriousness of the decision, it was announced by the court on Flag Day.

In their opinion, Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas wrote, "Words uttered under coercion are proof of loyalty to nothing but self-interest. Love of country must spring from willing hearts and free minds, inspired by a fair administration of wise laws..."

A later ruling forbade schools to compel children to stand during the recitation of the pledge.

After World War II, and during the "Red scare" of the early 1950s, intense pressure from religious groups and others began to build to include a reference to God in the pledge. Alleging that the words "under God" had been a part of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address (there is some dispute about this assertion), Louis Bowman, chaplain of the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution, began including the phrase in the pledge at meetings of the society.

Other organizations soon followed, most notably the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization. Finally, in 1954, then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Presbyterian minister, George M. Docherty, made a direct appeal to the president during a Lincoln Day church service. Eisenhower's enthusiastic response led to the introduction of a bill in Congress the very next day. The bill was passed and Eisenhower signed it into law on Flag Day that year.

Before the momentous day on which the new pledge was to make its debut, schools all over the nation (and far from our shores) rehearsed children in the introduction of the new words. The pledge would now be recited like this, the format we still use today:

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.

I remember those rehearsals very clearly. Day after day, as I and my classmates at Wheelus Air Base Elementary School in Tripoli, Libya, recited the pledge, we held our hands over our hearts (the earlier "Bellamy Salute" having been rejected by President Franklin D. Roosevelt) and almost shouted the new words.

"One nation, UNDER GOD ..." we belted out, as our teachers smiled with delight.

I'm sure none of us had any idea what had gone into making that change. I am equally sure that none of us, except our teachers, cared very much. Our goal was to make sure we got it right and we did. And ever since that day, whenever the pledge is recited (and I proudly recite it every week as a member of Rotary Club), I think of those long-ago days and smile inwardly at how naive we were at age 8.

Periodically, I receive an e-mail from one friend or acquaintance or another, urging me to write my congressman or senator and register my opposition to the removal of the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. These e-mails often assert in hyper-patriotic fashion that "they" are trying to remove those words from the pledge and that our nation will somehow be damaged as a result.

The identity of "they" is never clarified. How this nation will somehow be damaged as a result of removing two words is never explained.

I always delete these e-mails without responding to them. I don't write any letters to anyone about the pledge.

I'm not worried about whether the words "under God," are in the pledge or not. As a nation, we survived for 116 years before the pledge was written, another 50 years before it was adopted as an official pledge, and another 12 years after that before "under God" was first included 57 years ago.

As individuals, we are free to say or not say the pledge at all. We can say it sitting, standing, or lying down, or kneeling, or, I suppose, hanging upside-down on a trapeze. And I will continue to say it as it is now written, standing with my hand over my heart, because I believe it.

At least, I believe most of it. We haven't quite fulfilled the most important words: "justice for all." I don't think that's a fact yet. I think it's a goal we still seek.

We don't have justice for all when millions of children in this country go to bed hungry every night.

We don't have justice for all when people who need medical care can't get it.

And we don't have justice for all when capital punishment still exists.

If I'm going to write a letter to my congressman or senator, it's going to be about "justice for ALL."

Showing comments in chronological order
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Bravo Kathy. Good to see you blogging again.

I also recall the change...I was a few years older. As an early teen, and preoccupied as I was compelled to be at that point in my life, I paid little attention to the "under God" change. In fact so little attention that I vividly recall stumbling over the addition the first few times I was part of a group recital. I was not alone in that response.

-- Posted by Oklahoma Reader on Sun, Jul 3, 2011, at 7:03 PM

Amen Kathy. "Justice for All" is the most important part of our pledge. We all need justice, period. I believe (freely) that I want, need and receive justice from my faith. But most importantly I believe in a secular justice for each of us. It is harder to achieve. Each of us have competing self interests that make it harder for justice to be achieved for all. As my justice to not have a flooding river conflicts with the justice for a sport fisher guide in the upper Missouri River basin. The health care justice for family members who don't have health care may not mesh up with economic self interests of other persons as well as the healthcare providers.

You see Justice for All is very hard to achieve but we should all be constantly trying to get to Justice for All. At least that is how I see it!

-- Posted by salinemg on Tue, Jul 5, 2011, at 2:28 AM

I agree... the words Under God are not necessary to pledging allegiance to our nation. But I also agree that since it is the current official "Pledge" then I will recite the words as currently stated with the respect that our pledge deserves, standing with my hand over my heart.

Somehow I dont think "social justice" (Something perceived by each individual differently or something that is subjective) is the same thing as justice for all regarding legal justice

IF we want to declare social justices for all then I want equal justice with all the people who work day shifts and are awake when the tree top flying crop dusters are doing their EXTREMELY LOUD fly-bys because people who work during the day are not bothered by them.... for those of us DIRECTLY under the flight path, especially of that YELLOW Plane, and who work during the night time and who are trying to sleep during the day we are NOT getting equality of our social justices.... Besides being "funny" the point I am making is that what YOU perceive as a social injustice I can perceive as something that individuals should be personally responsible for. Again, it falls back to the whole concept of individuals being responsible for their own actions and choices and lives. BUT we dont want that concept because it is TOO EASY for the government to provide all things for all people. BUT we only have to look to Greece, Ireland, potentially Portugal, Spain, Italy and other EU nations who have been trying to provide all things to all people and are now facing HORRIBLE economic crises and riots and economic and social unrest as they try to figure out how to solve the problem that they are facing because the government cannot FUND all of the things and social welfare programs that were attempting to address each and every perceived social injustice.

Salinemg.... interesting conspiracy theory involving the river flooding... I heard and read that the Corp of Engineers has been trying to buy up flood plain lands for years and this flooding situation that will become an annual event is an attempt to force people to sell their land.......

-- Posted by mrxray on Wed, Jul 13, 2011, at 6:51 PM

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Kathy Fairchild received a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration in 1986 from Marycrest College, Davenport, Iowa. She is also a 2003 graduate of the paralegal program at New York University. She moved to Marshall in 2006, following a career of more than 30 years with the world's largest farm equipment manufacturer. She is an Air Force brat and grandmother of four.
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