The Pledge of Allegiance helps instill in us a sense of patriotism, loyalty, and respect for our Nation as a great country and the best place in the world in which we could live.
It’s a short and concise statement that proclaims our fidelity to one and another, our Nation, our belief in God, and our commitment to protect our belief in the principles “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It’s our proclamation that we presume our Flag represents all these things, and more.
"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."
If you stop and think about it, it’s what America is all about.
I remember well, growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, starting each and every school day by standing up, facing our Nation’s flag, and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It was part of our daily routine. We repeated it again at school assemblies and after school activities such as Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts, and other civic events.
Many local TV stations began their broadcast day around 6AM with the Pledge of Allegiance and ended late at night with various images of our flag waving in the breeze, or the sight of fighter jets in formation bursting through the clouds, to the sound of our National Anthem. The spirit of patriotism was proudly stated throughout our daily activities.
For most of us who grew up in that era, it’s hard to imagine how our Pledge of Allegiance could possibly be considered such a controversial document as it is today.
You may have not given it much thought, but the Pledge of Allegiance is a part of our history. It’s not one of our founding documents but even still, it represents who we are as a people. Its recital should be an integral part of our lives and could easily be the one document that holds us together as a United people on the world stage.
Do you know the history of the Pledge of Allegiance? If not, or you just need a little refresher on the story that every American should know as well as the Pledge itself, here is a condensed version.
As mentioned above, its not one of our founding documents. In fact, it’s conception came about more than a hundred years after our founding as a Nation, long after Betsy Ross sewed our first flag at the request of members of the Flag Committee formed by the Continental Congress. It should be noted that there did exist a previous pledge, created by Captain George T. Balch, who was a veteran of the Civil War.
Balch's pledge, was recited contemporaneously with The Pledge of Allegiance until the 1923 National Flag Conference. It read:
“We give our heads and hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag!”
The Pledge of Allegiance, in its original wording, was composed in August 1892 by Francis Bellamy (1855–1931), who was a Baptist minister, a Christian socialist and the cousin of socialist utopian novelist Edward Bellamy.
Balch was a proponent of teaching children, especially those of immigrants, loyalty to the United States. He even wrote a book on the subject and worked with both the government and private organizations to distribute flags to every classroom and school. Balch's pledge, which predated Bellamy's by 5 years, was embraced by many schools, and by the Daughters of the American Revolution until the 1910s, and by the Grand Army of the Republic until the 1923 National Flag Conference. It is often overlooked when discussing the history of the Pledge. Bellamy, however, did not approve of the pledge as Balch had written it, referring to the text as "too juvenile and lacking in dignity."
The Bellamy "Pledge of Allegiance" was first published in the September 8, 1892 issue of the popular children's magazine The Youth's Companion as part of the National Public-School Celebration of Columbus Day, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas. It was sent out in leaflet form to schools throughout the country. School children first recited the Pledge of Allegiance this way:
"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."
"The flag of the United States" replaced the words "my Flag" in 1923 because some foreign-born people might have in mind the flag of the country of their birth instead of the United States flag. A year later, "of America" was added after "United States."
No form of the Pledge received official recognition by Congress until June 22, 1942, when the Pledge was formally included in the U.S. Flag Code. The official name of The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted in 1945.
During the Cold War era, many Americans wanted to distinguish the United States from the state atheism promoted by Marxist-Leninist countries, a view that led to support for the words "under God" to be added to the Pledge of Allegiance.The last change in language came on Flag Day 1954, when Congress passed a law, which added the words "under God" after "one nation."
In February 2015 New Jersey Superior Court Judge David F. Bauman dismissed a lawsuit, ruling that "… the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the rights of those who don't believe in God and does not have to be removed from the patriotic message." The case against the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District had been brought by a student of the district and the American Humanist Association that argued that the phrase "under God" in the pledge created a climate of discrimination because it promoted religion, making non-believers "second-class citizens."
In a twenty-one page decision, Bauman wrote, "Under [the association members'] reasoning, the very constitution under which [the members] seek redress for perceived atheistic marginalization could itself be deemed unconstitutional, an absurd proposition which [association members] do not and cannot advance here." Bauman said the student could skip the pledge, but upheld a New Jersey law that says pupils must recite the pledge unless they have "conscientious scruples" that do not allow it. He noted, "As a matter of historical tradition, the words 'under God' can no more be expunged from the national consciousness than the words 'In God We Trust' from every coin in the land, than the words 'so help me God' from every presidential oath since 1789, or than the prayer that has opened every congressional session of legislative business since 1787.”
The Flag Code specifies that any future changes to the pledge would have to be with the consent of the President.
It was in 1942 that Congress established the current practice of rendering the pledge with the right hand over the heart.
Today our flag contains fifty stars, each representing the 50 states of the United States of America. But in the beginning, there were 13 stars in a circle representing each of the 13 colonies.
The stars were in a circle so that no one colony would be viewed above another. As America grew and expanded, a star was added to the flag, each to represent the number of states in the United States.
According to legend, George Washington interpreted the elements of our first flag in this way: "The stars were taken from the sky, the red from the British colors, and the white stripes signified the secession from the home country" but, the Continental Congress left no record to show why it chose the colors red, white, and blue. However, in 1782, the Congress of the Confederation chose these same colors for the Great Seal of the United States and listed their meaning as follows:
"White to mean purity and innocence, red for valor and hardiness, and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice". However, there is no official designation or meaning for the colors of the flag.
That’s the condensed version of the history of our Pledge of Allegiance. Patriotism grew with us through the suffering of earlier wars and the price paid of previous generations, to protect and preserve our precious freedoms and liberties that are so freely taken for granted today.
It is sad for me to say that today, there is a disturbingly large number of people in America who don’t like the idea of pledging allegiance to a flag that represents all that America stands for. Many of those, although not all, are walking the corridors of our nation’s institutions of higher learning. Some are even exclaiming their opposition to stating allegiance to our Flag in the public school system in grades one through 12, for fear of “indoctrinating” our free thinking children at such a young and impressionable age. A chilling thought that might be rooted in a lack of understanding or knowledge of American history, but certainly there is a lack of appreciation for the liberties and freedom America has provided for them, and a lack of respect for all those who gave their lives to provide those precious rights for all of us.
Our freedom has never been free, and if we continue down the anti-America path we are on, our children and grandchildren will grow up paying a heavy price to learn what should have been taught to them in their earlier school age years.
By Gil Potts