Tuesday, July 08, 2008

"I Pledge Allegiance . . ."

I love America. I have loved her for as long as I can remember. It has been hard leaving home and going through the interminable process of becoming an American. America has faults, and I'm quick to point those out, but I am more in love with the IDEA of America and all she can be than I ever have been. DO NOT confuse my need for critical thought and my loathing of politicians with a disdain for America!

As this political season really heats up, you will often hear allegations that certain people or parties or positions are “unpatriotic,” or “un-American.” You will no doubt hear about how we are sliding into the morass of godlessness, and evidence of this secular slide comes in the form of court decisions – like the decision from a few years back ruling it a violation of our constitution for a public school to require their students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or that the phrase, “under God” should be removed. Does that make you angry? Why? From 1892 to 1954 the words “under God” were not even part of the Pledge.

The pledge was written in 1892 by the socialist Francis Bellamy. He devised it on the occasion of the nation's first celebration of Columbus Day. It’s wording omitted reference not only to God but also, interestingly, to the “United States.” It said, "I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The key words for Bellamy were "indivisible," which recalled the Civil War and the triumph of the Union over states' rights, and "liberty and justice for all," which was supposed to strike a balance between equality and individual freedom. By the 1920s, reciting the pledge had become a ritual in many public schools. The campaign to add "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance was part of the flood of religiosity of the early 1950’s. It's unclear precisely where the idea originated, but one driving force was the Catholic fraternal society the Knights of Columbus. In April 1953, Rep. Louis Rabaut formally proposed the alteration of the pledge in a bill he introduced to Congress. The “under God” movement didn't take off, however, until the next year, when it was endorsed by George M. Docherty, the minister of the Presbyterian Church in Washington that Eisenhower attended. In February 1954, Docherty gave a sermon - with the president in the pew before him - arguing that apart from "the United States of America," the pledge "could be the pledge of any country." He added, "I could hear little Moscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag with equal solemnity." Perhaps forgetting that "liberty and justice for all" was not the norm in Moscow, Docherty urged the inclusion of "under God" in the pledge to denote what he felt was special about the United States. The ensuing congressional speeches offered more proof that the point of the bill was to promote religion. The legislative intent of the 1954 act stated that the hope was to "acknowledge the dependence of our people and our government upon the Creator,” and to “deny the atheistic and materialistic concept of communism." In signing the bill on June 14, 1954, Flag Day, Eisenhower delighted in the fact that from then on, "millions of our schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty."

This had not always been the case, however. In 1943 Chief Justice Robert Jackson wrote the following when the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional to force school children to recite the Pledge: “Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard. There is no mysticism in the American concept of the State or of the nature or origin of its authority. We set up government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent. 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.

And, one more thing. Should Christians pledge allegiance to any flag or government or nation anyway? Jesus said, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." Caesar (any government) may have your money, but only God is entitled to your allegiance and full devotion. The Jehovah's Witnesses may be right on this one. Your thoughts?


David said...

Good point Charles. I also like to tell people when they get angry about the "under God" part of the pledge, that America's forefathers were really Deist and that the wedding of politics and religion did not take place until much latter. Where do you get all your anecdotes at anyways?

Charles North said...

I read the text of that 1943 Supreme Court decision because it was a pivotal 1st Amendment case. It had to do with a school forcing some Jehovah's Witness kids to say the Pledge. This is why I love America. (and, but the way, my love for America is proportionate to her freedoms. The less free America becomes, the less there is to like!) Even during the height of WW2 and way before hippies and liberals "screwed up" the country, our Supreme Court said that allegiance, loyalty, and love cannot be coerced!

Mark said...

As christians, I think it is correct to acknowledge that we should be "under God." Our acknowledgment of God's ultimate authority is important. However, to force non-christians to say something they do not mean... is that right?

As for the idea of whether or not we should make a pledge, I think it depends on the contents of the pledge. For example, in the military you "swear (or) affirm, to support the constitution of the United States of America." As long as the constitution contains principles that are consistent with the will of God, I have no problem making that pledge.

In the case of pledging "allegiance to the flag," I still believe that flag ultimately represents the principles of human rights and freedom. Even if we fail miserably in meeting those ideals, the flag still represents those ideals. Until that flag comes to represent something else, I do not have any issue with pledging allegiance to it.

Ryan said...

Newsweek had a cover titled "the Politics of Jesus" a few years back. The cover was a cross wrapped in the American Flag. You can view the cover by clicking here.
I think the pledge highlights the artificial marriage between Christianity and the state. I think those that believe they are wronged by removing the words "Under God" are wrong. How does including "Under God" in the pledge change a person's heart. The debate is all smoke and mirrors to me.

Charles North said...

I remember that picture Ryan! Mark - It's very interesting to me that the constitution says "swear" or "affirm" allegiance. The choice to be completely secular was written into our constitution as long ago as 1787. I find that remarkable! That's why I love America!! It's about freedom from ALL kinds of tyranny - political and religious.

Charles North said...

One more thing - I'm not saying Christians shouldn't pledge allegiance, I'm just asking if we ought to, or if we give enough forethought to it.

David said...

Interestingly, I have just read that the words "In God We Trust," were added around the same time (1862) by the Legal Act by Salmon Chase, Lincoln's secretary of the treasury, and were printed on the first federal paper money. Also , very interestingly, this was vehemently opposed by Teddy Roosevelt on political grounds, first amendment, and religious, i.e., putting God on money was a sacrilege.