Flag Day and the Pledge of Allegiance: musings from a FreeThinker, Atheist, Skeptic.by Don Lacey on Jun. 14, 2013, under Art & Culture, Atheism, Critical Thinking, Education, Faith, Freethought, History, Question of the Day!, Reason, Religion, Responsible Government, Separation of Church & State, Supreme Court
One of the fun things about being a freethinking Atheist/Skeptic and living in these times is the amount of information available at our fingertips when we’re at home and on our hip or in our purse whenever we’re out and about. When curiosity strikes our ever present Internet is available to answer the queries. Of course, we can’t believe EVERYTHING on the intertubes but if we’re careful we can get a satisfactory, fairly factual answer in seconds. Today as I was putting out the American flag in my yard, I began to wonder about Flag Day and the Pledge of Allegiance.
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Francis Bellamy wrote the pledge for The Youth’s Companion. It was published September 8th, 1892. He was a Baptist minister and a Christian Socialist. It was written to be a quick and easy way for young children to express their love of their country and the principles on which it was founded. As a Socialist he wanted to include the words, “equality and fraternity,” but he felt that the superintendents were against equality for women and African Americans and wouldn’t accept that inclusion. He opted for readily accepted concepts that everyone could agree on. The first public school recitation was conducted on Oct 12th 1892 after a presidential proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison, to recognize the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America.
The United States Congress officially recognized the pledge for the first time on June 22nd, 1942 but by that time it had become:
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.
The change was minor. “my Flag” was replaced with “the flag of the United States of America.” There was little to argue about in the language of the pledge although Francis Bellamy objected to the change because it interrupted original flow and meter. However, there were objections to the Pledge on religious grounds by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. 1940 the Supreme Court ruled that in the interest of national unity the children of the Jehovah’s Witnesses could be compelled to repeat the Pledge with their classmate in spite of their objection that they were precluded by their religion from pledging loyalty to any power lesser than God. Three years later, the Supreme Court reversed that decision and told the schools that they were no longer allowed to require the recitation of the Pledge. Bear in mind that this objection was raised by a religious group prior to the inclusion of “under God.”
So why do we have Flag Day on June 14th? There are many reasons dating back to the American Civil War. Apparently, the “Stars and Stripes” were first recognized as the flag on June 14th, 1777 and most of the proposals advocating a “Flag Day” used that date. It was officially recognized under President Truman in 1949. On June 14th, 1954 the United States Congress made a change to the U.S. Code and turned a generally accepted expression of national unity into a public prayer by adding the words, “under God.” Objections began immediately and continue to this day. The main supporting argument for keeping the offending words within the “official” Pledge is that no one can be compelled to say the Pledge since the ruling of the Supreme Court (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette) in 1943.
Here it is as we say it 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.”
Feel free to say it or not because that still is your right and you can leave out the “under God” part, if that suits you.