June 23, 2011


I don't pledge OF allegiance

Recently there was a dust-up caused by NBC when, as part of its coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament, the network twice omitted the words “under God” from a clip of students reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Of course, Pious America gave the move the thumbs down, and while I understand why they would, I’m still not buying what they’re selling (something that’s become a tradition for me). Frankly, ever since I was old enough to give it some thought I’ve found the Pledge to be rather hollow. We recited it daily in grade school, but I don’t recall ever being taught the meaning. Young students simply memorizing a pledge is less about patriotism and liberty than it is about obedience. The latter is not an undesirable teaching, but aren’t supporters of the pledge missing the irony of a nation built on the principles of freedom of thought and the right to dissent requiring its youngest citizens to pledge allegiance to it? They don’t understand most of the pledge they are taking nor by any of our laws are they qualified to give their consent.

Before I continue with my main theme, some background is essential. The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy (avowed socialist and inventor of the Bellamy Salute shown here - a particularly ironic choice of deference that was 86'd by FDR after the U.S. entered WWII). It was published in the popular children’s magazine The Youth’s Companion as part of a campaign to instill the idea of American nationalism by selling flags to public schools and magazines to students (In cash we trust, no?).

The original Pledge read as follows:

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

The phrase “under God” was incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance by a Joint Resolution of Congress and signed by President Eisenhower (raised a Jehovah’s Witness - see below) on June 14, 1954. From the outset objections were raised, mostly on grounds that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects one’s right to refrain from speaking or standing. Ironically, decades before any Atheists were led to challenge the Pledge legally, prominent lawsuits were brought in the 1950s by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian sect whose beliefs preclude swearing loyalty to any power other than God, and who objected to policies in public schools requiring students to swear an oath to the flag. They objected on the grounds that their rights to freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment were being violated by such requirements.

In the last decade lower courts have ruled both for and against reciting the Pledge or the inclusion of the “under God” phrase, but the Supreme Court won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole. In 2004 the SCOTUS cited a technicality to duck a ruling on the merits, and on June 13, 2011 it denied an appeal against a lower court’s upholding of the God phrase.

There is a very prevalent misconception in the United States that lends to my distaste for religion (which here, of course, pretty much means Christianity) - that the government is a democracy and in a democracy the majority rules. The first point is erroneous because the government is a democratic republic (thus, “and to the republic, for which it stands”) with representative governance. Pure democracy is direct governance by the people where policies are decided through town hall meetings, referendums, etc. In a democracy majority indeed rules, but in a republic the officials can vote according to their knowledge, wisdom, ignorance, and/or campaign donor list.

Indeed, the majority of the U.S. citizenry identifies as Christian (with tens of thousands of denominations over a massively wide spectrum of doctrines - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_denominations), but does that make it a “Christian” nation? To say that the U.S. was founded on Christian principles is quite true, but there is a great chasm between the principles of Jesus’ teachings and the doctrine and dogma that too often rule the day in the average fervent follower’s perceptions. The core group of the framers of our government was undoubtedly influenced by Christianity, but split about evenly between fervent bible readers and those who espoused a deistic philosophy (Thomas Jefferson called the book of Revelation the rantings of a madman). All, however, realized that the establishment of a state religion would be anathema to the new republic.

Though not in our Constitution (as is often believed), Jefferson’s proclamation of there being a “wall of separation between church and state” is an effective metaphor. I don’t see any current infringement on Christians' free exercise within the walls of their churches and rarely in the surrounding community, especially here in the Baptist Belt where the right wing has refashioned the classic three Estates of the Realm (clergy, nobility, and commoners) into a single bastardized one. When exceptions are voiced against public exercise it is always on the grounds of being inappropriately foisted upon mixed public company (think Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe cheerleaders with religious signs, Ten Commandments in the courthouse, etc.) and not against any peaceable assembly exclusively made up of believers. Unfortunately the courts have not always held that “inappropriate” equals an unconstitutional establishment (dare I say endorsement) of religion.

Though I have eschewed revealed religion in my life, I don’t disagree that there is often intolerance of Christianity on the part of staunch Atheists with chips on their shoulders (works both ways, that), but I believe we should all pledge to love our enemies and not scream back at them.

I simply don't say "under God" when I recite the Pledge, very simple. They can leave it in or out, doesn't matter to me. I don't think it matters if "God" is in the Pledge, or on our currency, or if there are angels and saints on our street signs (atheists in NY are freaking out because of the word "Heaven" on a new sign). What I'd like is religion out of legal discussion -- I don't want the Catholic church's opinion on U.S. health care or our death penalty or any other thing. How is that relevant? Go away! And same with every other religion. Go do your worshippy thing and leave our laws alone. Yes, our laws were derived from religious principles, so what? I don't want to NOW hear that Jesus or Zeus said bla bla about something or other. Gah.

Also, Tim, way too long between posts. Ridiculous!
Young students simply memorizing a pledge is less about patriotism and liberty than it is about obedience.

Supporting your observation is an excerpt from a lower court ruling en route to the Supreme Court decision brought by JWs (in the 40's, not 50's):

"there are schools all over the United States in which the pupils have to go through the ceremony of pledging allegiance to the flag every school day. It would be hard to devise a means more effective for dulling patriotic sentiment than that. This routine repetition makes the flag-saluting ceremony perfunctory and so devoid of feeling; and once this feeling has been lost it is hard to recapture it for the "high moments" of life."
I am for leaving it the same. If you do not believe, then do like Paula and do not say under God. As a veteran, I am very patriotic, and love this country very much. I respect your views and the choice to not believe in a supreme being, but ninety percent of Americans believe in one religion or another. I was very disappointed that when touring DC a couple of years ago that the WW2 monument omitted from FDR's "Day of Infamy" speech the very end, "so help us God". He did say it, after all, but I feel that changing the historical record like that not to offend hyper sensitive people is political correctness run amok.
On another note, something that drives me insane is people who don't stand up at sporting events when the National anthem is played, or do not take off their hats, or place their right hand on their hearts. Have some civic pride, people! We have men and women overseas fighting for us and we are too lazy or ignorant (or arrogant) to come too our feet when our flag is presented? Finally, I am against the flag being used as a clothing accessory. The most insulting thing that I have ever seen is an American flag door mat! Really? I'm supposed to wipe my feet on the flag? As someone who has stood on that wall to protect and serve this country I am highly sensitive to this I know, so forgive me if I got off on a tangent. "It's not a rag, it's OUR FLAG".

And I concur, it's time to post more often. I've got to write up a few posts from my Alaska trip but I am awfully busy with work lately.
Agree 100% and I never liked reciting it. Less proud of my homeland every day, no matter how many countries we invade in the name of God. Also, the man and I disbelieve the statistics regarding percentage of true believers... there are more athiests and agnostics than we are told. Many do not declare their non-belief as believers are apt to. Nice to read here again.
I was very disappointed that when touring DC a couple of years ago that the WW2 monument omitted from FDR's "Day of Infamy" speech the very end, "so help us God". He did say it, after all, but I feel that changing the historical record like that not to offend hyper sensitive people is political correctness run amok.


And excellent post, Tim.
I agree for the most part. Where I disagree may surprise you, since you and most of my friends know I take my spirituality and Christianity pretty seriously. I think it ought to have been left out. One - If we're such traditionalists, then we should abide by its original tradition (excepting the creepy salute, which of course didn't have the horrifying connotations it now carries) and say it as it was originally adopted. Two - Part of the beauty of the freedom we profess, and mostly enjoy, is the freedom to believe whatever we wish, or not to believe at all (which is, of course, a belief system too, but that's a whole 'nother post - or library of posts.)

Carrying on that thought, the pledge ought to commemorate our commitment to being part of the ever evolving experiment that is America. It ought to commemorate the the part we play in making and keeping it whole. I don't care how gnarly it is right now - there are soooo many things that need fixing, each person's pledge should be to the ideal and to the freedom they have.

Actually I take most exception to Annie's comments. I don't care how much you don't care for much of the current leadership's behavior in the name of America, you greatly benefit from your citizenship here. Relative to Bill Gates, perhaps not, but relative to 80% of the world, you do. You should have great loyalty to this country, never as it is, I think, but always as it should be. If you don't care for the current state of affairs, get involved. You are free to do so and to encourage others to do the same. It is that freedom for which you should feel indebted.

I am extremely unhappy with the current state of the nation, though I feel it's slightly better than 3 years ago. Among the *accomplishments* of the prior administration and the current crop of Republicans can be marked my conversion to the Blue side. I did so because that is one small way I can change what I don't like. There are many, many others.

And I have to challenge Annie on one more thing. You said:

Agree 100% and I never liked reciting it. Less proud of my homeland every day, no matter how many countries we invade in the name of God.

Among the countries where we're currently involved militarily, which ones did we enter in the name of our God? Which ones are specifically religiously motivated? I'm sorry, but that's the sort of empty hyperbole that prevents real discourse...
That's what I'm here for... to piss off Tim's readers! m so beyond fed up with religion, politics, and warfare. As for the current administration, NOBODY was more supportive or optimisting than me about Obama. Which has a lot to do with how betrayed I feel now. Hello? Stopping the war a.s.a.p., Gitmo, decriminalation of marijuana, equality for gays? No such luck. He has abandoned the base that put him there. I am almost 54 years old, voted since 1976, was a precinct leader in my district in Santa Cruz, too. Right now I just want to plant fruit and veggies and flowers on this island, 3000 miles from most of the U.S. Also, was raised as a Catholic and attended Catholic school. So I come by my disdain honestly. I have every right to eschew religion as much as you and everyone else have the right to embrace it.
You can eschew anything you want. You're not pissing me off. I can't speak for others.

However, you can't make nonsensical comments like that and expect to go unchallenged. I have to say, though, that as a longtime Santa Cruz resident, I'm quite used to commentary that's more poetry than fact.

What has happened in the last couple decades that the parties expect a president they elected to ride in swinging a machete and cutting down all in their way? This nation has always been built on slow, trudging progress through compromise. You get what you can, and tolerate what you must to get it. You take to the streets when you have to, and to the polls whenever they're open. You can't just catapult some idealist in, then bitch at him when the reality of government keepsthings moving slow. Either he's making progress in the right direction or he's not. I believe he is, little by little.
My new "mellow and happy" program has me trying very hard to eschew the bigotry I can sometimes have toward people of faith. It's hard because as a younger man I was personally burned by religion, but also because the vast majority of the faithful are not like Looney & PJ, which is to say their faith seems to make them very obtuse. But a nice thing I've realized is that I can simply let them be if their worldview seems too disagreeable, but also look for opportunities where we can effectively coexist.

BTW - the title is in reference to a pet peeve of mine. I hear folks open their recitation of the Pledge like that and it makes me cringe.
Brilliant, Tim, and those that pledge readership (joke)...I have a new favorite blog and have enjoyed reading each and every word. I think you succinctly summarize my feelings exactly, Tim...and thanks for the history lesson too (gasp!). You've given me a lot to chew on today. Chop chop...time to write the entry, k? Thnx. :)
I can think of few school experiences with less educational value than the Pledge. You are correct when you say that it is taught by rote with no explanations. I can see why it's dropped by high school, when kids would tend to begin questioning it. It's ironic, and therefore sad, that the Pledge's staunchest defenders include those who consistently bemoan that liberal "public school indoctrination."
It's been covered before.

The Pledge as defective product - that's as precious as my pristine bodily fluids, "Anon". We can call it the Lemon Pledge.

Keep on keepin' the preeverts at bay.
Here is the internet's BEST and most informative webpage about Dwight Eisenhower's background as a Jehovah's Witness. This article has been regularly posted on multiple and various websites, particularly EBAY, since 2003.

Oh no...they still say it in high school.
Every friggin day they say it in high school. I try to stand in the back so that no one will notice that the most I can muster is standing up.
Maybe I will start stepping out into thehallway.....
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