The Pledge: The Real Objection

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Well,
we've had another federal judge rule that making children in public
schools recite the "under God" portion of the Pledge of
Allegiance unconstitutional, because it amounts to establishing
a religion. As long as the topic is likely to be in the news again – and
probably a godsend for Republicans concerned about the Bush administration's
performance in Iraq and our own Gulf in the 2006 election – we might
as well widen the debate.

It's
not the "under God" part I object to; although I can see
an abstract argument that this is a first step on a slippery slope
toward establishing a religion, it really isn't. If I thought it
really meant the nation was to submit itself to God, which would
mean a lot fewer wars of choice and a lot less stealing in the "public
interest," I might even be enthusiastic. But this formulation
is one of vague public piety more meant to imply that God is on
our side than to express fealty to His commandments.

I
object to the very idea of making students "pledge allegiance"
to a rapacious state mechanism – and that is unquestionably
what the pledge was designed to do, to encourage an attitude of
unquestioning obedience that is unworthy of a free people.

As
this article by Gene Healy of Cato asks, "What's Conservative
about the Pledge of Allegiance?" The pledge was drafted in
virtually its present form in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, an unapologetic
socialist who had been pushed out of his position as a Baptist minister
because his sermons reflected more socialism than Gospel. Francis
was cousin to Edward Bellamy, who wrote the 1888 utopian socialist
novel Looking
Backward
, which I had to read in college in a class on utopian
thinking. I guess it was valuable to know that to Bellamy utopia
meant a highly regimented place where all incomes were equal and
men were drafted into the state's "industrial army" at
age 21 and did whatever the state decided they should do. It helped
to cement my distaste for such a system.

After
being kicked out of the pulpit Francis Bellamy went to work for
a magazine called Youth's Companion, and decided to work
through the public schools rather than the church to advance his
notion of a socialist worker's paradise. The Pledge was unquestionably
part of this campaign. Bellamy even recommended that the ceremony
start with a military salute and "At the words, u2018to my Flag,'
the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, towards the
Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation."
For better or worse (and to be fair, long after Bellamy's recommendation)
the Nazis adopted this same salute. It was quietly dropped from
American practice, but the intention was similar – to encourage
a quasi-religious subordination to government.

In
a country founded on "unalienable rights" of individuals,
in which the government's job is supposedly to "preserve these
rights" and not much else, the government should be pledging
allegiance to citizens and their rights, not the other way around.

It
is curious that people who call themselves conservatives now consider
this overtly socialist inducement to state-worship part of the sacred
tradition of liberty and justice.

September
17, 2005

Alan
Bock [send him mail] is Senior Essayist at the Orange County
Register. He is the author of Ambush
at Ruby Ridge
and Waiting
to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana
.

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