The Pledge of Allegiance was composed by Frances Bellamy in 1892. It came about as a commercial promotion of a youth magazine to sell flags and get flags placed atop schoolhouses. Congress formally adopted the Pledge in 1942. The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 (W. Va. Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)) that school children have a right to refuse to participate in saying the Pledge. Mr. Justice Jackson’s opinion is readable and worth reading for what it says about the limits to government actions that seek unity, conformity, and affirmation of belief through compulsion. In 1954, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge.
Frances Bellamy’s views are summarized by writer Timothy Kubal as follows:
“Francis Bellamy was a leader in three related movement groups — the public education movement, which sought to celebrate and expand public schools, the nationalist movement, which sough to nationalize public services and protect them from privatization, and the Christian socialist movement, which sought to promote an economy based on justice and equality. ”
Although children may opt out of saying the Pledge, this is usually not the case because of social and teacher pressures. For an example of a teacher who takes the Pledge seriously, see the piece by Darrell Benton who teaches seventh grade in San Jacinto, Texas. Mr. Benton writes
“Thus, every year I talk to my students during the first week of school about the importance and meaning of the pledge. Since today’s students are wrapped up in things that are visual, I use pictures I have pulled from magazines and newspapers. I show them pictures of our soldiers patrolling in the middle of a blinding sandstorm on a 120-degree day in Iraq. I display a picture of a weeping, 90-year-old veteran hugging a young Marine who had lost two limbs in a roadside blast in the Middle East. I mount on my bulletin board a photo of an 8-year-old girl, standing in grief and solitude, mourning the loss of her mother who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11. We talk about sacrifice and love of country and why we say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Sometimes, we even watch the old Red Skelton video where he explains the meaning of the pledge.”
I have never seen a better reason for taking your children out of the public schools than Benton’s exposition of his teaching.
The Pledge has several roles. These are explained in detail in an academic article by Sheldon H. Nahmod. The title is “The Pledge as Sacred Political Ritual”. Indeed, the Pledge is a ritual, and it functions as a political ritual. I can only touch a few of the many aspects of the functions of the Pledge.
It constructs political power. It affirms that power. It displays that power. It promotes that power. The Pledge promotes the legitimacy of the United States of America as a government and as a State. As ritual, the Pledge acts to form a person’s self as part of a particular political group or community that has a past, a present and a future. Its role in opening the school day shows the pre-eminent position of that power, as does its persistence across all grades, all teachers and all subjects. The phrase “one nation under God” identifies the ritual as extending to a higher level of sovereignty and uniting the State (republic) with the Nation and with God. This makes the Pledge into a sacred and a political ritual at the same time. The Pledge is said in unison with other Americans. In that role, it acts to create and foster a political community.
Nahmod quotes David Kertzer, who has written on political rituals. Among many insights, Kertzer observes that such rituals “discourage critical thinking”. They use symbols and emotions to create the affirming behavior and loyalty.
To be less academic, one can simply say that the public schools are being used by the State to brainwash children and indoctrinate them in blind and uncritical loyalty and acceptance of the State. Re-read Bellamy’s purposes and you will find that the public schools and the Pledge are aimed at serving his purposes.
How, one may wonder, did settlers and colonists and immigrants to America survive and prosper from 1620 to 1892 without the Pledge?
I find every part of the Pledge objectionable. I pledge no allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and none to the republic for which it stands. I don’t identify the State with the Nation. I don’t regard the Nation as indivisible. I am devoted to a number of values that I deem good and that I love and some of these are related, although not uniquely, to this country and to ideals associated with this country such as liberty and justice, but the national government we call the U.S.A. certainly does not invoke my devotion, loyalty, faithfulness, love or adherence. What it is and what it does I condemn. I find it impossible to be loyal to a band of bloody warmongers and warmakers who were ready to draft me into their armed force at age 18 and now forcibly extract my wealth to carry on their wars.
I don’t think that the Pledge should be said in public schools. For that matter, I don’t think there should be public schools.
In public meetings when the Pledge is said, I remain seated. I opt out. The Pledge didn’t “take” with me, despite having to say it again and again before I knew better.