The Pledge of Allegiance is an American tradition that is sometimes misunderstood, and sometimes controversial. It is a 31-word oath sworn originally to “the flag and to the republic for which it stands.”
Pledge of Allegiance Text
Thirty-one words which affirm the values and freedom that the American flag represents are recited while facing the flag as a pledge of Americans’ loyalty to their country. As part of the U.S. Flag Code, the Pledge reads as follows:
“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.”
The Original Flag Pledge
The original flag pledge lyrics, as reported by the official site of the American Legion:
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag
and to the Republic for which it stands
one Nation indivisible
with Liberty and Justice for all.”
The phrase, “The flag of the United States” would replaced the words “my Flag” circa 1923. There were other modifications over the years, including the addition of the phrase, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America”
According to some sources, no version of the Pledge of Allegiance was formally recognized by Congress until 1942, when it was formally codified as part of the United States Flag Code. United States of America.”
When Congress officially adopted the pledge, part of that act was to add another part to the tradition–reciting the pledge with the right hand over the speaker’s heart. Prior to this, History.com reports something known as the “Bellamy Salute” was used.
Pledge of Allegiance & The Military
Section 4 of the Federal Flag Code states that when not in military uniform, men should remove any headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, thereby resting the hand over the heart. People in military uniform should remain silent, face the flag and render the military salute.
Section 4, Title 4, United States Code (4 USC 4):
When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces not in uniform and veterans may render the military salute in the manner provided for persons in uniform.
The Earliest Pledge?
The earliest example of an American flag pledge is found in history as far back as 1885. History.com reports a Civil War veteran named Colonel George Balch wrote a pledge that includes the following:
“We give our heads and our hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag.”
Approaching The Pledge Of Allegiance
The Pledge we know today was NOT the same as the original flag pledge written by Francis Bellamy, made popular in the late 1800s thanks to the publication of The Youth’s Companion in 1882 but also in widespread distribution to schools operating at the time.
Who Really Authored The Pledge?
There is some controversy over the origins of the Pledge. Some sources including VA.gov report that there is disagreement over whether Francis Bellamy should take the credit, or whether publisher James Upham, who worked for the company that published The Youth’s Companion should be credited.
VA.gov reports the Pledge was published without attribution in the magazine and was not copyrighted.
Changes Were Needed
This salute was rendered back in the day as an extended right arm reaching toward the flag with the hand outstretched.
If that has a familiar ring to it, know that the end of the Bellamy Salute came with the rise of right-wing fascist groups in Europe. Many felt the salute Americans were giving to their flag was too similar to the Nazi salute for comfort and Congress modified this tradition to require the hand over the heart instead.
Pledge of Allegiance Changes
- September 8, 1892: The original Pledge of Allegiance was published through the official program of the National Public Schools Celebration of Columbus Day, which was printed in The Youth’s Companion and at the same time sent out in leaflet form to schools throughout the country.
- 1923: “The flag of the United States” replaced the words “my Flag” in 1923 because some foreign-born people might have in mind the flag of the country of their birth instead of the United States flag.
- 1924: “of America” was added after “United States.”
- June 22, 1942: The Pledge was formally included in the U.S. Flag Code. This established the current practice of rendering the pledge with the right hand over the heart.
- 1945: The official name of The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted
- June 14, 1954: On Flag Day, Congress passed a law, which added the words “under God” after “one nation.”
The Flag Code specifies that any future changes to the pledge would have to be with the consent of the president.
Pledge Of Allegiance Controversy
There have been many legal challenges to the use of the Pledge. Some feel the inclusion of the phrase “one Nation under God” is far too sectarian to be used in a public school setting.
Others take issue with the phrase “with liberty and justice for all”, especially when penned during a period in American history where there was no liberty for many living here whether brought against their will on slave ships, forced into so-called “separate-but-equal” social arrangements, etc.
All that said, a significant portion of the challenges to the Pledge of Allegiance has to do with compulsory participation.
In a publication called Legal Updates, Marth McCarthy writes that in 1992 the 7th Circuit, “rejected an Establishment Clause challenge to an Illinois law requiring daily recitation of the Pledge in public schools, concluding that addition of the words “under God” did not change this patriotic observance into a religious exercise that advances religion”.
But the most important part of that decision?
The ruling that as long as students are able to decline participation in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, “the state law presents no infringement on individuals’ constitutional right to refrain from such an observance” and therefore implies no “religious coercion.”
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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