The recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools is done on a daily basis in the United States. However, it is not a compulsion and those who do not wish to recite it, need not do so. The words ‘under God’, in the Pledge of Allegiance, has stirred several controversies in America. Let’s read more…
Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag, was originally written in August, 1892 by an American Baptist minister and social activist, Francis Bellamy. However, the original Pledge has been altered several times since then. Congressional sessions open with the recitation of this pledge and it is also recited at public events. The short, 15 second pledge, is a promise or oath of loyalty to the Republic of United States of America.
As per the United States Flag Code, the pledge is to be recited by standing at attention; facing the American flag and placing the right hand over the heart. People in uniform face the flag, remain silent and take the military salute. Those not in uniform must remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and place it on their left shoulder, in such a way that their right hand is over the heart. The Pledge of Allegiance in schools is recited by children of all religions across America on a daily basis.
Controversy of Pledge of Allegiance
Today, the words of the Pledge of Allegiance reads: “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 Pledge of Allegiance is supposed to be important to American citizens, however, there is a lot of debate over its recitation. The objectionable factor is the phrase ‘under God’ in the pledge. This phrase ‘under God’ means something different to every individual:
➢It refers to the existence of a deity, who is omnipotent and omniscient.
➢It refers to a male deity, as female deities are referred to as Goddesses and are not taken into consideration in the Pledge.
➢Further, the phrase refers to monotheism, indicating the presence of a single deity ruling over America.
➢It also gives the indication that majority of the Americans believe in the existence of a God, who interfered with the events occurring on Earth, thereby guiding America in the direction He wishes.
The phrase ‘under God’ was not part of the original pledge formulated by Francis Bellamy (1892). It was inserted decades later on June 14, 1954, during the cold war, by religious leaders of the country (especially at the urging of then President Dwight D. Eisenhower.) Since then, the recitation of the Pledge has become a hot controversial topic.
The United States self-identified itself as predominantly Christian, with approximately 88% of American adults being Christians in 1954. However, the percentage of Christian population has been plummeting. In a survey conducted by researchers at Trinity College in Hartford and funded by the Lilly Endowment and the Posen Foundation in 1990, the percentage dropped to 86, and in another decades time, the rate dropped even further. By 2008, the percentage of Christians in the US had dropped to 76.
The 2008 survey indicates that the number of Christians in the US has been reducing. Moreover, various other non-Christian religious groups have been growing steadily. Then there are the ‘Nones’, who comprise the atheists, agnostics and those without a stated religious preference. The ‘Nones’ have grown from 8.2% in 1990 to 15.0% in 2008. One disconcerting indicator that reveals Americans’ lack of attachment to religion, is the data that 27% Americans do not wish to have a religious funeral at their death.
These religious minorities have stirred the debate about keeping ‘God’ in Pledge of Allegiance. Atheists who deny the existence of God, find it offensive to recite the words of the Pledge. They find the Pledge more of a religious oath, than a pledge directed to honor the nation. Moreover, they believe that religion and Government should be kept at arm’s length. They also state that schools are using the Pledge as a means to brainwash children into believing the existance of an omnipotent and omniscient God.
Then again, there are the Agnostics, who are undecided about the existence of God, thus, don’t wish to recite the Pledge with the words ‘under God’ in them. Moreover, Deists believe in a God who created the universe, brought it together and then left. They believe God is not around anymore, therefore, the phrase ‘under God’ is not applicable to them as well. Ethical culturalists and humanists set their belief on secular considerations and are also not in favor of the phrase. Buddhists do not believe in a personal God and several Jews (due to Christian persecution) mostly oppose all governmental involvement in religion. All these variations in beliefs has resulted in the debate over the Pledge of Allegiance.
Opposition to the Pledge in Schools
Ever since 1892, the Pledge of Allegiance has been recited in schools on a daily basis (although today it is recited on a weekly basis or less in a number of schools). What began as the perfect means to inculcate patriotism in children, has ended up getting entangled in religious controversies. While most God-fearing people have absolutely no issues with the Pledge, those who believe otherwise seem to have several issues with the same. Parents opposing the Pledge state that the phrase ‘under God’ is nothing but imposing religion on children.
Michael Arthur Newdow, an atheist, challenged the Bush Administration regarding the Pledge of Allegiance, by filing a lawsuit on behalf of his daughter. He argued that his child should not be forced to say the Pledge with the phrase ‘under God’. In response, the Bush Administration stated that the reference to ‘God’ in the Pledge was in accordance to the history of the nation and is similar to the phrase “In God We Trust”, which is stamped on all bills and coins of America. Newdow lost the lawsuit, because he did not have custody of his daughter in the first place, so was not considered eligible to file a lawsuit on her behalf in the first place.
Reciting the Pledge in school is not a compulsion, however, people of different schools of thought still seem to have a problem with it. If reciting the pledge is not a compulsion, then what is the controversy all about? Shouldn’t those who oppose just remain seated, while the others recite the Pledge, as asked by the Government. Moreover, those who have a problem with the phrase ‘under God’ can omit the words while saying the Pledge.
Well, things are not so simple! People opposing the Pledge say that their kids are subjected to harassment and insults from peers, if they don’t participate in its recitation. Thus, they want their children’s rights to be protected and are imploring the State to stop its recitation in schools. If the Pledge is not recited at all, their children don’t have to be left out, thereby, solving their problem.
In early 2010, an incident occurred in Maryland, where a student was escorted by police officers in response to a complaint made by the teacher, when the student refused to recite the pledge. By law, every student has the right to abstain from saying the pledge, yet, the teacher acted otherwise. The teacher had to later apologize for her actions. However, after the incident the other children in class mocked the student, which made things unpleasant. To avoid such situations, parents wish that the Pledge is not recited in school.
Parents also believe the Pledge violates the First Amendment. The First Amendment gives people the freedom to exercise religion. Americans cannot be compelled to recite a pledge they find violating their personal beliefs. The recitation of the Pledge before sports events and council meetings has also been seen to stir up numerous controversies.
It is sad to see how Americans fail to see the Pledge of Allegiance, as a sign of patriotism to their very own country! Those words which were chosen to unite the nation seem to have divided it severely. There is no answer as to when the incessant debate over the Pledge of Allegiance will end. Since the recitation of the Pledge is not a compulsion, each American is free to choose whether he or she wishes to say the pledge or not. God bless America!