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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

One Nation Under God...But When?

One of the many silly culture war debates that seems to never go away is the supposed debate over the Pledge of Allegiance, with particular emphasis on the phrase "under God." I use the word "supposed" because most surveys show that the overwhelming majority of Americans (consistently 80-90%) have no problem with the words "under God". Yet despite the obvious approval of the general public, "under God" has become a hotbed issue for a select few, who seem to be able to effectively infuse their message of discontent into the public arena.

And though I personally have no problem with the inclusion of "under God" in our national Pledge of Allegiance I am forced to agree with an important issue that the anti-pledge crowd tends to focus on: Americans don't know their history. As I have discussed in a previous post on this blog, the history and origins of the Pledge of Allegiance clearly show that the original intent behind the pledge was much different than the one we currently embrace today.

In 1892, as part of the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' "discovery" of America, Francis Bellamy, a popular Baptist minister and Christian socialist, was asked to draft words for a flag pledge that would be used to bolster the schoolhouse flag movement. The recitation of the pledge was also to be accompanied by the "Bellamy Salute" (as depicted in the picture to the right), but was later changed during World War II to simply placing ones hand over their heart for obvious reasons. The original words to Bellamy's pledge were:

I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with equality and fraternity for all.
Equality and fraternity are a noteworthy selection of words. After all, they are two of the three words (Liberté, égalité, fraternité) used in the national motto of France; a motto that originated in their revolution. In addition, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were also key words in the Christan socialist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bellamy was a passionate voice for socialism and advocated for complete government control of education in America. In addition, it was his hope that the pledge would become a standard practice in all public schools. His wish was granted in 1940 when the Supreme Court, in Minersville School District v. Gobitis ruled that all students, including Jehovah's Witnesses who detested the pledge on the basis that it was idolatrous and made a graven image out of the flag, were required to swear the pledge.

Over the years, Bellamy's pledge was changed, and eventually became the pledge most Americans love today...

...with one exception. See for yourself:

School children reciting the Pledge in 1949:


And from the 1939 film, The Great Man Votes:


And last (and perhaps the most interesting) Porky Pig from 1939:


I particularly enjoyed the Porky Pig cartoon, especially the part about the "OPPRESSION, UNFAIR TAXES, TYRANNY, UNFAIR LAWS, and INJUSTICE." of the "evil" British. I guess Walt Disney was unaware of the fact that the British colonists in America were some of the happiest people on the earth during the era of the American Revolution. The supposed "oppression" and "tyranny" was not what we think it was. And of course, let us not forget the epic Paul Revere segment (which must have been taken from a chapter in the Sarah Palin American history book), who shouts, "To arms, to arms."

So how did we get the pledge we enjoy today? The answer is actually pretty simple. In the wake of the Second World War and the commencement of the Cold War, Americans were looking for inspiration that would set them apart from (and superior to) the emerging Soviet Union. As a result, men like Louis Bowman and groups like the Sons of the American Revolution and Knights of Columbus began to include "under God" as part of the official pledge. They did so because it insinuated that the United States was God's land, while the Soviet Union was not. Long story short, in 1954 President Dwight Eisenhower and Congress, in a joint resolution, amended the flag code to officially include "under God."

And though most Americans today are unaware of the origins and history of the Pledge of Allegiance, the fact that 80-90% of us embrace and love "under God" may suggest that the history doesn't really matter. Regardless of the reasons behind "under God" the fact that we as a nation (for the most part) love and revere these words should override any objections to their supposedly offensive nature.

2 comments:

WKen said...

I have a different take. As a Christian, I'd like to see the phrase removed because most people saying it aren't really believers. I don't want to encourage the taking of the Lord's name in vain.

Then, there's the little matter that Jesus told us not to pledge oaths in the first place. That, though, might be a different matter for a different day.

Brad Hart said...

You make a good point, WKen. I know that the Jehovah's Witnesses would agree with you, and I can't really say they (or you) are wrong.