The Pledge of Allegiance: patriotism or authoritarianism?

Rajath Prabhakar, Sports Editor

In 1892, Baptist minister Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance for the occasion of the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World.

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

RG Frank (1940)
The original Pledge of Allegiance was accompanied by a tradition known as the “Bellamy Salute”, after Francis Bellamy, who wrote the pledge.

The above was the original text in the pledge. Written just 20 years after the end of Reconstruction, it was intended to respond to a “low ebb” of patriotism in the late 1890s, a way of “encouraging”  patriotism on unwitting schoolchildren, who naturally tend to follow orders. It tried to define the American identity in a way that alienated the “rising tide of southern and eastern European immigrants ‘pouring over our country’ in the early 20th century from ‘races which we cannot assimilate without a lowering of our racial standard’” (Petrella).

The racist intentions of its author are clearly known; why is this relic of the 19th century allowed to be forced onto innocent kindergartners, first graders, and second graders? When asked about this archaic tradition, Frau Otte, the German teacher at Roswell, said that “It would be respectful to stand for the pledge, but students should never be forced to stand for it.” Otte grew up in a suburb of Munich (West Germany) during the 1980s, and was educated on a U.S. military base. This led to her having exposure to traditions like the pledge, and having a foreigner’s perspective.

“It would be respectful to stand for the pledge, but students should never be forced to stand for it.””

— Fr. Angelika Otte

There are several things wrong with the recitation of the pledge in schools. First of all, the inclusion of “Under God” in the pledge is a violation of the 1st amendment. The words “Under God” were added into the pledge to differentiate themselves from the “Godless commies” in Soviet Russia. The constitution makes clear that America was meant to be a secular nation, with no mention of Jesus, Allah, or any other god(s). Therefore, the inclusion of the word violates the notion of separation of state, thus rendering the entire pledge unconstitutional. In 2004, Michael Newdow filed a case before the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, who found that the phrase “Under God” was an endorsement of religion, and violates the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment. Although the Supreme Court ruled against Newdow on purely procedural grounds, it did not contest the unconstitutionality of the pledge.

Although students are not required to participate in the pledge, there are teachers that take it upon themselves to force students to stand and say the Pledge.

Secondly, the pledge is forced upon children starting from age 5, in kindergarten. At that age, children have no concept of what “pledging allegiance” means. They have no idea what the meaning of the pledge is. They are simply told what to say, and feel compelled to do it because they think they will get in trouble for disobeying. By the time they get to high school, the habit of standing and reciting the pledge is deeply ingrained in them, and most don’t know anything different.

The fact of the matter is that the inclusion of the words “Under God” into the pledge alienates people who are not Christians, Muslims, or Jews. No longer should this violation of the first amendment be continued in our public schools. Roswell High School would do well to (1) recite the original version of the pledge, without the words “under God”, or (2) not say the pledge at all.