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What is the History of the Pledge of Allegiance?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
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  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2016
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The US Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a Baptist Minister, Francis Bellamy. He wrote the Pledge in order to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus discovering the New World, despite the fact that Columbus didn’t land on US soil. The original Pledge is simpler and doesn’t inspire the controversy of the current Pledge of Allegiance. Bellamy’s original text is the following: I pledge allegiance to my flag, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for All.

Many schoolchildren learned the pledge for the 1892 celebration of Columbus Day on October 12. As they saluted the pledge they did so with the right hand upraised, very much like the salutation of respect among Nazis. Placing the hand over the heart came much later, after WWII had begun.

In 1923, the Pledge of Allegiance underwent slight alteration. The phrase “my flag” was changed to “the flag of the United States of America.” The most significant change occurred in 1958. After years of rallying by several Christian groups and prominent leaders, the words “one nation,” became “one nation under God,” quoting Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.

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When people cite that it is time-honored to include “under God” in the pledge it’s important to remember the original Pledge of Allegiance did not contain these words. Furthermore, this is a fairly new addition to the Pledge rather than the “real pledge” as some people contend. Even without the reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance, there were problems getting all students to learn it or say it.

For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe it is against their religion to say the Pledge of Allegiance because it is considered idolatry. In 1940, the Supreme Court even ruled that public schools were well within their rights to compel people to learn and say the pledge. This decision wasn’t reversed until 1943.

The next controversy with the Pledge was the addition of the words “under God.” This has remained a controversial issue since there are many Americans who do not worship a Christian God or choose not to worship at all. Several federal courts ruled this addition unconstitutional in the 2000s, and requirement of saying the Pledge is now optional. Some states have abandoned it completely, while other schools still recite it, but any student may opt out, usually with written permission from parents. They may request their children neither learn nor say the pledge.

Some countries have pledges that are similar. The most similar is the pledge to the flag in India, which is as follows: I pledge allegiance to the National Flag and to the Sovereign Democratic Republic for which it stands. .

Ireland for a brief time had an oath of allegiance. China has a sung pledge called the Eight Honors and Eight Shames (Ba rong ba chi), which is not their national anthem, but not pledged to a flag. Schoolchildren do learn the song, as of 2006. Other nations may have similar pledges or oaths taken upon office, but not that many actually pledge to a flag like India or the US.

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clintflint
Post 4

@Mor - It's just a custom, like a whole bunch of other customs that might seem strange to outsiders. I remember when I was going to school in the States as a foreigner that I had no idea what they were doing when they recited the pledge in the mornings. But it actually felt quite good to learn it and feel like I was part of the community.

Mor
Post 3

@irontoenail - I don't think there's anything wrong with a very simple pledge like the original one. Especially since it doesn't purport any values except liberty and justice, which are generally not easy to argue against. I think it's just when it gets too complicated then it becomes more of an issue, because if you start introducing religion, you start excluding some of the people who are supposed to be taking the pledge.

You also don't want to add in other bits that might end up contradicting each other. Even liberty and justice might do that if you think about it. If someone commits a crime, then justice might dictate that they lose their liberty.

The words can end up being meaningless which makes it kind of pointless to be using it in schools.

irontoenail
Post 2

I think that it's really strange to have children pledge allegiance to a country and I'm not a fan of it. It just seems too much like brainwashing. I think if you have a great country and great education systems then children will be able to come to their own conclusions about how they feel and how they respect their own customs. But having them recite something over and over every day, particularly with those religious overtones, just seems like it would either make them hate it, or make them like it for the wrong reasons.

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