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Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Pledge of Allegiance

by The Independent Institute

Will the Pledge of Allegiance be banned from government institutions? It's far too early to know. Already, politicians are mobilizing to overturn or circumvent last Wednesday's controversial 2-to-1 decision by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which declared the Pledge unconstitutional. Even the court itself has since decided to take things slowly.

Although it is highly premature to write an obituary for the Pledge, it is not too early to note the irony: Many, although by no means all, of the Pledge's defenders fancy themselves as keepers of the country's best traditions of liberty and justice. But their allegiance to the Pledge may be misplaced.

The Pledge was authored in August 1892 by socialist Francis Bellamy, who saw it as a means of eradicating individualism, mandating the loyalty of immigrants (especially Catholics), and inculcating conformity and unswerving nationalism through the government-school system. Fierce and devoutly religious supporters of government schools, both Francis and his cousin Edward Bellamy wrote in great detail how to create a centrally-planned economy similar to the present military-industrial complex in the U.S. As John Baer notes in his book, THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE, "In 1892, Francis Bellamy was also a chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education in the National Education Association. As its chairman, he prepared the program for the public schools' quadricentennial celebration for Columbus Day in 1892. He structured this public school program around a flag raising ceremony and a flag salute -- his 'Pledge of Allegiance.'"

According to Bellamy's procedure for the Pledge:

"At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the Flag the military salute -- right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly: 'I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.' At the words, 'to my Flag,' the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, towards the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side."

With the rise of fascism in Europe, the salute was later replaced by placing one's right hand over the heart, a practice not fully adopted in most government schools until 1950. In addition, in 1924, at the behest of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, "my flag" was replaced by "the Flag of the United States of America," for fear of conflicting loyalties among immigrants.

And in 1954 when the Pledge acquired the words "under God" at the urging of the Knights of Columbus -- the phrase that the Ninth Circuit panel found unacceptable -- the Pledge's revisers were cashing in on the Cold War fear of an atheistic communism -- a concern not shared by America's deistic founders (Jefferson, Madison, et al.) nor of the residents of the post-Soviet world. As John Baer states, "The Pledge was now both a patriotic oath and a public prayer."

Like the title of the book by Francis Bellamy's more famous cousin, utopian socialist Edward Bellamy, the Pledge's defenders today may indeed be LOOKING BACKWARD.

But they are looking in the wrong place.

There is much to be said for instilling in youth a respect for the best ideas from the past, and for that, there is the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution -- two documents that come closer than any others in the history of government to articulating the purpose of, and providing the blueprints for, a free society -- which deserve a special tribute this July 4th.

Carl P. Close is Academic Affairs Director for The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Consumer Finance Law Report, and other publications. He is also Editor of The Lighthouse, a weekly e-mail newsletter of The Independent Institute.

This piece originally appeared in the July 2, 2002 issue of The Lighthouse. Republished with permission.


For more on the history of the Pledge of Allegiance, see THE PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE: A Centennial History, 1892 - 1992, by John W. Baer

For background on the principles of the American Revolution, see:

Gerald Gunderson's review of Theodore Draper's A STRUGGLE FOR POWER: The American Revolution (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Spring 1997).

James Ely's review of THE CONSTITUTIONAL THOUGHT OF THOMAS JEFFERSON by David Mayer (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Summer 1996). Joyce Appleby's and Hans Eicholz's talks at the Independent Policy Forum, The American Revolution and the Legacy of Liberty.


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