The original “Pledge of Allegiance” was short, sweet, and uncontroversial. “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” That was the entire pledge as Francis Bellamy composed it in 1892. He wished to inspire nationalism in our nation’s school rooms.
The first alteration of the Pledge happened in 1923. The phrase “my flag” was changed to “the Flag of the United States of America”, ostensibly so immigrants would know which flag to honor. Francis strongly disagreed with this claim.
In 1942, Congress officially integrated the Pledge into the national flag code. Some states also then made it mandatory for students to recite the Pledge each day. This triggered the first lawsuit against the Pledge as Jehovah’s Witnesses objected on the grounds that the Pledge created a religious atmosphere around the flag. The US Supreme Court ruled in
favor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The current version of the Pledge came about after promotion of the phrase, “Under God” by the Knights of Columbus in 1954. It was popularly adopted because of the ongoing “red scare” to discourage “leftist” ideals and communism. The latest alteration has been at the root of numerous legal challenges and divisive public quarreling.
That the simple statement of respect to the national flag has become strongly divisive because of the alterations would probably not surprise Francis Bellamy. Either by design or by accident, the changes caused a simple, honorable statement to narrowly “represent” a certain segment of society. Instead of enabling our national mindset of indivisibility, the Pledge has become a very divisive issue.
The Pledge is only one of a great many unresolved, very divisive problems in the US. There are strong feelings on all sides of our national debates about questions regarding gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, economics, and political persuasion.
I bring up the Pledge because today we will be hearing it and possibly reciting it as the country celebrates Independence Day. I have long been inspired by the last phrase, unchanged from the original, “with liberty and justice for all.”
In a nutshell, “with liberty and justice for all” represents the a core ideal of the United States, an indivisible ideal. As a people, Americans place liberty and justice on a high pedestal. The last phrase of the Pledge also honors the core of the United States Constitution, because the flag is a symbol of the Constitution.
One of the greatest virtues of our secular Constitution is that it has allowed human beings of all types who hold all sorts of opinions to coexist in relative harmony, undivided by sectarian conflict.
There is a wide diversity of groups and subgroups, minorities, followers of numerous religions. We have ancestors who arrived here from many nations around the globe, as well as people of native ancestry. People hold opinions from across the political spectrum.
Now, more than ever, there is a need for a civil, national discussion about indivisibility. The diversity of Americans requires mutual respect and equal protection for all of us regardless of biological differences and personal opinion based institutional loyalties. After all it is the diversity of opinions, beliefs, and ideas that has been one of our nation’s greatest strengths.
Today, on Independence Day, we can reaffirm our commitment to liberty and justice for ALL. This renewed commitment will help us to guard against narrow orthodoxies and oppression of citizens according to ethnicity, religious belief or non-belief, gender, sexual orientation, and race.
All Americans must stand together as a nation in order to remain viable and strong in this world of strife and divisiveness. Today we can recite whichever version of the Pledge of Allegiance that is most meaningful to us and stay true to the indivisible promise of liberty and justice for all.
The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers that the practice of liberty coupled with justice requires us to express ourselves with civility and to respect the rights of all of our fellow citizens without exception.