January 12, 2011 by: David Rosman
My friend and fellow columnist at the Columbia Missourian, R. Karl Miller, wrote a wonderful commentary concerning the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance at the Columbia (MO) City Council meetings. Karl is upset that two members of council voted “no” for the inclusion of the Pledge as part of the opening ceremonies for the council.
In a way I am also, but for different reasons. Councilman Paul Sturtz and Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe gave personal and historical reasons for their objections. Sturtz that he had problems with the Pledge as a child and Hoppe because Washington and Lincoln never said the Pledge.
I give Sturtz his due – those are his personal feelings and they are correct for him. As for Hoppe, the Pledge was not written until 1892, a little late for both men.
My personal objection is that the Pledge is being used as propaganda for the movement towards a more theocratic American government. Karl, a retired Marine Colonel, most likely upset of the lack of patriotism.
A short history about the Pledge.
Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), an American Baptist minister and socialist democrat, wrote the original words in 1892; published in The Youth’s Companion that September. The Pledge was meant to be a patriotic announcement. It was also an advertising gimmick to sell American flags. Bellamy and his employer proposed that all schoolchildren say the Pledge on Flag Day, so more schools would buy American flags from the employyer. The original affirmation was not meant to be the official Pledge of the United States. It was just a nice thing.
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Note that the original did not mention God and the declaration was to flag and Republic. “…the flag of the United States of America” was added in 1923 at the request of two American patriotic groups, the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution.
In 1953, the Knights of Columbus, a Roman Catholic fraternal order, started a campaign to add God to the Pledge. Why? The United States was in the height of the “Cold War” against those godless Commies.
I find this a shameless act, using one’s deity as a tool of propaganda. Though done since gods were first realized, I would have thought that by the mid-20th Century we would have been beyond this. It seems we still linger in this perception in the 21st Century.
One of the most-verbal opponents to the addition of God was Bellamy’s granddaughter, who ventured the opinion that the late Baptist minister would have objected to the addition of God to his pledge. Her objections went unheeded.
In 1954, Congress passed a joint resolution, not a law, adding “under God” to the Pledge. According to USFlag.org, 36 U.S.C. 172 formalizes and unifies the “traditional ways,” the “patriotic customs,” in which we give respect to the flag.
President Eisenhower brought the topic of American religiosity to the forefront. He said of the resolution, “In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”
The real complaint concerning the Pledge as currently written, and my position, is that it constitutes not only an oath to the United States but a public prayer, a possible violation of the First Amendment’s Prohibition Clause.
The effort for the addition of God was lead by a Christian organization. President Eisenhower was convinced through the words of a Christian minister’s sermon. Today, American Christian organizations and political groups claim that God to be the Christian God. Not the God of Abraham. Not Allah of the Muslims. Not the Hindu gods or the Original American’s spirits… The list continues.
The most recent case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court was Elk Grove Unified School District, et al, versus Michael A. Newdow in 2004. However, the various court actions leading to the Supreme Court’s ruling were not based on whether the Pledge constitutes a “public prayer,” but whether Newdow had legal standing to file the lawsuit on behalf of his daughter. Newdow did not file the case as a parent but “on behalf of his daughter as ‘next friend.’”
The U.S. Ninth District Court of Appeals (western United States) stated, “…that Newdow [had] standing as a parent to challenge a practice that interferes with his right to direct his daughter’s religious education, and that the school district’s policy [violated] the Establishment Clause.” The school district brought to the case to the Supreme Court.
Justices John Paul Stevens, Anthony M. Kennedy, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, reversed the District Court’s ruling stating, “Because California law deprives Newdow of the right to sue as next friend, he lacks prudential standing to challenge the school district’s policy in federal court.”
According to the Washington Post, “Both supporters and opponents of the phrase expressed dissatisfaction that the court had not settled the issue at the heart of the case.”
The question still stands. “Does the American Pledge of Allegiance constitute a public prayer and thus a violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution?” I believe it does. After reading the Supreme Court case, I believe the court may not have reversed the final statement from the District Court, “that the school district’s policy [violated] the Establishment Clause.”
Sturtz and Hoppe were correct to object to having the Pledge read but for the wrong reasons. It has nothing to do with who said what when or memories “of an unhappy experience of robotic recitals in elementary school.” It has to do with a state sanctioned religion.
I agree with my friend Karl that there is, “nothing sinister nor passé in showing respect for the national colors, the national anthem and this nation that was built on freedoms that few other countries enjoy.” But to claim national servitude and superiority to a god, Christian or Hindu, Odin or Spirit of the Earth, is inserting religious belief into a pledge of respect of nation. The Pledge becomes a public prayer sanctioned by the government. That, my friends, is the argument.
David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and New York Journal of Books.com.
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