“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.” Albert Eisenstein
Originally published in the September 8, 1892 issue of The Youth’s Companion, a widely circulated children’s magazine, the Baptist minister, Francis Bellamy, wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the voyage and arrival of Christopher Columbus to what would later be called “the Americas.”
At Bellamy’s urging, Congress and President Benjamin Harrison passed a proclamation fashioning the public school flag ceremony as the centerpiece of Columbus Day tributes (Presidential Proclamation 335) with the Pledge first recited in public schools on Columbus Day, October 12, 1892.
Suggested originally around 1948 by Louis A. Bowman, an Illinois Attorney and Chaplain for the Illinois Society for the Sons of the American Revolution, the idea of adding the two words, “under God,” gained popularity by 1951 when the Knights of Columbus, the world’s largest Catholic Fraternal Service Organization, passed a resolution to lobby the President, Vice President, and Congress to make “under God” a universal and permanent addition to the Pledge.
This (Christian) theocratic imposition, which passed Congress and signed into law by President Dwight David Eisenhower, found itself officially inserted into the Pledge on June 14, 1954 (Flag Day), and also printed onto currency, “In God We Trust,” in 1957 during the formative years of the so-called “Cold War” as a reaction to the “Godless” Communist Soviet Union. (“In God We Trust” was minted on U.S. coins by the Department of the Treasury in 1864 during the period of the U.S. Civil War.)
In 2014, the American Humanist Association, a progressive group, surveyed 1,000 U.S. adult citizens regarding what they felt about “under God” in the pledge after reading the following statement:
“For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase ‘under God.’ During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase ‘one nation indivisible’ was changed to read ‘one nation, under God, indivisible.’ Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.”
After reading this brief account, 34% of respondents said they felt “under God” should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. This included the vast majority of atheists, 41% of non-Christians, and even 21% of Christians said “under God” should be taken out of the Pledge.
I find it highly problematic that the Supreme Judicial Court in my home state of Massachusetts ruled on May 9, 2014 that “under God” in the Pledge does not discriminate against atheists. The court asserted that while the wording may contain a “religious tinge” (what?!), it reflects patriotic practice rather than religion. Also, since it is voluntary, the Pledge, with “under God,” may continue to be recited daily in public schools.
Even with “under God” notwithstanding, I have long refused to stand at attention, place my hand over my heart, take off head coverings, and recite the Pledge.
“I pledge allegiance…”
…no I don’t since to do so amounts to nothing more than a hollow gesture of talking some sort of talk. As I was taught in English classes to avoid the passive “to be” verb, likewise “to pledge” amounts to a passive and shallow form of (non)action…
“…to the flag…”
…a mere piece of cloth, and like the words of a pledge, represents merely a symbol, which can signify nothing beyond the threads, the dyes, and the stitches holding it together…
“…of the United States of America…”
…and for all those with insufficient background knowledge of its history, its multiple cultures, its people, and its relationships to other countries of the world, what are they pledging allegiance to?…
“…and to the republic for which it stands…”
…yes, a government in which citizens have the right to vote for elected officials representing them, which is a concept and an empowering reality when enacted and carried out. However, we have a history and a legacy in this country that has denied and continues to deny, by law and by practice, this right as we currently are witnessing in parts of our country, for example, in North Carolina, Florida, and other states in their “voter suppression” statutes.
Yes, indeed, a single nation. But let us never forget that this nation, this E Pluribus Unum (“from many, one”) came the diversity from the entire world: the traditions, the languages, the cultures, the religions, the belief systems, the totality of the human experience, which must be acknowledged, supported, cherished, valued, and nurtured never again compelled to melt away into a Eurocentric, Protestant, and oligarchically-dominated, patriarchal, racist, classist, adultist, heterosexist, cissexist, ableist, ethnocentric stew of ruthlessly mandated conformity…
But what ever happened to that grand U.S. vision of a wall separating religion and government, more commonly known as a “separation of Church and state,” even though primarily Christian houses of worship take “church” as their titled designation? “Under God” certainly has much more than a “religious tinge.”
…yes, possibly in the sense of commitment to make this “a more perfect union,” but with this experiment we call “The United States of America,” the process, our democratic process, is bound to be messy, with divisions and fractures inevitable, but hopefully with mechanisms and systems continually expanding that encourage diversity of thought and identity while maintaining the process of perennial change and progress…
…though defined in many ways depending on the individual who defines it, I see “liberty” as individuals’ inherent right to define, to identity, to name themselves, to develop and maintain their sense of agency and subjectivity without others defining or controlling them. I ask us to access whether we as a society have truly reached that point.
“…and justice for all.”
Yes, all. Not only some – of certain socially dominant groups. I wonder whether this overriding notion of “rugged individualism,” with all this talk of “personal responsibility” coming from certain quarters on the political Right, amounts to doublespeak by meaning, instead, that we need not maintain any of the safety nets put in place to assist our most vulnerable residents.
On the other hand, for in the words of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
To ask (read as “compel,” though the Supreme Court ruled that schools cannot mandate) young people, some just entering public school, to stand head uncovered (Christian tradition signifying respect) with right hand (“right” in many cultures, most notably in the history of the Catholic church, standing for good, for righteousness, for a shield against the evil inherent on the “left” – the side of the Devil – as in “sinister” from the French) over the heart (the “love” organ) to recite words, some of which many young people neither understand nor can pronounce – “indivisible” for example – which were originally recited to commemorate the leader, Christopher Columbus, of ruthless imperialist conquerors, smacks of jingoistic indoctrination at a time before young people’s cognitive and intellectual developmental facilities have reached a stage of heightened critical consciousness.
My intent here is to distinguish between two terms — terms that are often used interchangeably, but in actuality, while connected in some ways, are unique and distinct. The terms are “Patriot” and “Nationalist” with their corresponding concepts of “Patriotic” and “Nationalistic.”
A “Patriot” according to my copy of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary is:
- “a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests,” and
- “a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights against presumed interference by the federal government.”
A “Nationalist,” according to my dictionary is 1. “a person who has devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation,” and 2. “a person who has [and here we see the crucial difference] excessive patriotism or chauvinism, which is a zealous and aggressive patriotism or enthusiasm for military glory, a biased devotion to any group, attitude, or cause.”
I often wonder how many people who vehemently advocate for the recitation of the “Pledge of Allegiance” and adamantly affix and raise U.S. flags to porches and house lawns as they exaltedly wave them atop their speeding cars and pickup trucks, how many of these people take the time actually to vote in local and national elections?
How many of them volunteer to remove litter from parks or serve meals at soup kitchens? How many of them write letters to the editors of local and national media, and stay current on issues, laws, and policies affecting their communities and their nation?
And how many of them truly understand the histories, the peoples, the governmental and economic systems, the traditions, the languages – for that matter, the actual locations – of many other countries across the planet in contexts other than having to learn about these nations when international tensions arise?
Rather than conducting an exercise in thought control, this act of adult and institutional infractions upon our youngest citizens to circumvent the development of a critical interrogation of the status quo, let us instead awaken a culture of critical consciousness in the development and enhancement within us all of deep inquiry as lifelong learners about our country (along the entire spectrum from the inspired vision undergirding this great nation to the gashes and ruptures along the way), about the relationship between our country and other countries across this orb we know as “Earth,” to ever challenge, to engage, to work toward the advancement of the ideal on which our country rests, to eventually become that magnificent tapestry of individual threads of unlimited beauty and, yes, liberty and justice for all. Aside from words, let us fertilize the dream to fruition.
After weighing the facts, after making an informed decision, after determining whether reciting the Pledge of Allegiance has merit for you as an individual, and if you believe saying it is in line with your views and attitudes, go for it! But how informed are 5 and 6 and 7-year-olds in our schools when their teachers encourage them to stand at attention and recite the Pledge?
Oh sure, a student or a parent or guardian can have the student opt out of standing with their classmates in front of the flag in recitation. However, this opting out is very intimidating for the person who chooses to do so. They often face subtle and even overt pressures.
As we all have the freedom to pray and observe or not observe religious practices within our private spaces, so too, we have the freedom to pledge our allegiance to our country. I am questioning whether public spaces, such as schools and massive sporting venues, are, in fact, appropriate spaces.
The United States stands as a creative and noble concept, a vibrant idea, a vital and enduring vision, a process and progression toward, but it does not yet attain nor yet reach that concept, that idea, that vision. It is, rather, a work in process.
Yes, our country has come far in working for liberty and justice for its residents, but we still have far to go. And this is possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist, for the patriot understands and witnesses the divide, the gap between the reality and the promise and potential. The nationalist on the other hand is often unaware or does not acknowledge that a gap exists between the potential and the reality.
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