It’s Time to Cancel the Pledge of Allegiance

Walter Rhein

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Every morning throughout the United States, school children have their civil rights violated when they’re obliged to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance. This outdated relic of a problematic past is just one of many American traditions that has outlived its usefulness. Even staunch defenders might find themselves rethinking their positions if the true origins of the pledge became widely known.

It’s inherently problematic for a nation that prides itself on a commitment to freedom to turn around and demand that children start every morning with an oath of fealty. It’s contradictory that the same individuals who are willing to organize armed protests in defiance of potentially life-saving mask mandates, are convinced of the necessity of forcing students to make a daily pledge.

The situation becomes even murkier when it’s revealed that the original pledge was not conceived out of patriotism, but was instead composed to fulfill a requirement for a cheap marketing ploy.

James B. Upham, was tasked with coining a marketing gimmick that would inspire schools to buy more flags. Upham, in a spurt of genius, decided to monetize patriotism by creating a “pledge” in which children would declare their undying love for America. He hired Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, to write something that could easily be recited in “15 seconds or less.” — CoachScott, Upriser

There are many examples of mob mentality among American citizens that exist in defiance of the self-perception of rugged individualism. A very strong argument could be made that a refusal to recite the pledge of allegiance is much more respectful of the hard fought rights and privileges our nation claims to champion than doleful compliance and timid obediance.

Yet, in most quarters, you cannot even pose arguments critical of the pledge without being loudly denounced. Opportunists always know that patriotism is a convenient avenue for hysterical messaging. The citizenry of the United States may always be encouraged to wrap themselves in the flag, even at the expense of the Constitution.

Faced with the choice of preserving one of our two most prominent symbols of democracy, there is a large contingency that will choose the flag without even pausing for a moment’s consideration. This is problematic because the flag is merely a symbol, while the Constitution is the legal compact by which our freedoms and rights are protected.

The waters become further muddied when it’s understood that the original pledge composition was designed not out of deference to the American flag, but as a ditty that could be used to promote flag sales throughout the world.

In 1954, in response to the Communist threat of the times, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God,” creating the 31-word pledge we say today — USHistory.org

This change came in part out of a recognition that the pledge, as written, could be adopted virtually anywhere. Our government was loathe to use the same tactic of brainwashing that could be so easily adopted by a foreign nation.

However, the addition of “under God” is a clear violation of religious freedom.

In June 2002, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, by a 2-to-1 vote in Newdow v. United States Congress, invalidated a northeastern California school district’s policy of having a teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. The court held the Pledge, which includes the words “under God” added by a 1954 congressional statute, violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” — Jesse H. Chopper, UCBerkeleyNews

Many schools get around this court decision by acting as if the pledge is just a spontaneous student activity that happens naturally without any prodding by the teacher. That such a flimsy argument is taken seriously by our legal system is emblematic of the problems in our nation.

The pledge is a clear violation of many of the principles our nation holds most dear. How are we a nation that prizes freedom when we demand our children swear an oath of fealty? How can we claim to defend religious freedom, when an act of Congress served to bring the worship of God into the classroom? Finally, where is our reverence to patriotism when it can be so blatantly and obviously contorted to serve the needs of corporate profit?

Like many American traditions, recitation of the pledge of allegiance is an ill-conceived relic of a corrupt and ignorant past. If we are to come together and labor for the enduring prosperity of our people, nation, and culture, we cannot be unwilling to rethink the ill-advised traditions that only serve to prevent or impede our future progress.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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