Opinion: Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance Attacks Religious Freedoms

Walter Rhein

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Most Americans are ignorant as to the true origins of The Pledge of Allegiance. They probably assume it was written by the Founding Fathers. That’s one of the main problems of the American population, people assume things without doing any independent research.

Anyone who has studied history knows that anything that contains a reference to “God” probably didn’t originate with the Founding Fathers. Separation of church and state was a unique concept at the foundation of our country, and it’s why the United States shouldn’t be called a “Christian” nation.

The current motto of the United States is “In God We Trust” but that wasn’t the choice of the Founding Fathers. That motto was adopted in 1956. The Founding Fathers wanted “E pluribus unum.” It could be argued that anytime anyone uses “In God We Trust” they’re disrespecting the wishes of the Founding Fathers.

The Founding Fathers didn’t write the Pledge of Allegiance, and “under God” didn’t appear in the first version. There's some debate as to whether the authorship of the Pledge of Allegiance should be attributed to James Upham or Francis Bellamy. The purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance was to sell flags.

That’s right, there’s nothing really “patriotic” about it. It was an advertising jingle. Making kids recite the pledge at school is the equivalent of making them sing the theme song for their favorite breakfast cereal.

“Under God” wasn’t added to the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954. Some of you might still be fortunate enough to have grandparents who will recite the Pledge of Allegiance the way it was originally written.

In recent times, an absurd form of extremist nationalism has swept across the United States of America. People feel entitled to work themselves into a tizzy over anything they feel to be an affront against their country. What everyone seems to disregard from the lessons of history is that hyper-nationalism often leads to fascism.

Sacred values are often used to radicalize people. Therefore, although it might seem contradictory, the people who do most to stand for the values of the United States of America are those that resist extreme nationalism.

So, the ironic thing is that the more you dress with the American flag, and the more guns you carry, the less patriotic you are. Also, simply carrying an American flag doesn’t instantly define you as a “patriot,” particularly if you go on to participate in any form of violence against our country.

The Founding Fathers provided all American citizens with the right to religious freedom. This allows citizens to follow whatever religion they wish.

I have a friend who was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. He told me that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not recite the Pledge of Allegiance and they do not stand for the National Anthem as part of their religious beliefs.

Nobody seems to have a problem with this. I haven’t seen anyone screaming and yelling about how “unpatriotic” the Jehovah’s Witnesses are. That is as it should be because if people refuse to stand for the National Anthem or recite the Pledge of Allegiance on religious grounds, they have that legal right.

What bothers me is that when other individuals, such as Colin Kaepernick, decide to respectfully kneel during the National Anthem, all of a sudden it’s a huge scandal.

Essentially, this double standard represents a clear example of institutionalized racism. White religious people don’t stand for the National Anthem and nobody gets upset. However, if a member of a marginalized community fails to stand, he’s persecuted for it.

In 1962, the Supreme Court ruled that public schools could not feature school-sponsored prayers. This is often misrepresented as a “ban” on prayer, which it is not. Students are still allowed to pray. The only thing that is prohibited is teachers leading a prayer. For some reason, hysterical communities fail to see how this protects your children.

There has been some debate over whether the inclusion of the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance makes it a form of prayer. After all, you have a right to believe in more than one God, one God, or no God at all. Therefore, it’s wrong for any authority figure at a school to endorse any of these options. That can be seen as a form of pressuring students to change their beliefs.

But even if you removed “under God” the Pledge of Allegiance is still problematic. Some Christians claim that nationalism is a form of idolatry. Idolatry is prohibited by the First Commandment. Therefore, any obligation to recite the Pledge of Allegiance represents an infringement on religious beliefs.

The simple fact is that there are a lot of forms of patriotism and there are many different religious beliefs. Too often in our country, people become outraged over nonsensical issues. If a person doesn’t want to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, that doesn’t mean the person is “unpatriotic.” You have a constitutional right not to recite the pledge.

Too often in the United States, you see people who believe their viewpoint trumps all others. This is why we have individuals who clothe themselves in the American flag who feel entitled to deny elections and who end up facing charges of seditious conspiracy. This behavior is unacceptable.

The most patriotic Americans are the ones who recognize no citizen should ever be forced to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. That is what freedom means. If we respected our country, we would remove the Pledge of Allegiance from schools.

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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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