What’s Wrong With: The Pledge of Allegiance?
There’s been a lot of talk over the last decade or so about the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s reached the U.S. Supreme Court a time or two (and been dismissed, usually). Most of the controversy centers around one of the phrases within it, “under God.” This phrase hadn’t been part of the original Pledge, but was added back in the 1950s by ardent Christianists trying to “stick it” to those horrific “godless Commies” who were our enemies during the Cold War. Ever since then, most people’s approach to the Pledge has broken along religious lines: Believers want public schoolkids to be forced to say the Pledge, but non-believers generally don’t.
As one might expect, given that I’m a non-believer, I don’t think anyone should have to say the Pledge … ever. But my reason for that has nothing to do with “under God” being included in the Pledge. My objection is to the very idea of “a pledge of allegiance” in any form. Put bluntly, no American — of whatever religion or of none — has any business making such a pledge, and it’s downright profane to force children to say it.
You see, the concept of “allegiance” is a relic of medieval Europe and the feudal system that governed life then. People swore oaths of loyalty, service and payment to their higher-ups in the feudal order, known as “lieges” or “liege-lords.” Yes, our word “allegiance” comes from “liege.” Under feudalism, oaths of allegiance constituted the “glue” that held Europe’s social and political structure together. Whatever rights one had, were granted in return for one’s allegiance.
The problem for Americans is that our country is not a feudal monarchy in which rights are granted based on oaths of fealty. It is, instead, a representative republic in which rights are granted by the Constitution and by the rule of law. We are citizens of the US by legal definition, not serfs or vassals of some other liege-lord. There is no reason for any American ever to swear such an oath … not to any person or group, not to the country, and certainly not to the flag!
Having said all that, it should be evident that even religious people who view the US as a “nation under God” (per the Pledge’s current wording) ought by all rights to object to saying it. What’s more, so should any Rightist, since the Pledge of Allegiance was first composed in the late 19th century by Francis Bellamy, a minister who was also a socialist (yes, in spite of the fact that most Rightists don’t think it’s even possible for a Christian to be a socialist).
What’s more, there are some Christian sects which already are on record as not wishing to say the Pledge, on religious grounds. They went so far as to litigate the matter, and after a series of cases, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in 1943. Granted, most Christians in the US don’t think much of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and usually don’t even think of them as “‘Real’ Christians,” however, the JW’s claim to follow Christ and therefore are just as “Christian” as any other Christian who’s ever lived. What’s more, other kinds of Christians are likewise rethinking the propriety of saying the Pledge. So in this regard they’re not entirely out of line.
To recap: Since Americans are neither serfs nor vassals, we don’t owe “allegiance” to anyone or anything. We don’t owe it to the country, to the flag, or to any person or group. “Allegiance” is a feudal notion that has no bearing on citizens of a representative republic. Yes, I suppose it seems like a nice idea to line the kids up every morning and force them to mouth a pledge to the flag … but to do is entirely inappropriate. Even without the words “under God,” it would still be inappropriate. The time has come to just dispense with it altogether. Hopefully this country will find the maturity and courage to do so, once and for all.
Photo credit: PsiCop original graphic.