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Pledge of Allegiance

In the United States, schoolchildren frequently recite the Pledge of Allegiance while saluting the flag. In its present form, the words of the Pledge are:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

The protocol followed when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is straightforward. Uniformed military personnel are to face the flag and salute as they would to an officer. Civilians are to stand at attention and place their right hand over the heart. Civilian men (however, not women) are also to remove their hats and place them over their heart as well.

Some US states, such as Texas, also have pledges of allegiance to their state flags.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Opposition and criticism
3 External Links


The Pledge of Allegiance first appeared in 1892 in the popular children's magazine Youth's Companion, to celebrate, on October 12th of that year, the 400th anniversary of Columbus arriving in the Americas. It was written by Francis Bellamy, a socialist author and Baptist minister.

Bellamy's original Pledge read as follows: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It was seen by some as a call for national unity and wholeness after the divisive American Civil War.

After a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison, the Pledge was first used in public schools on October 12, 1892 during Columbus Day observances. The form adopted inserted the word "to" before "the Republic," a minor matter of grammar.

In 1923 and 1924 the National Flag Conference called for the words my Flag to be changed to the Flag of the United States of America. The reason given was to ensure that immigrants knew to which flag reference was being made. The United States Congress officially recognized the Pledge on December 28, 1945.

In 1954, after a campaign initiated by the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus, Senator Homer Ferguson of Michigan sponsored a bill to amend the pledge to include the words under God, to distinguish the U.S from the officially atheist Soviet Union, and to remove the appearance of flag and nation worship. The phrase "nation, under God" previously appeared in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and echoes the Declaration of Independence. On June 8, 1954, Congress adopted this change.

Originally, the Pledge was often recited with the right hand extended in salute toward the flag. After this salute became identified with Nazism and Fascism in the 1940s, this was changed: today, the Pledge is said with hand over heart.

The salute is also referred to as the "socialist salute" due to the fact that Francis Bellamy was a self-proclaimed socialist and the salute was similar to that of the National Socialist German Workers' Party. The secret historic photos of the original socialist salute to the U.S. flag are only available at

On June 24, 1999 the Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire to recite the Pledge before each day's session.

The Pledge is also recited before many local city council meetings and school board meetings, as well as before some school functions.

Opposition and criticism

The Pledge of Allegiance has drawn criticism over the years on several bases. Its use in government-run schools has been the most controversial. Even before the addition of the words under God, legal challenges were frequently founded on the basis of freedom of religion.

Central to early challenges were the Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian denomination whose beliefs preclude swearing loyalty to any power lesser than God. In the 1940 Supreme Court case Minersville School District vs. Gobitis, an 8-1 majority in the Court held that a school district's interest in promoting national unity permitted it to require Witness students to recite the Pledge along with their classmates. Yet three years later in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette, however, the Court reversed itself, voting 8-1 to forbid a school from requiring the Pledge.

As a result, since 1943 the public (government-run) schools have been disallowed from punishing students for not reciting the Pledge. Nonetheless, it remains taught to and expected of schoolchildren in many schools.

More specific objections have been raised since the addition of the phrase under God to the Pledge. 1954, the year of its addition, also held the height of the Cold War anticommunist movement in the United States. Anticommunist ideology in the U.S. frequently identified the Soviet state with atheism; the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy were still on the lookout for "godless Communist" infiltrators.

To many observers, the addition of under God to the Pledge at this time suggests an identification of the U.S. as an officially religious nation specifically in opposition to the atheistic Communist enemy. To many critics, this is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion on the part of the government.

"Under God" ruling

The matter of the Pledge's constitutionality simmered for decades below the public eye, until June 2002. In a case brought by an atheist father objecting to the Pledge being taught in his daughter's school, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, arguably the most liberal in the nation, ruled the addition of under God unconstitutional.

Opposition to the ruling was vehement by many. Some conservative Christians, heirs to a tradition long believing itself persecuted by secularism in government, considered it an attack on faith in God. Others, especially moderates and liberals, felt that pursuing the matter was stirring up trouble. Some supported the ruling, including atheists, secularists, and civil libertarians, most of them on the grounds that including the phrase "under God" in the Pledge violated the separation of church and state.

Shortly after the ruling's release, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, author of the opinion in the 2-1 ruling, signed an order staying its enforcement. This order delays the time at which the ruling goes into effect until the full Ninth Circuit court can decide whether to hear an appeal.

The day after the ruling, the Senate voted in favor of the Pledge as it stood (Senate debate records). The House followed on, accepting a similar resolution. The Senate resolution was 99-0 (Senator Strom Thurmond could not attend due to illness); the House 416-3 with 11 abstaining. President George W. Bush and many other politicians spoke out in favor of the existing pledge.

The stay on the ruling was lifted on February 28, 2003 when the full Ninth Circuit court of appeals decided not to take the case, letting the ruling stand. If it holds, the court's ruling would affect more than 9.6 million students in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

In the months following the court's decision, attorneys general from all 50 states filed papers asking the Supreme Court of the United States to review the decision, 49 of which joined a legal brief sponsored by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. California filed a separate brief, also urging the Supreme Court to hear the case.

Patterns in the controversy

The points-of-view, compromises, and personal interests in the matter illustrate what may be more general patterns in the ongoing struggle over religion in government in the United States.

Background patterns: repression and inconsistency

Some scholars conclude that the American judges are repressive in their decisions about "God." For example, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia concluded, and Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist agreed, that "it seems to me the Court's position is the repressive one" when the Court approved of the lower court refusing to hear evidence on "God." [1]

And, in fact the Supreme Court has banned some expressions of "God" from public schools. For example, in 1962 the Supreme Court banned the teacher-led recitation of the poem, "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country." [1]

But that objectionable "Almighty God" recitation was voluntary and followed the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag which itself consisted of the teacher-led repetition of the words noted above at the top of this article, claiming that America was "under God." And the parents, even the one that claimed to be an "agnostic," did not complain about the "God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Also, in that 1962 case, the Court admitted that the "God save this honorable court" poem uttered at the beginning of each Court session was a "prayer." But the Court also said that "A religion is not established in the usual sense merely by letting those who choose to do so say the prayer that the public school teacher leads." Rather, the Court found fault with the teacher-led "Almighty God" poem because the State of New York had "financed a religious exercise" in requiring the teacher-led recitation of the poem. But the parents and the Court did not complain that the state had also "financed" the "religious exercise" in the teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance that contains the "under God" poem that the 2002 ruling bans from California public schools. [1]

Inconsistency in defining "religious exercise"

The dissenting justice in the 2002 ruling stated that the ruling conflicted with the Supreme Court's explicit statements that the "under God" part of the pledge of allegiance was merely a ceremonial reference to history and was not a religious faith. Justice brief at 1.

However, the 1954 House Report of the legislators who inserted the "under God" phrase into the pledge of allegiance said that the "under God" phrase was to "acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon the moral directions of the Creator." 154 U.S.C.A.A.N 2339, 2340.

The plaintiff, Michael Newdow, was an atheist who said that he was offended by the phrase "In God we trust" on the coins in his pocket. He felt that "In God we trust" was a state sponsored statement of religious faith which was illegal under the separation of church and state. [1]

But when Mr. Newdow read up on the court cases, he thought he might have a problem showing that he was injured by merely having the statement "In God we trust" on the coins in his pocket. He thought he might have a better argument for injury if he said "I have a right to bring up my daughter without God being imposed into her life by her schoolteachers." CNN phone interview.

Some of the judges in the 2002 ruling agreed that Mr. Newdow had a "right to direct the religious education of his daughter" even though they knew he was an atheist. Justice brief at 3.

Mr. Newdow explained his view of "religious exercise" this way. He said that he didn't think the Christians would be very glad if the atheists were in the majority and if the atheists inserted into the pledge of allegiance the phrase "one nation under NO God." CNN phone interview.

Summary of pattern

The atheist plaintiff in the 2002 ruling appears to be in the position of claiming that a reference to God is meaningful, and hence the court should recognize the religious bias in the reference to God.

Meanwhile, the religious defenders of the reference to God appear to be in the position of claiming that the reference to God is religiously meaningless, and merely a ceremonial reference to history.

See also:

External Links