The Pledge of Allegiance was originally composed by Captain George Thatcher Balch, a Union Army Officer during the Civil War and later a teacher of patriotism in New York City schools. The form of the pledge used today was largely devised by Francis Bellamy in 1892, and formally adopted by Congress as the pledge in 1942. The official name of The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted in 1945. The most recent alteration of its wording came on Flag Day in 1954, when the words “under God” were added. The Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that students cannot be compelled to recite the Pledge, nor can they be punished for not doing so.
The United States Flag Code says: The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute. Members of the Armed Forces not in uniform and veterans may render the military salute in the manner provided for persons in uniform.
Imagine for a moment standing in a crowd of 50,000 fans all proudly chanting something that no one, and I mean no one, could protest—if, that is, we go back to the 1924-to-1954 version and remove the reference to God. This is the version I grew up with and recited countless times. I would remind those who object to the deletion of God that the Founding Fathers did not deem the idea/reality of God essential to the meaning of the country, specifically because of its divisiveness. Because God-in-the-pledge is probably not going away soon, the pledge should not be led, or written out on a Jumbo-Tron, and only the moment to begin should be publicly announced. Surely those of us who choose not to pledge to God could respectfully remain silent for just that single beat in respect for those who do, because the key word in this ritual is “indivisible.” This would be each-and-every crowd’s unique performance whose object would be to exuberantly celebrate our INDIVISIBILITY (shouted with raucous emphasis), and as a challenge to be topped by others.
The beauty of the pledge is that it pays homage to the view that America is an ineffable essence in-and-of-itself that can only be represented by a symbol like the flag or anthem. The idea that a nation possesses a unique essence has Germanic roots and, although controversial, is a venerable philosophical stance and deserving of respect. Accordingly, in a skillful manner, the first clause of the pledge is for the essentialists, in that, indeed, what we are doing in this communal act is directed totally at the flag. We are all looking directly at and pledging to the flag. So, then the conjunction, “and,” means BOTH pledging to the flag AND also pledging to what (I call) the existentialist position, which is that the country is, very concretely, 1) a Republic, and 2) a nation indivisible in our commitment to the principles of liberty and justice—Period. Certainly we are proud of our “sea to shining sea, “amber waves of grain,” and “purple mountains’ majesty,” but what we believe in, and thus pledge to, is liberty and justice. Indeed, if there is an essence to our country, it lies in the Platonic realm of those two ideas.
Think about an entire stadium chanting:
“ONE NATION [under God*], INDIVISIBLE . . .”