There seems to be a whole lot of angst swirling around the Pledge of Allegiance lately. What many people don’t know is just how young the pledge itself is. It was written in 1892 by a Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy who was subsequently forced out of his ministry because of his socialist beliefs.
At the time he wrote the pledge, Bellamy was the chairman of a committee of state superintendents in the National Education Association. He left the word equality out of his pledge, despite the fact that it is one of three ideals this country represents – liberty, justice and equality – because he knew that members of his committee would object to it based on their objections to equality in education for women and African-Americans.
The words “under God” that are at the heart of the current controversy were not added until 1954 after a campaign by the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus. For some people, adding those words gave the pledge a dual identity as both a patriotic oath and a public prayer. Bellamy himself objected to the addition of these words to the pledge but his objections were ignored.
As this issue works it way through our court system, I find myself wondering if there isn’t a better way to address the teaching of patriotism and loyalty in our class rooms. Certainly those are goals worth achieving. Love of our country and what it stands for is critical if America is to remain strong and healthy. America needs as many citizens as it can get whose devotion to American ideals leads them to vote in elections and be active in the civic life of their communities.
I think this can be done in a much better way by devoting those moments each morning to children reciting the beginning of the Declaration of Independence or the Preamble to the Constitution. These are the words that made America. These are the words that created a country different from anything ever seen in the world before or since – a free strong democracy where liberty, justice and equality are lofty goals towards which we must always strive.
I like this idea much better than the pledge for a lot of reasons. One is that the word equality is returned to its rightful spot in the core of our country’s ideals. The other is that there is little use for students to pledge allegiance to a flag or country they know little about. Far too many students get out of our school system with little to no understanding or appreciation of the magnitude of achievement that is our Declaration of Independence or Constitution. Without this understanding, they will never truly understand how great, precious and rare is this freedom we enjoy.
I figure children as early as kindergarten and first grade could start by memorizing a little bit at a time as they repeat it each day. As they pass on to higher grades, teachers could spend a few moments every morning after the recitation reflecting on these words and what they mean. Imagine an electorate in this country that really understood what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they created this enormously risky experiment we call government by the people.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
No Pledge of Allegiance yet written can compete with those stirring words. And no American should be able to listen to them without a sense of awe and wonder at their meaning.
Why try to improve on perfection. Let every student in America repeat these words every day and take them into their hearts. Then our future will truly be secure.