Friday, October 26, 2012

A Brief History of the Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge really has little to do with the topic, but since it is so contested, we will start there anyways. In 1892, Christian socialist and former Baptist minister, Francis Bellamy penned the following words to commemorate Columbus Day.
"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible with Liberty and Justice for all."

Bellamy wished to unite the nation around the flag so that people would be inoculated against radicalism. The pledge was first recited October 12, 1892 by about 12 million school children to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Columbus’s voyage.

In 1919, Washington became the first state to make the recitation of the pledge a mandatory part of their school curriculum. The Jehovah’s Witnesses were the first to object. They believed that government was a Satanic tool and the Pledge a salute to the Devil. In 1923, due to anti-immigrant anxiety, the first National Flag Conference in Washington D.C. voted to change the words "my flag" to "the Flag of the United States”. In 1924, they added the words “of America."(1)

1932 Bonus Army clip(2)

In 1935, a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses organized with hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses school children choosing expulsion rather than participation in the Pledge. They sued and in 1938, a federal judge ruled in their favor, noting that the “totalitarian idea of forcing all citizens into one common mold of thinking” was not necessary to ensure the country’s safety and also curtailed the freedom of those who opposed it on the basis of “sincere religious convictions.”

1939 Porky Pig

In 1940, however, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of the case, and ultimately reversed the lower court’s original ruling by an 8 to 1 margin. National unity, it concluded, trumped individual liberty. In response, unified Americans tarred and feathered a Jehovah’s Witness in Wyoming, castrated another in Nebraska, and publicly beat others in Texas and Illinois as police and city officials watched refusing to interfere. Unity is not always a good thing.(3)

In January of 1942, The West Virginia State Board of Education mandated the pledge. Those who failed to comply with the compulsory recital were expelled. The parents of an expelled student were now in violation of compulsory education laws. Parents could face a fifty dollar fine and thirty days in jail.

Bellamy had prescribed what became known as the Bellamy Salute as the proper way to salute the American Flag. With the rise of Nazism, this salute had begun to make leaders across the country uncomfortable. The Bellamy salute was originally mandated in West Virginia, but they watered down their standard and allowed for a hand over the heart also known as the Lincoln salute. In June of 1942, Congress passed a law officially recognizing the pledge and mandating nationwide the Bellamy salute for the pledge. With the uproar from the Lincoln salute advocates, Congress amended the law that December to mandate the Lincoln salute.(4)

In West Virginia, the school had begun expelling Jehovah Witness children. Among those expelled were the seven children of the Barnette family. Unemployed, Walter Barnette had few financial resources. However the ACLU took his case. In 1943, Barnette won and the Supreme Court ruled.(5) (6) (7) (8)

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.(9)

In 1948, Louis Bowman began adding “under God” after “nation” in the pledge. He claimed he was inspired by the phrase “under God” in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. However the phrase does not exist in Lincoln’s written address and must have been ad libbed if he ever said it at all. Bowman inspired the Sons of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the American Revolution to begin to use the modified pledge. Both organizations only contained members who could trace their ancestry back to soldiers in the American Revolution.

In the 1950’s, Reverend Dr. George MacPherson Docherty advocated for “under God” in the pledge, because communistic atheists would have no trouble reciting the pledge without it. He was not alone. As disdain for communism and atheism grew, more and more Americans began to favor the change.(10)

The Catholic Knights of Columbus long lobbied for God getting a mention in the Pledge, but it was a Presbyterian pulpit that made the difference. In February 7, 1954, Docherty preached a sermon at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. A recent convert to Presbyterianism, President Eisenhower was in attendance. Docherty’s sermon was on the Gettysburg Address and he advocated that “under God” should be in the pledge. After a talk with the Reverend, the President agreed and he had the legislation pushed through Congress. Signing the law on the Flag Day of 1954, Eisenhower remarked,(11)

"From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country's true meaning. Especially is this meaningful as we regard today's world. Over the globe, mankind has been cruelly torn by violence and brutality and, by the millions, deadened in mind and soul by a materialistic philosophy of life. Man everywhere is appalled by the prospect of atomic war. In this somber setting, this law and its effects today have profound meaning. In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war."(12)

According to Bellamy’s daughter, Bellamy would most likely have disapproved of adding the words “under God”.(13)

The story of the Pledge of Allegiance is both relevant and beside the point to the topic of The National Day of Prayer. It is relevant, because there is an attempt to endow and enforce unity when division is the norm. It is beside the point, because the President does not annually recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the bequest of Congress. I hope that this was insightful. Please look at the sources below. Please like this video if you like it and subscribe for more videos.

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  1. Jehovah's Witnesses and the flag salute.
    I was born into the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1957.I was the good little JW boy who got beaten up in the school yard for not saluting the flag and remaining seated for the national anthem as demanded by my defiant Jehovah's Witnesses leaders.
    This was the better dead than red era of the 1960’s, and a kid not doing the act stood out big.
    I suffered much,only to learn that the Watchtower corporation is just another made up man-made religion.
    My JW leaders *forced* *compelled* me NOT to salute the flag,I wasn't given any option.If I wavered I would be severely punished by my parents and struck down by God at Armageddon.
    Kids suffer because of made-up rules by Jehovah's Witnesses leaders,senile old holy men sequestered in their insulated ivory tower.
    My point is:Jehovah's Witnesses claim 'neutrality' that is false as they DO try to force their convictions on others.
    --Danny Haszard FMI dannyhaszard(dot)com

    1. I have difficulty sometimes in trying to represent religious viewpoints that I do not actually hold. I do consider Jehovah's Witnesses to be a ridiculous version of Christianity and their reasons for not saying the pledge equally so. However, I am also not a fan of the patriotic versions of Christianity that led to the beat downs of Jehovah's Witness adults and children.

      Still, if it wasn't for Jehovah's Witnesses and the Amish, both ridiculous, we would not have the right to not say the Pledge of Allegiance or homeschool our children.