During my growing up years, I became close with an old neighbor who told me stories about the war and his early childhood days. From the time I can remember, he has always instilled in me the love for my country. Through him I learned about nationalism and patriotism, which until now, I believe are very much part of who I am and what I stand for. Loyalty to our country, he said, is what helped his ancestors move the country forward and will continue to do so for the people to have an undivided and united America. Deeply ingrained in my being, I still firmly believe this is true.
In school, I fervently and reverently participated in activities that proved my love and loyalty to America, which included singing the national anthem with fervor and pride as well as reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with respect and esteem. Francis Bellamy’s updated pledge states:
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. (qtd. in Washington Secretary of State).
With these 31 words, I have declared my steadfast loyalty to the American flag and I have not wavered from my belief since then. Until now and through my succeeding generations, I will teach them the same affection and loyalty to this country that I have learned to love and call my own.
But things are changing now as issues arise surrounding the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. Because of the insertion of the words “under God” to the pledge in 1954 (Davis 657), there are groups who denounce the use of such words, especially on schoolchildren, who are indoctrinated with different values and religious beliefs at home. As such, according to some groups, forcing schoolchildren (who belong to a different religion and do not understand the meaning of the pledge) to pronounce their loyalty to the American flag is very wrong. In 2002, a panel of three judges ruled that “although the students cannot be forced in recitation of the pledge, the school district is nonetheless conveying the message of state endorsement of a religious belief when it requires public school teachers to recite, and lead the recitation of, the current form of the pledge” (David 658).
Is this really a case about religion and the separation of the Church and State, or does this have deeper political meanings that we are not aware of? I am deeply appalled that there are certain sectors of society that condemn the use of the phrase “under God” considering that much of our history’s foundations are anchored on the same belief that there is an Almighty who helps America in many ways. The phrase “under God” does not necessarily pertain to a specific religious denomination, and yet, it has caused a lot of turmoil and divisibility in a country that supposedly believes in the “one nation () indivisible” concept.
I asked the opinion of Mrs. Megan Charles, a former academician who taught History for nearly 23 years before her retirement. She was very straightforward about how she recited the Pledge of Allegiance with her students and how carefully she treaded the thin line between espousing loyalty to the American flag and steering clear of offending the religious beliefs of her students. According to Mrs. Charles, she supported the initiatives of former President Eisenhower in ensuring that schoolchildren understand and recite the pledge because that was the age when children were very open to ideas and their belief systems were slowly being formed. In addition, the former president was, at that time, “looking for ways to improve the tone of national life” (Clausen 39) since he, too, was remembering World War II and its effects to the American people. He even went on to say that he wanted “religion expressed more visibly in public life, both for its own sake and to differentiate the United States from its godless adversaries (Clausen 36). Thus, back in June 14, 1954, the former president declared, “From this day forward, schoolchildren will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural schoolhouse, the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty (Bush Urges High Court to Overturn Pledge Decision). He further reiterated that, “To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this re-dedication of our youth, in each school morning, to our country’s true meaning” (qtd. in Davis 661). Had I lived during that time, it would have been one of the highlights of my life as an American.
I echo Mrs. Charles sentiments as I was molded to believe the same things at roughly the same age as her Second Grade students. But, I ask, what is the real problem about the phrase “our God” in the pledge? Does adding the phrase change how we see ourselves as Americans? Does removing it make us an even greater people? As Mrs. Charles says, “I lived in the 50s during which people were deeply religious and everything they did were attributed to God, whoever your God is. But now, clearly, there are sectors who do not believe that there is a God and are turned off by the notion that the new America still adheres to beliefs that were propagated in the 1950s.” But as President Eisenhower’s spiritual adviser stated once, the phrase is not offensive because it does not refer to any specific religion, but rather, it fits everyone else: “[America] is a nation built on the principle that there is a God, but it doesn’t define it.” (qtd. in Clausen 37).
In an interview I had with my friend Adam Gartner, we talked about how he felt whenever he recited the pledge in school. And fortunately, he shares the same sentiments that I have, that is, respect and national pride that we are Americans. According to Gartner, the way he interprets the pledge is that it does not necessarily promote any religion by using the phrase “under God”, but rather, just an acceptance that there is a higher being that governs America (and the whole universe for that matter), that the freedom we have now is not from man, but from God.”
Gartner further says, “No matter if there are people who say allowing children to recite the pledge without their full understanding of what they are pledging their loyalties to is like a propagandist’s way of thinking, it is still very important that we teach children about patriotism at an early age. It is what makes us Americans. Even if patriotism seems like an old-fashioned idea, respecting our history and remembering the men who fought for our freedom are ways on how we add value to the great service they have done for our country. Through them, we remember what our country stands for and we should pledge allegiance to it if we want to continue experiencing the freedom we have now.”
Furthermore, I find it ironic that the phrase “under God” is such a huge issue in the Pledge of Allegiance when we readily sing the song “God Bless America” which is an acknowledgment that as a country, we need the sanctification of God in any endeavors that we have. But what is noticeable is that there is no mention of what kind of God we are asking blessings from. In truth, it is the same as the way “under God” was used in the pledge, which is a general way of addressing God.
Another point of irony is how, as Clausen claims, “In God We Trust” was officially adapted by Congress as America’s official motto two years after the controversial phrase was added to the Pledge of Allegiance (37). This motto is hugely used and identified with the American people and yet, it did not cause uproar as huge as the phrase in question.
It is also true that we are a nation of various cultures, ethnicity, and traditions, as we have been accepting immigrants into our own country. They become Americans just like us, citizens of the country and entitled to the same lifestyle and benefits that we natural-born citizens are entitled to. As our country welcomes these immigrants, the significance of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance even more becomes important for us Americans Why? Because these immigrants pledge their loyalty to their new country, our country, to the point of renouncing their previous citizenship to become a naturalized Americans, while us, who are already citizens of the United States, find issues on the significance of the Pledge of Allegiance.
As an American, I am firm in my belief that reciting the pledge in schools, ceremonies, and public events is important to constantly remind us of our culture, heritage, and traditions. As much as we should learn about our country’s founding documents, the Constitution, and parts of the Declaration of Independence, we should learn to really understand what it is to become an American. And when is the best time to start teaching Americans about loving their own country? It is now and while children are still young to have an appreciation of where they came from as a race.
I am an American and I believe that wherever you were born, if you become a citizen of the United States and attend American schools, you should recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I am saying this not merely out of respect for those who have given their lives for the country’s freedom, but also for those who continue to serve our country as soldiers and servicemen.
What could happen if recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance is abolished in schools? It could lead to regional differences to the disadvantage of our country and the “one nation, indivisible” concept will become “one nation, divided”. Remember, that although we are a melting pot of different cultures, ethnicities, and traditions, we are still bounded by a common thread, that is, our belief in freedom, equality, and opportunity. As an American, I embrace the idea that we are all equal in the eyes of God and this thinking is what will continually make us a unified America. However, we must first learn to love, respect, and be proud of our country because no one else will love our own country than us Americans.
No matter what other sectors of society say about the inappropriateness of the phrase “under God”, the Pledge of Allegiance is still very much part of our American identity and I do not want people to forget about our heritage and responsibility to our country. It is not enough to say “I am an American” and yet, you refuse to pledge your loyalty to the country you call your home. More than ever, now is the best time to cultivate the seeds of love for our country and fellow Americans. As we just recently commemorated Veteran’s Day, I remember the people who pledged allegiance to the United States in defending our rights and freedom. Are you not proud of our soldiers? I am.
“Bush Urges High Court to Overturn Pledge Decision.” Church & State: 2003. EBSCOHost. PDF. 13 November 2012.
Charles, Megan. Personal interview. 7 November 2012.
Clausen, Christopher. “Opening Exercises.” American Scholar. 2003. EBSCOHost. PDF. 10 November 2012.
Davis, Derek H. “The Pledge of Allegiance and American Values.” Journal of Church and State: 2003. EBSCOHost. PDF. 12 November 2012.
Gartner, Adam. Personal interview. 3 November 2012.
Washington Secretary of State. N.d. Web. 13 November 2012