The Pledge of Allegiance
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The Pledge of Allegiance is a statement of loyalty to the United States (or technically, first to its flag, and then to the country itself). For most natural born US citizens, they will first encounter it as a form of indoctrination in their early school years. It is also required in its exact form of all newly naturalized citizens of the US.
Reciting the pledge is generally accompanied by covering one's heart, or, if one is in uniform, a salute.
The pledge, a ritualized requirement for many US school kids, is asking them to state that they will be loyal to the United States — mandatory patriotism. A pledge they certainly cannot understand the ramifications of at 6 or 7 years old. At that point, it becomes so routinized for children that as they become more aware of what such a pledge might mean, they have long stopped thinking about it; the way you sing familiar lyrics without ever stepping back to analyze them. The indoctrination of students into this formulaic trust that they should be loyal to the US, and without any accompanying discussions of what loyalty means, is no better than any other loyalty oath used throughout history to engender as sense of proper behavior toward a given nation or king.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, and read as follows:
“”I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Francis Bellamy was a socialist, and the cousin of Edward Bellamy, author of the utopian novel Looking Backward, a fact which seems to be lost on the conservatives, who insist on mandatory blind patriotism, although not on libertarians, who do note this fact and see it (correctly, if the Iraq War is any guide) as evidence of a connection between blind patriotism and other functions of the state, such as taxation and war.
In 1923 the National Flag Conference changed the words "my Flag" to "the Flag of the United States" and the words "of America" were added a year later. On Jun 22, 1942 the United States Congress officially recognized the Pledge as the national pledge of allegiance.
The words "under God" were added on June 14, 1954 — over 60 years after the original pledge was written — through the lobbying efforts of the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal group with a hierarchy and charitable bent broadly similar to the Freemasons.
Criticism of requiring or promoting the Pledge
Freedom of Speech
In 1940, the Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that children in public schools could be compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance (Minersville School District v. Gobitis [sic]). Gobits, the plaintiff, was a Jehovah's Witness; the ruling ignited physical attacks on hundreds of Jehovah's Witnesses across the US.
In 1943, the Supreme Court reversed themselves and ruled 6-3 that it is unconstitutional to force anyone against his or her will to recite the pledge. This case was known as West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).
Freedom of Religion
Many public schools still require every pupil to recite the Pledge anyway. Various groups have challenged this rule, particularly the "under God" clause. Although the religious right attributes opposition to the Pledge to atheists alone, another notable protest of the Pledge was by the Jehovah's Witnesses, who refuse to swear to anything less than God.
The naturalization ceremony is another area that could be problematic and ripe for a challenge, but the pledge is not legally binding, and is just part of the overall naturalization ceremony. The binding part of the ceremony is the Oath of Allegiance, which also contains references to God, but you may sign a waiver to remove those particular references.
In 2002, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that requiring use of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance when used in public schools was unconstitutional for violating the United States Constitution's establishment clause.
Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, 543 U.S. 1 (2001) (reversing Newdow v. Elk Grove, et al., 328 F.3d 466 (9th Cir. 2002) was heard before the United States Supreme court two years later. It was denied on grounds of standing, claiming the non-custodial father did not have grounds to sue on his child's behalf. The actual question of "under God" was not addressed, but the Ninth Circuit's ruling was reversed, so little children in California (as well as Alaska, Washington, and Oregon) still say the words "under God" or face the wrath of their peers, everywhere.
In 2012, an atheist family filed a lawsuit - Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District - in Massachusetts arguing that the Pledge violated the Equal Rights Amendment of the Massachusetts Constitution. The Superior Court ruled that the Pledge did not violate the state's consitution. The family appealed this decision in 2012 and again in 2013, arguing that reciting the pledge was causing their children to be abused in school and treated as second-class citizens for their refusal to recite the "under God" part of the Pledge.  In May 2014, Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court ruled on the 2013 appeal, affirming the judgment of the Superior Court that the Pledge did not violate the state constitution and also judged that the plaintiffs did not "successfully allege" that their children faced repercussions for not saying the Pledge. The Court acknowledged that the Pledge had a "religious tinge" but insisted it was a patriotic practice and its recitation was voluntary therefore it did not discriminate against atheists.
- National anthem
- In God We Trust
- The United States as a Christian nation
- Nationalism in history textbooks
- Lillian Gobitas, Activist Who Fought Mandatory Flag Salute, Dies At Age 90
- The decision
- The decision
- CNN'Under God' part of Pledge of Allegiance under review in Massachusetts
- Becket Fund
- Huffington Post Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court To Hear Case Against Pledge Of Allegiance
- Ma. Supreme Judicial Court The 2012 appeal appears to have been abandoned.]
- FindLaw DOE v. ACTON BOXBOROUGH REGIONAL SCHOOL DISTRICT
- Washington Post Massachusetts court rules ‘under God’ in pledge does not discriminate against atheists