The Pledge of Allegiance to the flag is a promise or oath of loyalty to the Republic of United States of America. Today, the words read: "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." Congressional sessions open with the recitation of this pledge. It is also recited at public events. As per the United States Flag Code, the pledge is to be recited by standing at attention; facing the flag and placing the right hand over the heart. People in uniform must face the flag, remain silent and take the military salute. Those not in uniform must remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and place it on their left shoulder, in such a way that their right hand is over the heart. The pledge is recited by school children of all religions across America on a daily basis.
Who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance?
The Pledge of Allegiance was originally written in August, 1892 by the Baptist minister and active social activist, Francis Bellamy. The year 1892 was the 400th anniversary celebration of Christopher Columbus' discovery of America. Bellamy desired a special celebration that year and wanted the celebration to center a flag-raising ceremony and salute. With this desire in mind he wrote the verses. Bellamy designed the pledge to be short, quick, to the point, and to be recited in 15 seconds. The original pledge read: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
Pledge instituted in Schools
The pledge was first published in 1892, in the September 8th edition of a Boston based children's magazine called Youth's Companion. The pledge was first used in public schools on October 12, 1892 during Columbus Day celebrations, after a proclamation made by President Benjamin Harrison. Over 12 million children recited the pledge that day, thereby beginning an everyday ritual. Bellamy felt that the pledge and its recital by children across the country was a fine show of national solidarity. The pledge was accompanied by a salute (called Bellamy salute), wherein the arm was outstretched and palm faced upwards.
In October, 1892, he added the word 'to' before 'the Republic'. He had considered to include the words 'equality' and 'fraternity' to the pledge, however, decided against it because of the prevalent conflicts about equal rights for women and African-Americans in United States at that time. On June 14, 1923, at the first National Conference in Washington D.C, an alteration was made to the Pledge of Allegiance, wherein 'my flag' in the pledge was changed to 'the flag of the United States'. This was to ensure that immigrants knew exactly which flag was being referred to in the pledge. A year later, the word 'of America' was added to the pledge. Bellamy disliked the change, however, his protests were ignored.
On June 22, 1942, the Pledge was recognized as the official national pledge by the US Congress. The Bellamy salute with the palm upwards had eventually evolved to palm downwards. However, due to its resemblance to the Nazi salute, President Franklin D. Roosevelt brought in the hand-over-heart position as the salute gesture.
Compulsory in Schools
Jehovah Witness' children considered the pledge idolatry and refused to acknowledge the flag, and in 1940, the Supreme Court ruled that students in public schools must be compelled to recite the pledge. However, three years later the court took back its statement, because this was in violation to the First Amendment.
During the 1950s, the United States was going through a rough period of cold war, and the McCarthy communist witch hunt. These factors spearheaded a reported 15 resolutions, which were initiated in the Congress to alter the pledge. In 1953, the world's largest Catholic fraternal organization; the Knights of Columbus felt the pledge was incomplete without the recognition to a deity. The resolutions got nowhere until President Eisenhower and the national press corps attended a sermon preached by Rev. George Docherty in 1954. Part of the sermon said: "Apart from the mention of the phrase 'the United States of America,' it could be a pledge of any republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer-and-sickle flag in Moscow."
The President was greatly inspired by the message and in the following weeks public opinion grew. Senator Homer Ferguson sponsored a bill to add the words 'under God' to the Pledge. On June 8, 1954, the bill was approved as joint resolution and signed into law on June 14, Flag Day. That day President Eisenhower said, "From this day forward, the millions of our 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." The alteration made the Pledge both a patriotic pledge and a public prayer. To this Francis Bellamy's granddaughter said that she would have resented the inclusion of the words 'under God'. These words were added partly due to the desire to differentiate between communism and Western capitalistic democracies. Most worldwide communists are atheists, and often atheism was linked to communism. Thus, most people of that time considered Atheism unpatriotic and un-American and the alteration to the Pledge was made. However, the truth is that in North America, atheists were non-communists.
Today, there is a lot of controversy regarding the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance. People from religious minorities, such as Atheists, Agnostics, Buddhists and Humanists have revolted against the recital of the pledge. The law passed in 1943 states that children do not have to recite the Pledge under compulsion. Today, only half of the total 50 states in the US have pledge recitation in schools.