Ban the Pledge of Allegiance? You Decide.

Timothy L. Coyle
Consultant specializing in housing issues

Admittedly, this subject doesn’t fall within my normal routine or domain. Usually, my Fox and Hound verbiage tracks a housing theme. So, what am I doing writing about the Pledge of Allegiance, you ask. Well, it just so happens that this day, while exhaustingly attempting to resolve a F&H dispute involving the use of gender-neutral language at the state Capitol, I stumbled on a news story about a community-college district in California which recently banned reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance at all its proceedings.

I said to myself: That’s not very nice. So, I read the story. It seems that the president of the Santa Barbara Community College board (“the Board”) unilaterally decided to ban the Pledge recitation before each Board meeting – initially objecting to the phrase “one nation under God” then saying the Pledge “has a history steeped in expressions of nativism and white nationalism.” Board President Robert Miller said the author of the Pledge wrote it awhile ago as part of a quest to get foreign immigrants to better assimilate into American life. Miller said the Pledge had xenophobia and bigotry behind it and declared “no more”.

Miller spoke nothing about the Pledge’s roles throughout history. Yes, it’s true that it was written by a Baptist minister back in the 1890’s. It’s also true that legal immigration applicants must recite the Pledge before becoming U.S. citizens. Its recitation also opens each session of every state legislature – including California’s. It also is recited daily by the U.S. Congress – at least when there is work on Capitol Hill. Moreover, it begins every school day and does likewise for about every other public and military ceremony across the nation.

And, how about all those U.S. soldiers who go or have gone into battle – over decades, including two world wars – with the Pledge rattling around somewhere in their heads? It’s like the flag itself: It’s a national symbol.

Not surprisingly, I was repelled by Miller’s action – and that of a St. Louis lawmaker actively protesting the Pledge’s “and justice for all”. Then, I dug a little deeper. It seems that every generation has had some beef with the Pledge. Yet, it’s survived two Supreme Court tests. Its defenders were also successful in several state, local and administrative challenges. And, it was acts of Congress which changed it several times from its original verse – I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, With Liberty and Justice for all – not to mention insertion of the words “under God” in 1955.

It turns out, common citizens agreed with me. Just days after taking his initial action, President Miller recently rescinded the decision to ban recitation of the Pledge before each meeting of the Board. The Pledge survived again.

Pundits, social commentators and those with an agenda have come up with variations on the Pledge of Allegiance over time – some more serious than others. A few of the more serious ones:

I pledge allegiance to the United States of America, to its people and to the ideals which they aspire to and have fought for: democracy, equality, liberty, and justice for all.

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I pledge fidelity to the democratic principles of the United States of America, based on the freedoms of thought and expression without arrogance or self-righteousness and with tolerance and respect for all.

I pledge myself to the ideal of liberty and justice for all the people of the United States of America.

The not-so-serious examples:

I pledge allegiance to the flag-burning of the United States of America, and to the republic which the courts command, one nation, above God, indivisible (except for all that race, class and gender warfare), with equality and five-star beach resorts for all terrorists.

I pledge my support for the semiautonomous, evolving, complex dynamical network known as the United States of America and for those principles that maximize the degrees of freedom and independence of its human nodes.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America – red and blue – and to the Republic for which it stands, despite all the extremely preposterous people in it.

Then, the quasi-political, agenda-laced offerings:

I pledge allegiance to the fairness for which this country stands, to its generous sympathy for the plight of its own and others around the world, one nation, sometimes divided, but always committed to respect and decency for all.

I pledge, not to pledge, but to work to ensure that America lives up to its ideals of liberty, equality, and opportunity so that we can really become a beacon of possibility for all. And that by our efforts we can become a more inclusive nation that is comfortable with ambiguity and our evolving role in a changing global society.

After reading some of the history about the Pledge I became satisfied that the Baptist minister – for whatever his reasons – got the wording just about right. So did the perfecting Congresses and court decisions that followed. Moreover, I figured the handwringing I was doing earlier about gender-neutral political correctness, Pledge demonstrations of all kinds, NFL players’ national anthem hijinx and other protests I worried were tearing at the fabric of this great country was unnecessary.

Debate and protests are good and just things and are, I surmised, harmless in a country as internally strong as ours. Like variations on the Pledge of Allegiance and the Robert Millers of our day, proposals for change will come and go. But, the idea of America is unchanging and will always win out, no matter what.

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