Thoughts about last month's discussion on "Should the pledge had the words "under God" in it"?

From: Dr. Norman R. W.
Sent on: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 7:37 PM

Socrates Café Conversations

Reflections on September 25th Conversation

By Dr. Norman Wise

Question of the month:  Is it right for the pledge of allegiance to include the words “under God”?

Summary of facts on the pledge of allegiance:  There have been four versions of the pledge. 

Official versions (changes in bold italics) 1892 "I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

1.       1892 to 1923 "I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

2.       1923 to 1924  "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

3.       1924 to 1954 "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

4.       1954 to Present "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."

The phrase “under God” became part of the pledge under President Eisenhower who was influenced by a sermon about Abraham’s Lincoln’s use of the term “under God” in the Gettysburg Address.   This seems to have also been influenced because of the cold war conflict with atheistic communism and a desire to see America’s faith in God as one of the reasons we resisted communism. 

The Supreme Court in 1943 reversed an earlier decision in 1940 and made the taking of the pledge totally voluntary and that students in the public school could not be required to take the pledge or even stand when it is being recited.   This was done to protect the First Amendment rights of the children in public school.  (

Other countries also have pledges:

Pledge of Allegiance to the Canadian Flag

To my Flag and to the country it represents, I pledge respect and loyalty. Wave

with pride from sea to sea and within your folds, keep us ever united. Be for all a

symbol of love, freedom, and justice. God keep our flag. God protect our




Guyana’s National Pledge to the Flag

I pledge myself to honor always the Flag of Guyana and to be loyal to my country

to be obedient to the laws of Guyana

to love my fellow citizens

and to dedicate my energies towards

the happiness and prosperity of Guyana.

Indian Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to my Tribe,

To the democratic principles of the Republic

And to the individual freedoms

Borrowed from the Iroquois and Choctaw Confederacies

As incorporated in the United States Constitution

So that my forefathers shall not have died in vain.

(The Indian Pledge of Allegiance was first presented on December 2, 1993

during the opening address of the National Congress of American Indian Tribal

States Relations Panel in Reno, NV.)

Philippines Oath of a Patriot

I love the Philippines.

This is the land of my birth.

This is the home of my race.

By her (the land) I am watched and helped

To become strong, happy, and productive.

In return, I will listen to the counsel of my parents,

I will obey the regulations of my school,

I will fulfill the responsibilities of a patriotic citizen, obedient to the law,

I will serve my country without selfishness and with complete integrity,

I will try to be a true Filipino

In thought, in word, and in deed.

This allows us to place the pledge within a historical and global perspective.

First Reflection on the Pledge: The problem of social abuse of children who do not want to take the pledge

One of the things that struck me was that even after children were given “legal” rights not to take the pledge of allegiance there still remained a strong social “taboo” which brought upon students ridicule, verbal abuse, and social consequences for not standing or saying the pledge.  Several people at our Socrates Café discussion group were penalized in public schools for failing to take the pledge.  Some of these social penalties were very cruel and most likely illegal.   Our conversation about this pointed out the limitations of making something legal when there is a strong emotional prejudice in favor of something.  Social taboos have the ability to justify abusive behavior because those who violate the taboos are challenging some key and central values of a culture.  I grieve over those who were persecuted and penalized because they could not in honest conscience say the pledge.   Such ugly intolerance is counterproductive in building loyalty and allegiance in students for America or creating openness to thoughtful consideration of God’s existence.   Clearly teachers have to be given greater training on how to protect those who do not want to take the pledge from abuse from other class mates.  It is also vital that teachers themselves are not the source of abuse on students due to their own strong emotions about the pledge.   Because the pledge becomes associated with a person being loyal to the nation and being one who loves their nations it is easy for the taking of the pledge to become one of elevated emotions and passions.  

The Pledge as a ritual of loyalty

The Pledge of Allegiance was used to help create a ritual of loyalty to assimilate immigrants into the national culture of the United States.   Nationalism is based on “blood and belief”.   Nations states became identified with being of one “blood” and a culture which reflected core “beliefs” of that national group.  In nations like the United States where many “bloods” came together the emphasis was on having unified set of cultural beliefs formed around the Constitution of the United States.   Loyalty to the Constitution was seen as vital for immigrants to be part of the “melting pot” which would form American culture. 

However, from the beginning there was a good amount of theistic belief within that cultural heritage so much so that Dr. Allen Bloom of the University of Chicago in his book The Closing of the American Mind pointed out that the culture of the United States was not only defined by the ideals of the Constitution but by a view of the Bible as the “good book” from which wisdom could be drawn.    This of course included an idea of a Supreme Being or God as one of the core values of the society and culture.    It therefore, it not surprising that we find this theistic language coming into the pledge especially under the pressure of atheistic communism perceived as the primary competitor for world dominance and influence following World War II.   The majority of the citizens of the United States have held to a theistic view of reality.   While this faith in a “God” has no national creed or definition it does stand in contrast to materialism or naturalism as the ultimate understanding of reality.   The Bible being “the good” book which reflected this theistic perspective clearly gave this influence a Judeo/Christian favor. 

This was done with a strong desire to avoid any type of national church or religion.  The founders wanted to keep the federal government out of establishing an official church like “The Church of England.”   They also wanted to protect minorities and freedom of people to speak.  So while there was a theistic tone to many aspects of American culture it was kept  from being part of “law” and had more to do with forming informal values and taboos. 

Now in the 21st century we find that we have moved from the idea of one “culture” in which immigrants would become one with through a process of being put into the “melting pot” of assimilation and that the new picture is one of a “tossed salad” in which groups keep their unique set of values, customs, and beliefs and just happen to be in the same “bowl” which would be the physical boundaries of the United States.   This encourages more diversity and less assimilation into what would be seen as a general or common “culture of the United States.”   This makes forming a pledge which is acceptable to everyone in the  “tossed salad” even more problematic than it was before.  (

One of the growing groups within the “salad bowl” would be those who see themselves as “not religious” and who do not see the idea of “God” as important to them personally or to social issues.  This group does not feel comfortable with making “under God” be part of the ritual of national loyalty.   It is possible for there to be a “pledge” which would satisfy all the different parts of the “tossed salad” which makes up the population of the United States.   Cultural pluralism makes forming a united pledge a real challenge. 

To serve as a citizen in many official capacities requires a pledge or oath

This can simply be that we were born here or our parents were citizens.  It can be that we became citizens by going through the process of immigration which required that we learn about the history, customs, and values of the United States and pledge allegiance to the Republic.   To actually participate in some aspects of our being citizens means we must make an oath or pledge to the Constitution.   For instance in the State of Florida every citizen must make the following oath to have the privilege to vote.

Oath: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will protect and defend the

Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida, that

I am qualified to register as an elector under the Constitution and laws of the

State of Florida, and that all information provided in this application is true.

To serve in the military the following oath must be made:

“I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

The last phrase “So help me God” while legally required is many times simply omitted when it appears that a person wanting to join the armed forces seems to object to it.  Strangely it has not become as controversial as the pledge of allegiance.

And for someone to serve as President of the United States they must also take a solemn oath.

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

This oath is required by the constitution of the United States.  Now many Presidents have ended this oath with the phrase “so help me God” beginning with George Washington.  But it is not part of the oath required in the Constitution.   Normally the Presidents taken this vow with their hand placed upon the Bible though there are exceptions to this tradition.   All the Presidents up to President Truman kissed the Bible as President Washington had done.   Here we can see the mixture of faith in the Constitution of the United States and the Bible as the “good book” acted out in the ritual of brining a new President into office. 

So just being born a citizen does not give you the right to vote in some states, join the military, or serve as President.  To do these things you must make a pledge or oath to protect and uphold the constitution of the United States.    In some of these oaths the idea of “God “again become mixed into the cultural tradition. 

Final thoughts

It is clear that the taboos around the pledge and the phrase “under God” are very intense, emotional, and passionate.   The first step in helping people deal with this issue would be to educate them on the history of the pledge and what historically all of this meant.  This could be part of the education offered in our public schools.  Understanding the pledge and the right of people not to take it might help soften the social abuse caused by some students not taking the pledge.   

It would make sense that if we are going to ask our children to take the pledge we should educate them on the meaning and history of the pledge.   One answer would be to have two pledges one including the phrase “under God” and the other being the pledge as it was before 1954.   However, this would not help those students who simply believe taking any pledge or oath is immoral.   Again, education on why some people might not want to take the pledge might lead to greater understanding and tolerance of students who cannot take the pledge in good conscience.   We need to make the practice of the pledge be consistent with the values of our nation of tolerating dissent and protecting minority opinions.  We could teach our children to disagree in an agreeable manner and strive for treating everyone in a civil manner. 

The belief that is to unite citizens of the United States is faith in the Constitution of the United States.  This is the core value that we are to all uphold and trust in.  This common faith unites us to the political philosophy of our founders and the foundational social contract that makes us a nation.  This more than “blood” bonds us together as a people and culture.  This is the “salad bowl” within which the salad can be tossed.  But without such faith there is no salad bowl and we will have only diversity without unity.   Clearly we should center our social studies on the Constitution and strive to make every child fully aware of the political ideas behind it.   This would create true loyalty and allegiance more than any pledge. 

Now the question of how we relate “nationalism” with “globalism” is the new problem.  Nationalism was born of the industrial revolution.  But now we are in the post-industrial / bio-computer age.   The world is smaller than ever before and we can travel across the world electronically almost instantaneously.   We have yet to work out how we will be a “global village” or how the new world order will function.  These are new challenges which now must be worked out. 





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