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The Pledge of Allegiance: What, How, and Why?


Every morning at McQuaid Jesuit, members of the Executive Council read out the Pledge of Allegiance for the student body to recite. McQuaid is definitely not alone in this: the Pledge is a nationwide tradition.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Baptist preacher and Christian socialist [Ed. Note—and University of Rochester alum] Francis Bellamy, who had been placed in charge of designing a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival for schools to carry out all over the country.

His original words were: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” It was a simple way for people to show their respect to America and a reminder not to take their freedoms for granted.

The pledge underwent several revisions in 1923, 1924, and 1954. The 1954 revision is the one recited today, and perhaps the most notable. It added “under God” and officially named it The Pledge of Allegiance.

To correctly recite the Pledge, one must stand and face the flag of the United States; remove any non-religious headwear; place their right hand over their heart; and recite the following words: “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.”

Why does this daily ritual happen so frequently? Well, it can instill patriotism in the people who recite it, and honor the history and values of the United States.

Some say the Pledge violates the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech and religion, as the Pledge can be seen as forcing a particular viewpoint on students. The inclusion of the phrase “under God” has also been criticized for violating the separation of church and state. [Ed. Note—Bellamy himself chose not to include any religious references, as he believed strongly in that separation.] While it is not mandatory to recite the pledge, peer pressure causes people to do it anyway. The Pledge of Allegiance can also seem a sign of overt nationalism and conformity, sometimes even being compared to totalitarian states that required citizens to swear loyalty to the state.

On the other hand, proponents of the Pledge state that it is a voluntary and meaningful expression of patriotism and civic duty. They also state that the Pledge is not legally binding, meaning people can modify the Pledge to fit their personal beliefs.

There is also the question of how people born outside the United States might react to the Pledge. Many immigrants migrate to the United States, and students (who are, almost by definition, children) are expected to know what to do when the Pledge begins. Usually, immigrant students do not immediately know what to do and are often pressured by their peers into reciting the Pledge. They may do so by copying their peers’ body gestures.  Sometimes, they will be scolded for not knowing what to do, which would scare the child further. This may cause the student to recite the Pledge out of fear of being labeled nonconforming. Sometimes, the student will never learn why it is important to be proud of America and why Americans were expected to stand for the Pledge.

For this article, I asked Mr. Morales-Bermúdez, co-publisher of the Shield, about his experiences with the Pledge, since he was born in Puerto Rico. He stated that his only experience with it before teaching at McQuaid Jesuit was in the Cub Scouts, and that most Puerto Ricans do not pledge allegiance to either the United States or Puerto Rican flags, which is also true of most countries. To him, the tradition of reciting the Pledge every school day seemed almost a gesture of insecurity in asking citizens to pledge their loyalty to the country every day, since many people who partake do it out of habit, with no real interest in the meaning behind the words.

[Ed. Note—we’re really trying not to make this a habit, but again, one of us is literally the person featured in the previous paragraph. Cards on the table: if the Pledge truly does remind you of how proud you are to be a citizen of the United States of America, and it helps instill the values that citizens of the United States of America are supposed to exemplify, that’s wonderful. Please carry on.

Unfortunately, for some of us, the flag is more a reminder of some really disgusting things that have happened to people we grew up with and loved, and we are not particularly inclined to feel pride or allegiance towards it, or,  frankly, the republic for which it stands. We respect your desire to feel patriotic and proud; please respect the reasons why we might not.]

Ultimately, the Pledge of Allegiance is one of the many traditions that people do to show their patriotism, and it remains a popular way to celebrate the country. Independence Day on every July 4th serves as an annual commemoration of the country. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is commonly played before sporting events. Obviously, people are still proud to be American.

What do I believe? It may seem weird that I am sharing my opinion, but I feel like it is necessary on such an important ritual, even though no one cares as deeply about it. Remember, I am a very credible source (trust me).

I believe that the ritual is a good way to show patriotism so long as we know why we do it—meaning we should know our American values of good citizenship, know the history of our leaders, our veterans, and others who have shaped our country and the lessons they wanted us to learn, and why we should honor them. Should we do it everyday? No, I believe that the immense volume of repetition leads people to do it on instinct, meaning the importance of it is lessened by repeated recitation. It is better for us to do it once a week or to cover the topic briefly in a history class. Learning why we should do it could possibly inspire people to be prouder of their country.

So why don’t you, the reader, learn about our country’s history? I mean some of it is pretty cool, and the rest . . . that’s up for you to decide.

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