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Aine Powers

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“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America,” said countless public school students across the US.

Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance may not seem like a controversial issue, but two little words it contains have caused it to be discussed by many, and for good reason. The constitutionality of the phrase “Under God” has been in dispute since it was added to the pledge. While lawmakers and even the State of Massachusetts itself have defended the phrase and the pledge, calling it patriotic, not religious, the pledge should not be a part of the school day as it does not represent the many religious identities students may identify with.

The Pledge of Allegiance came about in 1894 when Francis Bellamy wrote it for a competition for a pledge to be written in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus arriving in the New World.  Interestingly, the original pledge did not include any reference to religion, despite the fact that Bellamy was a minister. The original pledge published was as follows; “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands. One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

The “Under god” piece of the pledge was not added until 1954 when former president Dwight Eisenhower had the pledge amended to say “One nation, under god….”

 

Since then, it has become highly controversial. For example, in 1998, Dr. Michael Newdow, the father of a student attending Florence Markofer Elementary School in Elk Grove California and an atheist, filed a lawsuit against his county in an attempt to get the words “Under god” removed from the pledge.

Over four years later, the 9th Court of Appeals received his case and made the decision that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional on the grounds that it was an endorsement of religion. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court threw out the case because of custody issues. Dr. Newdow was not the primary guardian of his daughter, so the Supreme Court said that he did not have the right to sue on her behalf.

Despite the fact that the case was tossed out, Newdow vs US Congress is one of many lawsuits across the country. In 2010, an Acton, Massachusetts family sued as well, saying that their children reciting the pledge every morning is a violation of their First Amendment rights. However, the highest court in Massachusetts pronounced the pledge to be patriotic and as by this time, reciting it was optional; the students could simply sit out.

“We hold that the recitation of the pledge, which is entirely voluntary, violates neither the Constitution nor the statute,” said Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, in the 2010 court ruling.

“Although the words ‘under God’ undeniably have a religious tinge, courts that have considered the history of the pledge and the presence of those words have consistently concluded that the pledge, notwithstanding its reference to God, is a fundamentally patriotic exercise, not a religious one,” said Justice Ireland.

The Chief Justice on the case himself admitted that the pledge was religious, the amount whether it be a “tinge” or more should not matter as any religious activity would violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which prevents the government from preferring or elevating one religion over the other. When the pledge references God, this is a clear endorsement of monotheistic religions.

The US is one of very few countries to have students recite a Pledge of Allegiance, with North Korea being the only other country associated with this practice. So, why do we continue with this archaic tradition that was brought about when the country needed a boost of patriotism after the Civil War?

Whether it’s for the sake of history and tradition or it will seemingly unite students in public schools, it is clear  this is something that must go. In this day in age, all religious identities must be accepted and respected, and students being singled out for sitting out of the pledge will only isolate students from each other even more.

Students have not been educated on the meaning or history of the Pledge but instead most stand every day and recite it like clockwork. It’s not an “exercise of patriotism,” as Chief Ireland described it, but now it has become simply a mechanical response — muscle memory. Students don’t truly think about what they’re saying. To those who are aware and do not wish to say the pledge, sitting down or not saying it may seem like an easy solution to most, but it can be stigmatized as being unpatriotic.
The Pledge of Allegiance must either be amended to represent the people of the US, whether they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist, or don’t respond to any religious identity; or it must no longer be a part of every public school child’s morning from ages five to eighteen. Patriotism is all well and good until we forget to separate church and state.

 

photo: Mrs. Meo’s English class stands for the Pledge of Allegiance

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