I had a rather lengthy discussion the other day with a friend about the wording of the Pledge, and the intention of our forefathers regarding the separation of church and state.
"But our forefathers put many mentions of God and religion in our historical documents," my friend asserted. When I asked him to elaborate, he said, "Just look at the Pledge of Allegiance, it clearly states 'One Nation, under God,' so therefore our founding fathers must have created this country based on Christian precepts."
I tried to explain to him that the Pledge of Allegiance, although a very nicely worded bit of prose, was not one of the documents written by the founders on which this country was built. The problem with revisionist history is if it's repeated often enough, it becomes a "known truth."
So, do you know when the Pledge was penned, and by whom?
It was written in 1892, over a century after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It was written by a socialist minister, Francis Bellamy. The original text was somewhat different than the Pledge we now know, and made no mention of God or for that matter even the United States:
"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
And so the Pledge became more and more popular, and was adopted as our national Pledge. But it wasn't even until 1923 the words; "the Flag of the United States of America" were added:
"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."
And for a few decades, it increased in popularity, and was recited by every schoolchild, at the start of every school day.
Historians will debate the reason the words, "Under God" were added, but I believe it helps to understand a little bit of what was happening in the world at the time.
Dwight D. Eisenhower became the 34th president of the United States in 1953. He had been a five-star general in the United States Army during WWII, and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. "Ike" campaigned on a platform against Communism, Korea, and corruption. He won in a landslide victory against Adlai Stevenson.
You have to know that he deposed the leader of Iran, and also used the threat of nuclear attack to end the Korean War. "Ike" was part of the war machine. He was also responsible for the proliferation of nuclear weapons under the guise of the threat of communism from the Soviets, and started our Cold War response. In 1954 he put forth his Domino Theory as the logical result of the spread of communism.
As part of the political process of gaining support for his anti-communist agenda, and the forces of the "godless communists," he encouraged Congress to add the words "under God" to the Pledge. They obliged. And in 1954 the 31 word Pledge, as we know it today evolved:
"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."
Although Bellamy died in 1931, his daughter objected to the modification the Congress made, both in a letter, and in an appearance before the assembly.
So there you have it. Not only was the Pledge of Allegiance not part of the founding documents of this country, it wasn't even written in the same century.
Some other revisionist historians are apt to tell you the phrase "separation of church and state" is in the First Amendment. Guess what, it isn't so. It is merely what has been called a "civic faith" in the US.
When the drafters of the Bill of Rights wrote the First Amendment, they clearly intended to separate the institutions of government and religion on the federal level. Here is the entire First Amendment:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
There really is no "founding fathers" precedent for the current language in the Pledge. In fact, the actions of the Congress in the 1950s may well have violated the law.
So there you have it. All of those arguments you have heard MOST of your life regarding the sanctity of the Pledge are myths, or civil faith.
I am not arguing either to preserve the Pledge as we now recite it, or to revert back to one of the prior versions. I am merely stating some historical facts. Smarter people than me will no doubt continue to debate both sides, and nothing will change. That's just the way we do things.
Until next time-
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In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2005 - 2013 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.