For some Americans the four most important documents are, in order:
- The King James Bible
- The U.S. Constitution
- The Bill of Rights
- The Pledge of Allegiance
Of the four, I find the need of many Americans to rally around the phrase “under God” in the Pledge intriguing.
In the modern era of social media, you can expect a post to cycle and re-cycle on Facebook — telling us to keep ‘under God’ in the Pledge. Of course, the post fails to point out that ‘under God’ was never part of the original Pledge.
Origin Of The Pledge
The Pledge was written in response to a late-1800s writing contest for Youth’s Companion, a family magazine with half a million subscribers. Smithsonian magazine explains how a former Baptist ministry set out to write the Pledge as part of a marketing campaign for the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World.
As (Francis) Bellamy sat down at his desk, the opening words—”I pledge allegiance to my flag”—tumbled onto paper. Then, after two hours of “arduous mental labor,” as he described it, he produced a succinct and rhythmic tribute very close to the one we know today: I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all. (Bellamy later added the “to” before “the Republic” for better cadence.)
It did not take long, though, for the rewording to begin. As the article points out:
In 1923, a National Flag Conference, presided over by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, ordained that “my flag” should be changed to “the flag of the United States,” lest immigrant children be unclear just which flag they were saluting.The following year, the Flag Conference refined the phrase further, adding “of America.”
Putting ‘Under God’ In The Pledge
The Pledge was tweaked to its final form during the Red Scare when Congress approved the addition of the words “under God” within the phrase “one nation indivisible.” On June 14, 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the bill into law.
What I have always found interesting about the Pledge is how the Founding Fathers did not feel the need for its citizens to ‘pledge allegiance’ to the flag. Allegiance, of course, can be a slippery slope — it can lead to the naïve belief that unless someone behaves and acts like you, then they are not patriotic, American or a ‘true citizen.’
At least one of the Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, wasn’t a proponent of forcing God or religion into the political arena. Jefferson once said,
What has been the effect of religious coercion? To make half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.