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Pledge of Allegiance

In the United States, schoolchildren frequently recite the Pledge of Allegiance while saluting the flag. In its present form, the words of the Pledge are:

"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 protocol followed when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is straightforward. Uniformed military personnel are to face the flag and salute as they would to an officer. Civilians are to stand at attention and place their right hand over the heart. Civilian men (however, not women) are also to remove their hats and place them over their heart as well.

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The Pledge of Allegiance first appeared in 1892 in the popular children's magazine Youth's Companion, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus arriving in the Americas. It was written by Francis Bellamy, a socialist author and Baptist minister.

Bellamy's original Pledge read as follows: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It was seen by some as a call for national unity and wholeness after the divisive American Civil War.

After a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison, the Pledge was first used in public schools on October 12, 1892 during Columbus Day observances. The form adopted inserted the word "to" before "the Republic," a minor matter of grammar.

In 1923 and 1924 the National Flag Conference called for the words my Flag to be changed to the Flag of the United States of America. The reason given was to ensure that immigrants knew which flag was being referred to. The United States Congress officially recognized the Pledge on December 28, 1945.

In 1954, after a campaign by the Catholic Knights of Columbus, Senator Homer Ferguson of Michigan sponsored a bill to amend the pledge to include the words under God. On June 8, 1954, Congress adopted this change.

Originally, the Pledge was often recited with the right hand extended in salute toward the flag. After this salute became identified with Nazism and Fascism in the 1940s, this was changed: today, the Pledge is said with hand over heart.

On June 24, 1999 the Senate passed a resolution sponsored by Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire to recite the Pledge before each day's session.

The Pledge is also recited before many local city council meetings and school board meetings, as well as before some school functions.


The Pledge of Allegiance has drawn criticism over the years on several bases. Its use in government-run schools has been the most controversial. Even before the addition of the words under God, legal challenges were frequently founded on the basis of freedom of religion.

Central to early challenges were the Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian denomination whose beliefs preclude swearing loyalty to any power lesser than God. In the 1940 Supreme Court case Minersville School District vs. Gobitis, an 8-1 majority in the Court held that a school district's interest in promoting national unity permitted it to require Witness students to recite the Pledge along with their classmates. Yet three years later in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette, however, the Court reversed itself, voting 8-1 to forbid a school from requiring the Pledge.

As a result, since 1943 the public (government-run) schools have been disallowed from punishing students for not reciting the Pledge. Nonetheless, it remains taught to and expected of schoolchildren in many schools.

More specific objections have been raised since the addition of the phrase under God to the Pledge. 1954, the year of its addition, also held the height of the Cold War anticommunist movement in the United States. Anticommunist ideology in the U.S. frequently identified the Soviet state with atheism; the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy were still on the lookout for "godless Communist" infiltrators.

To many observers, the addition of under God to the Pledge at this time suggests an identification of the U.S. as an officially religious nation specifically in opposition to the atheistic Communist enemy. To many critics, this is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion on the part of the government.

The 2002 Ruling

The matter of the Pledge's constitutionality simmered for decades below the public eye, until June 2002. In a case brought by an atheist father objecting to the Pledge being taught in his daughter's school, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, arguably the most liberal in the nation, ruled the addition of under God unconstitutional. Public reaction was immediate, and opposition to the ruling vehement. Conservative Christians, heirs to a tradition long believing itself persecuted by secularism in government, considered it an attack on faith in God. Many moderates and liberals felt the matter unnecessary and unfortunate -- nothing but stirring up trouble. A minority of atheists, secularists, and civil libertarians supported the ruling -- but few expect it to stand.

Shortly after the ruling's release, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin, author the the opinion in the 2-1 ruling, signed an order staying its enforcement. This order delays the time at which the ruling goes into effect until the full Ninth Circuit court can decide whether to hear an appeal.

The day after the ruling, the Senate voted in favor of the Pledge as it stood. (Senate debate records (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/R?r107:FLD001:S56105-S56106)) The House followed on, accepting a similar resolution (http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c107:H.+Res.+459:). The Senate resolution was 99-0; the House 416-3 with 11 abstaining. President George W. Bush and many other politicians from both sides of the aisle also spoke out in favor of the existing Pledge.

The stay on the ruling was lifted on February 28, 2003 when the full Ninth Circuit court of appeals decided not to take the case, letting the ruling stand. If it holds, the court's ruling would affect more than 9.6 million students in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

In the months following the court's decision, attorneys general from all 50 states filed papers asking the Supreme Court of the United States to review the decision, 49 of which joined a legal brief sponsored by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson[?] and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden[?]. California filed a separate brief, also urging the Supreme Court to hear the case.

The matter continues to be a symbolic representation of the ongoing struggle over religion in government in the United States.

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