The problem with the Pledge of Allegiance


Try this thought experiment for a moment. Most of us are familiar with the Pledge of Allegiance:

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.

Now imagine if this is how it went:

I pledge allegiance to the republic, one nation Under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.

Recently a thirteen year old girl settled a lawsuit  against her school district regarding her unwillingness to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I’m not sure of the details, but it sounds as though she refused because of her personal convictions. As a result, she was suspended by the school, and her parents fought the suspension unsuccessfully before they went through legal channels.

I must confess that when I was a kid, I didn’t say the Pledge.  I didn’t make a big deal about it, but starting around 3rd grade I had stopped saying the words altogether. On the rare moments when I sensed the teacher might be looking in my direction, I’d put m hand to my heart and mouthed the words without saying them. As I got older and more confident, I’d just stand and wait it out without making a fuss over it. I doubt that any teacher ever noticed or cared that I wasn’t saying the Pledge.

Now most debates over the Pledge center around the “under God” clause. I was an atheist up until I turned 16, but to me “under God” was harmless. Most of my peers weren’t that religious to begin with, so being in a room full of kids who never went to church made “under God” meaningless.

My problem with it was pledging allegiance to the flag. I felt no allegiance to it, and it struck me as strange to pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth hanging on a pole. Besides, Brazil and Argentina had cooler looking flags. So when I heard the pledge, I felt as though the flag was just a little misdirection so people wouldn’t notice what it was really saying: I pledge allegiance to the republic. To my childhood sensibilities, that sounded like something that Darth Vader would have his subjects recite out of fear.

As I got older I outgrew my Star Wars analogy, but the flag still struck me as a frivolous symbol that actually got in the way of what we were really pledging allegiance to, which was the United States of America. So as a teenager I wouldn’t say the pledge because it sounded insincere, particularly given that God and the flag weren’t terribly important to most of my fellow high schoolers. The United States meant a lot to me, but Pledge was still meaningless.

I still feel no allegiance to the flag. I respect what it symbolizes, but my allegiance is to the people here and the sacrifices of people who made this nation possible, not the flag.Nowadays I do say the pledge, and to be honest I “get” its noble intentions a bit more than I used to, but I mostly say it because it is meaningful to a lot of people who served this country.