CRF Blog

The Pledge

by Bill Hayes

Written by a Christian socialist, the original Pledge of Allegiance was just 22 words: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Over the years, words were changed. Most significantly, the words “under God” were added in 1954.

The pledge has drawn great controversy for decades. In the 1940s, the U.S. Supreme Court first ruled that public schools could compel students to recite it. (Minersville School District v. Gobitis). Three years later, it reversed itself, saying such compulsion violated the First Amendment (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette). More recently, in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, a parent challenged the “under God” part of the pledge, arguing it violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The case reached the Supreme Court, and CRF published a Bill of Rights in Action lesson titled Should We Take God out of the Pledge of Allegiance? The lesson has a nice history of the pledge, the various controversies surrounding it, pro and con arguments on the Newdow case, a moot court activity, and even links for further information.

Should you want even more information on the pledge, Jeffrey Owen Jones and Peter Meyer have written The Pledge: A History of the Pledge of Allegiance. From the review of the book in the New York Times Book Review:

The [pledge’s] author … was Francis Bellamy, cousin to the novelist Edward Bellamy, whose “Looking Backward” offered the 19th century’s most popular vision of a future welfare—state utopia. In 1892, after abandoning the ministry, Francis was working at The Youth’s Companion, a mass-market magazine aimed at schoolchildren. For promotional purposes, the magazine planned a national youth pageant to mark the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s American landfall. Bellamy was assigned to rally the necessary political support and, at the last minute, to compose a few words appropriate to the occasion. He came up with a statement of what he later called “intelligent patriotism,” designed to counteract some of the nation’s most divisive and reactionary impulses.