Saturday, September 29, 2007

That pesky old Pledge of Allegiance again

I've never understood the need for the Pledge of Allegiance in US schools but then, most Americans probably wouldn't have been able to fathom a classroom full of Nova Scotia first-graders singing God Save The Queen in the moments after the first bell of the day.

A group of high-school students in Boulder, Colorado have taken steps to have the Pledge of Allegiance removed from class-time and shifted to a voluntary period.

They've also rewritten the pledge to better reflect the values they think should be demonstrated, including removing the line "under God".
Waving signs and American flags, Boulder High School students this morning will stage the first of what could become many Pledge of Allegiance protests in the school courtyard.

Members of the activist Student Worker club are inviting their peers to leave class every Thursday at 8:30 a.m. — when the pledge is recited over the intercom — and meet in the courtyard to say a revised version of the pledge that doesn't reference God.

Club President Emma Martens, a Boulder High senior who's leading the protest, wrote this new version: "I pledge allegiance to the flag and my constitutional rights with which it comes. And to the diversity, in which our nation stands, one nation, part of one planet, with liberty, freedom, choice and justice for all."

Members of the student group say they have three main gripes with theway the traditional pledge is read at the start of second-period classes: It takes away from school time; it's ignored or disrespected by mocking teens; and the phrase, "one nation, under God," violates the separation of church and state.

Clearly, these kids could be teaching civics lessons. Emma Martens' version is actually closer to the original than most people might think.

For one thing, there was no Pledge of Allegiance until it was created by Baptist minister, Francis Bellamy in 1892, almost 116 years after the American colonies had declared their independence from Britain. Bellamy was asked to write the pledge by Youth Companion magazine which was selling flags to schools. In fact, the pledge written by Bellamy was part of an advertising campaign.

The original version was somewhat different than it is today. Despite being written by a Baptist minister there was no reference to God in it. Bellamy was going to include the words equality and fraternity in it but withdrew that idea because it would have offended the racists and misogynists.

So the original was I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all, and would have been I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty, justice, equality and fraternity for all.

It changed in 1892 to correct a grammatical fault and in 1923 to clear up which flag the school children were pledging to. It was felt immigrants were confused.

It wasn't until 1954 that under God was added, at the insistence of the Knights of Columbus and Presbyterian minister George Docherty.

It's been steeped in controversy ever since. The reference to God has been the subject of many legal challenges and has more often than not been struck down as violating the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

Today, when kids actually do recite the Pledge of Allegiance, (and in many jurisdictions they cannot be compelled to participate), they place their hands over their hearts while reciting the entire pledge. It wasn't always that way.

The original version included a salute which started with hand over heart and then was elevated with arm outstretched and palm open in the direction of the flag. Known as a "Bellamy salute", it was very "Roman" and, by 1939, very Nazi. By 1942 the majority of pledgers were not raising their arms, by 1943 the practice had all but disappeared, the Daughters of the American Revolution being the last hold outs.

Considering that this pledge was originally an advertising campaign that somehow found its way into Title 4 of the US Code, used to be accompanied by a salute which fascists adored and became a constitutional controversy after being altered by religious fanatics, the students at Boulder High in Colorado have more than a point. They have tradition on their side. The thing changes and it is, after all, their country and their flag.

Now, if someone could work on Hail to the Chief....

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