April 24, 2008

Wiki Thursday: Pledge Criticism

Following on last night's story, I looked up the Pledge on Wikipedia and thought I'd take a couple of moments to discuss my feelings about the Pledge itself. Lest I be misunderstood.

If you love your country (and your country is the united States of America) and you interpret the Pledge as simply an expression of those feelings, it will probably puzzle you why anyone should object to the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Pledge of Allegiance criticism

The criticism of the Pledge of Allegiance of the United States exists on several grounds. Its use in public schools has been the most controversial, as critics contend that a government-sanctioned endorsement of religion violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Critics feel that that the pledge is incompatible with democracy and freedom, and suggest that pledges of allegiance are features of totalitarian states like Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

You can visit the article for the different challenges to public school recitation of the pledge. I figured I'd give a brief summary of my objections, and then some positive comments.

  1. The pledge, to me, evokes totalitarianism. Its author was a Christian Socialist and to me a loyalty oath is the antithesis of the libertarian and liberal spirit I love about my country.
  2. The pledge is being used to promote theism. If the purpose of the pledge is simply to strengthen the connection among countrymen and promote interest in the common good and protection of your countrymen, why is it necessary to reinforce certain belief systems which are not universal? "Under God," in any case, dilutes the Pledge.
  3. I think expressions of dedication ought to be somewhat spontaneous, not prescribed by a government organization. I think it loses meaning when one is required to recite a pledge. The purpose is not an expression of allegiance, but an effort to encourage allegiance.
  4. I question how chanting actually encourages allegiance, especially when the meaning is lost on many people. And even if it were effective, its effectiveness without meaning is empty. Blind allegiance is not necessarily a virtue. I prefer meaningful allegiance.
  5. Following on #4, allegiance to a flag is symbolic. Why not a pledge regarding ideas? Such as the ideas in our groundbreaking Constitution. Are the ideas really that inaccessible?

What do I like about the Pledge? While the Pledge itself is flawed, I believe that the intentions of most of the people who support the Pledge are in the correct place. I am fond of an open and liberal society. I often find myself agreeing with libertarian opinions. But I don't believe that liberty alone gets you very far. I think we need to love our country because why else would we care to want to improve it or help it succeed? Selfish reasons alone are not enough.

Recognizing how other people have given of themselves to the common good of the country is a much better way to honor and promote values that hold our society together.

Posted by James at April 24, 2008 9:43 AM
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Interesting how the children's salute in that photo was so thoroughly appropriated by the Nazi party that I can no longer see one without thinking of the other. A nice subtle allusion to your totalitarianism point?

Posted by: Mike at April 24, 2008 10:24 AM

I refused to do the pledge in high school on the basis of the 5th point (and 2nd). Why am I pledging to a flag? I told my teacher if it was a pledge to the Constitution or to my fellow citizens, then I'd do it (if the god bit was also dropped). I don't even want pledge to the "Republic for which it stands." As we've seen in the last 8 years, the Republic can go off the rails. At some point I may need to protect the Constitution and the people from the Republic. Might need to dump some tea somewhere or something. If I've pledge to the Republic, how can I later act in opposition to it?

Posted by: Jef Nickerson at April 24, 2008 10:57 AM

I have a feeling this blog entry may be the new "Top 10 Reasons..." post. You are going to get a lot of traffic, my friend.

Anyhoo...Knowing the "under god" bit was added during the Red Scare ought to tell you how sad it is. And we can thank the Knights of Columbus for that bit of stupidity. Goodness, people! If you're going to get all excited about something, could you make it a meaningful cause?

Ah, the Pledge of Allegiance. How quaint. I really don't see the point of the Pledge, personally. It's an anachronism.

Let me paraphrase Barbara Bush, when she wondered why we should hear about body bags and death from the Iraq war: Why should I waste my beautiful mind on the Pledge of Allegiance?

(Yes, she really did say this: http://www.snopes.com/POLITICS/QUOTES/barbara.asp)

Posted by: Patti M. at April 24, 2008 11:36 AM

Oddly enough, in my high school the "under God" bit was dropped. It was there in elementary school, where I dutifully recited it (because I hadn't developed an opinion about it at that point). By the time high school rolled around, the words and the ritualistic requirement started to bother me. However, I was happy to see that my high school decided to opt out of the "under God" clause.

Posted by: Kitten Herder at April 24, 2008 12:01 PM

Mike, I found that image striking, but of course that was before people associated such a salute with Nazism.

It is a bit interesting how we interpret different gestures.

Wikimedia go the public domain photo from this site: http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/rise_of_american_fascism.htm

Posted by: James at April 24, 2008 12:30 PM

Oops - I meant selfish reasons are NOT enough. Gotta fix that.

Posted by: James at April 24, 2008 12:31 PM

It's particularly meaningless to the little kids who don't even understand what they're saying. I couldn't even read yet, never mind tell you what "allegiance" was. The P was just a bunch of syllables.

The funny thing is that "under God" wasn't even in the original. I know it got added later, but I also know some schools didn't use it - I went to three Catholic schools, and at the first one (where they were very old-fashioned) and I am pretty sure we didn't say "under God."

I had to switch schools for the fourth grade, and I was confused when the familiar line was broken up with three extra "blah blah blah" syllables. Naturally, the teacher assumed that I was a total simpleton. At that point in my life, I didn't care what I was saying - I just wanted to know what I was supposed to do to avoid getting yelled at!

I don't even remember doing the P in high school. If we did it at all, we probably just stood up and listened to the announcement girl on the loudspeaker.

Posted by: Julie at April 24, 2008 2:52 PM

I went to private school and then parochial high school and I don't remember saying it at all. Maybe at big assemblies. I certainly knew it, so we must have said it at some point, but understand that the only thing the kids at my private school had any allegiance to was money. Anything else is a big joke, something you can say so the common people think you're one of them, but certainly not something you mean. Maybe people are starting to get that's how rich people think.

The flag is unfortunately a large part of Girl Scouts. In our troop, we don't do a flag ceremony very often. At our last big ceremony, the girls didn't want to do it, so they wrote poems about the flag instead. At least they researched it and said something that meant something to them.

Posted by: Maggie at April 25, 2008 8:26 AM

At our last big ceremony, the girls didn't want to do it, so they wrote poems about the flag instead. At least they researched it and said something that meant something to them.

That sounds like a fun and creative activity--learn about the American flag, its various iterations over the years, and then compose a poem.

It reads to me as a good expenditure of time--not mumbling something that has lost meaning due to mindless repetiton.

Posted by: Patti M. at April 25, 2008 2:01 PM

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