The Pledge of Allegiance’s ban by a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will probably have been reversed and the public furor will have faded away by the time this issue of your favorite journal reaches you. In the end, all that will have happened is that the politicians will have enjoyed an opportunity to exhibit their courageous support for God and the flag.
In the last half-century, federal courts have rearranged race relations in America in a way that has affected private as well as public life; they have overturned most state constitutions, adopted by the people, in the interest of “one man, one vote”; they have overturned laws of most of the states in order to make possible baby-killing on a massive scale; they have taken over numerous local governments and school districts and levied taxes on citizens, though the right of the people not to be taxed without their consent has been the core principle of freedom since the Founding; they have made criminal law into a contest of technicalities rather than of proof and justice.
In short, a judicial oligarchy has seized massive amounts of power from the people and their elected representatives and has subverted the Constitution and government by the consent of the governed. In response, there have been little more than scattered murmurs from the victims.
But let the courts meddle with something really important, like the Pledge of Allegiance, and outrage knows no bounds. Of course, the pledge is not a right or a privilege or a duty; it is just a custom, and a rather pointless and intrusive one at that. As my friend the Rev. Tim Manning points out, the virtuous do not need a pledge, and the rest will not honor it anyway.
A look at the history of the pledge to the national flag, which is actually a pledge of allegiance not to the country or the people but to the federal government, reveals the great irony of the recent controversy.
Such pledges did not mark the early years of the United States. They were unknown until they were employed as coercive devices in the South during the War Between the States and Reconstruction. The Constitution of the United States does not require pledges to the flag or to the government. What the Founding Fathers called for is an oath to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States.
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a defrocked Boston minister and Marxist, for a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage to the New World. It was promoted by the National Education Association as a way to enforce conformity to “Americanism” among its captive students, especially first- and second-generation immigrants.
The pledge became pervasive during the public frenzy of World War I, when dissenters or suspected dissenters from “100-percent Americanism” were subject to harassment—and worse—from petty officialdom nearly everywhere. Meanwhile, the pledge was recited with great verve at Ku Klux Klan rallies during the 1920’s, under batteries of United States (not Confederate) flags.
It was not until 1954 that the “offensive” phrase “under God” was inserted into the pledge, largely the result of a lobbying campaign by the Knights of Columbus. It was a well-meaning but useless effort. It is not possible to transform what was clearly meant as a technique of mass-government-worship into something pious. Of course, I will gladly take an oath to uphold the Constitution; free people, however, should not be asked to pledge allegiance to a government’s flag.
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