Religious Minorities

America’s Pledge Of Allegiance Was Originally Secular

  Rob Boston

The Republican National Convention wraps up today. Observers have noted that many speakers have highlighted culture war themes as they’ve attempted to portray the Democrats as hostile toward faith.

Some of the allegations made aren’t accurate, though. For example, a story is circulating that the Democrats omitted the phrase “under God” when they recited the Pledge of Allegiance, a claim President Donald Trump has repeated. It’s not true.

Here’s what really happened: The Pledge of Allegiance was recited each day during the Democratic convention, and “under God” was included every time when the delegates met en masse. However, several caucuses affiliated with the party held their own meetings during the convention, and in two cases – gatherings of the LGBTQ Caucus and the Muslim Delegates Assembly – the phrase was not included.

But let’s say “under God” had been omitted every time during the convention. Would that be such a big deal? One could argue that such an action would have been merely honoring the Pledge as it was originally written.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by the Rev. Francis Bellamy to mark the 400th anniversary of the voyage of Christopher Columbus, and at that time, it didn’t contain the words “under God.” That was phrase was added 62 years later, long after Bellamy’s death.

Bellamy had been kicked out of his pulpit for being too radical – he was a firebrand socialist – and found work at a popular magazine called The Youth’s Companion. The magazine was sponsoring a campaign to get American flags, which the publication just happened to sell, into public schools. As part of the project, Bellamy designed a flag-salute ritual and penned the Pledge. In June of that year, Congress and President Benjamin Harrison endorsed the Pledge for use in public schools. Daily recitation became a popular ritual in schools, although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that students can’t be compelled to take part.

Bellamy’s original Pledge read, “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” It has been altered twice. In 1923 the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution successfully petitioned to have “my flag” changed to “the flag of the United States of America.” In 1954, “under God” was added after a lobbying campaign led primarily by the Knights of Columbus. The change was seen as a blow against our mortal foes in what was then Soviet Russia, who were often tarred as being “godless.”

Conservatives often portray themselves as guardians of tradition and old-fashioned values. The Pledge’s history shows that it was originally a secular statement of patriotism. That heritage should be valued, not denigrated.

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