Pledge of Allegiance
The Pledge of Allegiance is a promise or oath of allegiance to the United States, and to its national flag. It is commonly recited in unison at public events, and especially in public school classrooms, where the Pledge is often a morning ritual. In its present form, the words of the Pledge are:
- I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.(36 U.S.C. § 172)
According to current U.S. custom, as codified by the United States Congress, persons are expected (but not legally required) to recite the Pledge as follows:
- by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute. (36 U.S.C. § 172)
The Pledge of Allegiance was written for the popular children's magazine Youth's Companion by socialist author and Baptist minister Francis Bellamy on 11 October 1892. It was intended as a way to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus arriving in the Americas and was first published on the following day, 12 October.
Bellamy's original Pledge read as follows: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It was seen by some as a call for national unity and wholeness after the divisive American Civil War. Bellamy had initially also considered using the words equality and fraternity but decided they were too controversial since many people still opposed equal rights for women and African Americans.
After a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison, the Pledge was first used in public schools on October 12, 1892 during Columbus Day observances. The form adopted inserted the word "to" before "the Republic," a minor matter of grammar.
In 1923 and 1924 the National Flag Conference called for the words my Flag to be changed to the Flag of the United States of America. The reason given was to ensure that immigrants knew to which flag reference was being made. The United States Congress officially recognized the Pledge on December 28, 1945.
In 1954, after a campaign initiated by the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus, Senator Homer Ferguson of Michigan sponsored a bill to amend the pledge to include the words under God, to distinguish the U.S. from the officially atheist Soviet Union, and to remove the appearance of flag and nation worship. The phrase "nation, under God" previously appeared in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and echoes the Declaration of Independence. On June 8, 1954, Congress adopted this change.
Before World War II, the Pledge was begun with the right hand over the heart during the phrase "I pledge allegiance." The arm was then extended toward the Flag at the phrase "to the Flag," and it remained outstretched during the rest of the pledge, with the palm facing upward, as if to lift the flag. An earlier version, the Bellamy salute, began with the right hand in a military salute, not over the heart. Both of these salutes differed from the Roman salute, where the palm was toward the ground. However, during the war the outstretched arm became identified with Nazism and Fascism, and the custom was changed: today the Pledge is said from beginning to end with the hand over the heart.
The Pledge is also recited before many local city council meetings and school board meetings, as well as before some school functions.
Versions of the Pledge:
- 1892 to 1923: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."
- 1923 to 1954: "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."
- 1954 to Present: "I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."
Opposition and criticism
The Pledge of Allegiance has drawn criticism over the years on several bases. Its use in government-run schools has been the most controversial. One frequent criticism is that it is pointless and may even be morally wrong to incite young children to say a pledge that they largely don't even understand. The fact that many children do not fully get what it means to make such a pledge can be easily seen from the many misunderstandings such as "one nation invisible" that are common during the recitation in lower grades.
Even before the addition of the words under God, legal challenges were frequently founded on the basis of freedom of religion.
Central to early challenges were the Jehovah's Witnesses, a Christian denomination whose beliefs preclude swearing loyalty to any power lesser than God. In the 1940 Supreme Court case Minersville School District vs. Gobitis, an 8-1 majority in the Court held that a school district's interest in promoting national unity permitted it to require Witness students to recite the Pledge along with their classmates. Gobitis was an unpopular decision, and three years later in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette, the Court reversed itself, voting 8-1 to forbid a school from requiring the Pledge.
As a result, since 1943 the public (government-run) schools have been disallowed from punishing students for not reciting the Pledge. Nonetheless, it remains taught to and expected of schoolchildren in many schools.
More specific objections have been raised since the addition of the phrase under God to the Pledge. 1954, the year of its addition, also held the height of the Cold War anti-communist movement in the United States. Anti-communist ideology in the U.S. frequently identified the Soviet states with atheism; the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy were still on the lookout for "godless Communist" infiltrators.
To many observers, the addition of under God to the Pledge at this time suggests an identification of the U.S. as an officially religious nation. To many critics, this is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion on the part of the government.
Currently the United States is the only western country where the majority of schoolchildren take a pledge of allegiance daily.
"Under God" ruling
The original pledge did not have the words "under God" in it. Those words were added on 14 June 1954 when then U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill into law that placed the words "under God" into the pledge.
The matter of the Pledge's constitutionality simmered for decades below the public eye, until June 2002. In a case (Newdow v. United States Congress) brought by an atheist father objecting to the Pledge being taught in his daughter's school, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the addition of under God unconstitutional.
Opposition to the ruling was vehement by many. Some conservative Christians, heirs to a tradition long believing itself persecuted by secularism in government, considered it an attack on faith in God. Some moderates and liberals felt that pursuing the matter was stirring up trouble, but many supported the ruling, especially atheists, secularists, and civil libertarians, most of them on the grounds that including the phrase "under God" in the Pledge violated the separation of church and state.
Shortly after the ruling's release, Judge Alfred T. Goodwin , author of the opinion in the 2-1 ruling, signed an order staying its enforcement until the full Ninth Circuit court could decide whether to hear an appeal.
The day after the ruling, the Senate voted in favor of the Pledge as it stood (Senate debate records). The House followed on, accepting a similar resolution. The Senate resolution was 99-0 (Senator Strom Thurmond could not attend due to illness); the House 416-3 with 11 abstaining. President George W. Bush and many other politicians spoke out in favor of the existing pledge.
The stay on the ruling was lifted on February 28, 2003 when the full Ninth Circuit court of appeals decided not to take the case, letting the ruling stand. A second stay was granted however, to give the school district time to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. If it had held, the court's ruling would have affected more than 9.6 million students in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Guam.
In the months following the court's decision, attorneys general from all 50 states filed papers asking the Supreme Court of the United States to review the decision, 49 of which joined a legal brief sponsored by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden . California filed a separate brief, also urging the Supreme Court to hear the case.
On January 12, 2004, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal on March 24 of the same year. Justice Antonin Scalia recused himself from the case after criticising past court judgements secularising public schools.  On June 14, 2004, the Supreme Court rejected Newdow's claim by a 8-0 vote, stating that as a non-custodial parent, he did not have sufficient custody to act as his daughter's legal representative.
Background patterns: Inconsistency in interpretation?
The points-of-view, compromises, and personal interests in the matter are viewed by some as more general patterns in the ongoing struggle over religion in government in the United States.
Some people believe that the American judges are repressive in their decisions about "God." For example, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia concluded, and Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist agreed, that "it seems to me the Court's position is the repressive one" when the Court approved of the lower court refusing to hear evidence on "God". (Wallace v. Jaffree, ). Justice Scalia has also said that courts have gone too far to keep religion out of public schools and other forums, and that the Pledge of Allegiance question would be better decided by lawmakers than judges.
And, in fact the Supreme Court has banned some expressions of "God" from public schools. For example, in 1962 the Supreme Court banned the teacher-led recitation of the invocation, "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country".  This objectionable "Almighty God" recitation was voluntary and followed the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag which itself consisted of the teacher-led repetition of the words noted above at the top of this article, claiming that America was "under God."
Also, in that 1962 case, the Court admitted that the "God save this honorable court" invocation uttered at the beginning of each Court session was a "prayer". However, the Court also said that "A religion is not established in the usual sense merely by letting those who choose to do so say the prayer that the public school teacher leads". Rather, the Court found fault with the teacher-led prayer because the State of New York had financed a religious exercise in requiring the teacher-led recitation of the prayer. The parents and the Court did not complain that the state had also "financed" the "religious exercise" in the teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance that contains the under God phrase that the 2002 ruling bans from California public schools. 
Definition of "religious exercise"
The dissenting justice in the 2002 ruling stated that the ruling conflicted with the Supreme Court's explicit statements that the "under God" part of the pledge of allegiance was merely a ceremonial reference to history and was not of religious faith. Justice brief at 1. This contrast with the 1954 House Report of the legislators who inserted the "under God" phrase into the pledge of allegiance. It said that the "under God" phrase was to "acknowledge the dependence of our people and our Government upon the moral directions of the Creator." 154 U.S.C.A.A.N 2339, 2340.
The plaintiff, Michael Newdow, an atheist, was offended by the phrase "In God we trust" on the coins in his pocket, believing that "In God We Trust" is a state sponsored statement of religious faith - illegal under the separation of church and state.  He argued that he had a right to bring up his daughter "without God being imposed into her life by her schoolteachers". CNN phone interview.
Some of the judges in the 2002 ruling agreed that Mr. Newdow had a right to direct the religious education of his daughter. Justice brief at 3. Mr. Newdow explained his view of 'freedom of religious exercise': by asking whether Christians would be glad if the atheists were in the majority and if the atheists inserted into the pledge of allegiance the phrase "one nation under NO God". CNN phone interview.
- Attorneys general ask pledge reversal, Associated Press, June 11, 2003
- Lawmakers blast Pledge ruling, CNN, June 27, 2002
- Commentary on the Pledge of Allegiance by Red Skelton
- Change UNDER GOD to UNDER GOOD by Charles Tandy