“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.”
You’ve probably recited it a million times. Every day in elementary school. As part of Memorial Day or Veterans Day ceremonies. Perhaps as an opening to meetings of civic organizations or governmental proceedings.
But do you really think about what the words mean?
I’m not talking about it’s political or sentimental origins or Supreme Court decisions on the legality to refuse to recite it or to mandate that others recite it. Nothing so controversial.
And with all due respect, I’m also not talking either about any sentimental or profound interpretation of it by an inspiring speaker. When I was a child a fast food chain issued 45 rpm recordings of television and radio comedian Red Skelton’s dramatic interpretation of it. Nor am I about to urge you to sincerely utter it out of respect for those who have given their lives for our freedoms.
I’d simply like to challenge you to think, regardless of your political or philosophical leanings. I’d like to encourage you to actually consider and digest the meaning of the words we so often drone through mindlessly and complacently without giving a second thought to what we’re saying.
- I pledge [a serious promise or agreement]
- allegiance [ loyalty to a person, country, group, etc.]
- to the Flag [ Consider these words of President Woodrow Wilson to luncheon in New York City in 1915- “I see alternate strips of parchment upon which are written the rights of liberty and justice, and stripes of blood to vindicate those rights, and then, in the corner, a prediction of the blue serene into which every nation may swim which stands for these great things.” Sure, it’s a piece of cloth, but it is a symbol. Ah, but this isn’t merely a symbol of nationalism or puffed up patriotism, or even of veterans’ sacrifices; it symbolizes principles- specifically liberty & justice.]
- of the United States of America [ Think about the Preamble to the Constitution here; “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” What is meant by unity? Is it our nation’s motto, “E Pluribus Unim?” From Many, One. After all, let’s face it, this exercise is intended to promote unity. Don’t believe me? Read about it’s history yourself.]
- and to the Republic for which it stands, [I tell my students not to think about the old republic in the Star Wars movies, nor of the Republican party, but of the “republican principles which James Madison talks about in Federalist Paper #51; Representative government, Federalism (power limited & shared between tiers of government, separation of powers and checks-and-balances between the three branches of government and balancing the interests of the majority with the rights of minorities by balancing the various factions of our large and diverse population). If you don’t understand these, let alone agree with them, what business do you have pledging your allegiance to this republic? Don’t we have a responsibility to ourselves and our fellow citizens to learn about and understand our own system of government?]
- one nation, under God, indivisible, [“impossible to divide or separate : not divisible” kind of like prime numerals in Math class. We are one. Even our deepest racial, political and RELIGIOUS (I wasn’t glossing over it) differences should not, can not divide us- we are pledging not to let it when we pledge allegiance. You see, if “We the people” ARE the government because WE ordain and establish our Constitution, because Lincoln urged us not to let government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people perish from this Earth- then we are pledging our allegiance, not to the flag, not just to the republic, but TO EACH OTHER. Even the “others” that are different from ourselves, even to the others with whom we disagree or whom we fear or disrespect. One group may want to emphasize “under God” so that they can subjugate segments of the population under their own interpretation of God’s laws. My understanding of the Bible and the God of the Bible is that we all need to “love mercy, act justly and walk humbly with our God” Micah 6:8- that precludes coercing my fellow citizens into believing what I believe. Whatever you believe about religion, please notice that the “under God” is inserted between “one nation” and “indivisible.” Christian, Jew, Gentile, Atheist or Agnostic, we are all one, like it or not. Are we going to let religion divide us? Then we’re liars and hypocrites when we take this pledge. Pretty sure most major religions say that lying is a sin. Remember that.]
- with liberty [ Merriam & Webster say this- “1: the quality or state of being free:
a : the power to do as one pleases
b : freedom from physical restraint
c : freedom from arbitrary or despotic control
d : the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges
e : the power of choice”
I say that it’s not just a synonym for “freedom,” but it is the power and opportunity to participate in the republic, it is the ability to exercise your inherent, Creator-endowed rights. If an when any of us curtail, abridge, erode or deny any of these of any other human beings, we are degrading and dissolving our very own rights as well. “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.”–Abraham Lincoln.]
- and justice [ I teach my students that this isn’t just fairness, nor is it just enforcing laws and imposing penalties for violating laws- it is the very act of participating in the social contract itself. “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…” in short, justice is making sure that there is liberty. Perhaps that’s why the two words are usually used together. Princeton University professor Cornell West once said that “Justice is what love looks like in public.” That resonates with my religious beliefs since Jesus taught again and again to love one another, to love they neighbor as thyself and even to love your enemies. But why not look at what Merriam and Webster have to say about it-
Full Definition of justice
“1 a : the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments
b : judge
c : the administration of law; especially : the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
2 a : the quality of being just, impartial, or fair
b (1) : the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) : conformity to this principle or ideal : righteousness
c : the quality of conforming to law
3: conformity to truth, fact, or reason : correctness”]
- for all.” [ALL as in EVERYBODY, not just males, or Whites, or wealthy or Christian- not even just naturalized, legal U.S. citizens, EVERYbody, EVERYONE ALL HUMAN BEINGS.]
Yes, I’m saying that if you pledge allegiance to the republic for which that flag stands, you are promising to offer liberty and justice to ALL as a member of that nation. Did you realize that? Has that ever occurred to you? Are you still prepared to make a solemn oath be before God that you will be loyal to such a republic? One “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal?”
Is that “just my interpretation.” Sure, okay, I’ll stipulate as to that. But if you disagree with my interpretation, then what DO these words all mean? Have you ever thought about it? Does it matter to you? Shouldn’t it?
Shouldn’t you think about what your pledging before you make a pledge?
Maybe that’s why so many religious groups have gone before the U.S. Supreme court to argue that they have the liberty NOT to recite the pledge of allegiance, because they believed Jesus when He taught in the sermon on the mount,
“33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” ~Matthew 5:34-37