The Pledge of Allegiance 1

“I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

Christopher Reeve

“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but cannot be taken away unless it is surrendered.”

Michael J. Fox

While listening to Gabby Gifford*, a Democratic congresswoman from Arizona who had suffered horrific injuries during an assassination attempt, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, I marveled at the fact that this patriotic text is so uniquely American. And having it recited by a disabled woman gave it even more meaning and substance. I have spoken about it many times to my students without really conveying to them the full importance of this “promise” or “prayer” that Americans have been saying for over a century.

What is it exactly and how does it differ from the National Anthem “The Star Spangled Banner”? The Anthem is like a rallying cry to unite Americans whereas the Pledge of Allegiance is an oath pronounced to demonstrate one’s patriotism to the country.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a Baptist minister Francis Bellamy (1855–1931) to enable school children to express their loyalty to the Stars and Stripes (the Federal flag) and to the republic (different from the UK, New Zeeland, and Canada who pledge their allegiance to the “Crown”). Bellamy felt that the new-found patriotism which was felt after the Civil War (1860-1864) had virtually disappeared and declared “…The time was ripe for a reawakening of simple Americanism and the leaders in the new movement rightly felt that patriotic education should begin in the public schools.” And so the tradition of pronouncing the pledge at the start of every school day took hold. The patriotic act spread to other parts of society: Congress which uses the Pledge to open sessions, government meetings at local levels, meetings held by many private organizations, and the start of the Democratic and Republican conventions. The Supreme Court has since ruled that students (or others) cannot be forced to recite the Pledge (separation of Church and State as the words “under God” were added in 1952 by President Eisenhower) or punished if they wish to remain silent.

How do you pledge allegiance? According to the code written about how to respect the flag, the Pledge “should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. Members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present and not in uniform may render the military salute. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.”

*a.k.a Gabrielle Dee Giffords , born June 8, 1970,  is a Democratic congresswoman who represented the 8th district in Arizona. During a political rally in Tucson, Arizona in January, 2011, she was shot in the head in what was believed to be an assassination attempt. Critically injured, she recovered some of her ability to walk, speak, read and write in a rehabilitation center in Houston, Texas. She resigned at the beginning of 2012 after a long convalescence deciding she was no longer capable of fulfilling her duties. She remains as a symbol of democracy and courage for many Americans all politics aside.

On Liberty: “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” ~Napoleon Bonaparte

On the country that was almost divided by a civil war: “…and one nation indivisible…”

On Freedom: “Freedom is the oxygen of the soul.” ~Moshe Dayan

And “La liberté n’offre qu’une chance d’être meilleur, la servitude n’est que la certitude de devenir pire.” ~Albert Camus

Of justice: “No man is above the law and no man below it. “~Theodore Roosevelt

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