by Gary Curtis
Earlier this week, I attended the Board of Directors meeting for our 55+ senior community. The meeting was called to order and hundreds of Baby Boomers stood with their hands over their hearts and recited the brief, 31-word Pledge of Allegiance, exactly as they had done since their childhood:
“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.”
June 14 is observed as “Flag Day,” in what radio commentator Michael Medvid calls “this greatest nation on God’s green earth.” Interestingly, it is also the birthday of our 45th president, Donald J. Trump.
This national banner, our “stars and stripes,” has not always had the institutionalized form of patriotic recognition, which this pledge provides. Over the more than two centuries of our nation’s existence, millions upon millions of members in our armed forces have pledged their support to defend with their lives the Constitution of the United States and our great democratic way of life. But, for well over a century, average citizens have shared their patriotic allegiance to this nation, with its values and dreams, by voluntarily reciting this public Pledge of Allegiance.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the pledge originated as part of a patriotic program for schoolchildren at the dedication of a prominent exhibition for the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New Word, in October 1892. Just a quarter-century after the end of our Civil War, this original pledge invoked allegiance to one indivisible nation:
“I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands — one Nation indivisible — with liberty and justice for all.”
This original version remained in public use until 1923, when the words “my flag” were changed to “the Flag of the United States.” The following year the Pledge was modified again with the addition “of America” after “Flag of the United States,” to help clarify to immigrants which country’s flag they were pledging their new allegiance. This version of the Pledge was then codified by Congress into Public Law in 1942, as patriotism swelled following the attack on Pearl Harbor and our entrance into wars on two fronts.
The Pledge remained unchanged until the realities of the “Cold War” swept across our nation in the early 1950s. Atheistic Communism was resisted in the West and religious leaders reminded Americans that our nation was founded by “religious people” (as noted in the Declaration of Independence) with monotheistic, Judeo-Christian principles and precepts:
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” (Ps. 33:12)
Soon, a new sense of a national conscience and patriotism prompted Congress to pass a bill adding the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed it into law on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.
Shortly, legislation to add the motto “In God We Trust” to our currency (already existent on our coins) was passed in 1955; and in 1956 the unofficial national motto “E Pluribus Unum” (out of many, one) was changed when “In God We Trust” was officially adopted.
Collectively, these measures (less than eight decades ago) form a public testament to a shared religious ethos, backed by the First Amendment to our Constitution, which provided “free expression” of religious freedoms and practices. The Supreme Court has even acknowledged an American “civil religion,” which allows public expressions of non-sectarian religious faith in certain public, ceremonial events.
Jesus told His disciples to give to Caesar the recognition due him and to God the allegiance due Him. So, in settings where a “civil religion” might call for a patriotic allegiance, the national pledge seems appropriate and even desirable.
But, as “a religious person” and follower of Jesus Christ, I also want to teach my grandchildren a more personal expression of my devotion to God, with this heartfelt recitation:
I Pledge Allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Savior for whose kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe.