Yesterday marked the 60th birthday of the Pledge of Allegiance, which was officially recognized by Congress on December 28, 1945. The Pledge has been a source of great controversy lately, with the words "under God" being challenged as a violation of the US Constitution's anti-establishment clause. But that controversy, while important insofar as it speaks to the issue of whether or not a person must recognize the existence and supremacy of a deity to be a good citizen of a secular nation, may blind us to the greater trouble with the Pledge of Allegiance.
I remember in elementary school being forced (though socially more than officially - I never had the inclination or the courage to challenge this practice) to recite the Pledge from memory. Its words - much like the words to the Lord's Prayer or the Apostle's Creed at church - were burned into my brain against my will. Did that forced and rote recitation ensure that I would be a loyal citizen of the United States of America? I doubt it. In fact, other than perhaps having some sort of unconscious symbolic value, I can't see what saying the Pledge did other than reinforce a sense of powerlessness in the face of authority.
In our country at this moment feeling powerless in the face of authority is a very dangerous thing. The executive branch of our government, inexplicably still feeling drunk on its post 9-11 glory despite a string of abject failures, is testing the limits of its power. US citizens inside the United States are being spied on by our government without warrants and without the consent of the legislative or judicial branches of our government. US citizens are being held indefinitely as so-called "enemy combatants" without legal recourse on the orders of the executive branch.
These breaches of civil liberties (even civil rights!) are being brought about by the unilateral decree of a single branch of the government, which grows increasingly unchecked by the other two branches. This expansion of executive power - supposedly necessitated by our perpetual war against an idea and our unjust war in Iraq - makes me fear that the real purpose of the Pledge is to subtly train the resistance out of our children before they have a chance to cry "foul" at the injustices being perpetrated in their and our names.
But, even if that is not the case, I still don't like the Pledge of Allegiance. This is not because I don't feel loyal to our country. I am a loyal citizen of the United States - though I feel that part of my loyalty to this country is to hold it morally accountable when it tramples the God-given freedoms of its citizens and members of the international community. I don't like the Pledge of Allegiance, first and foremost not for any ideological reason, but simply because, on the surface, it doesn't make any sense.
"I pledge allegiance to the flag..." The flag! I have just sworn my undying allegiance to a piece of fabric! I know that I have been getting on my own religious community for being too literal minded and not seeing symbolism, but come on! I don't see another way to take that statement. Before you pledge your allegiance to the nation for which the flag stands, thus obtaining the symbolic value of the flag, you have to pledge your allegiance to the flag itself.
But how would that flag hold you to your oath? What would that flag get from your allegiance, and what would it offer in return?
I'm not saying that the language of the Pledge is some kind of evil scheme to get us to idolatrously pledge ourselves to fabric. Rather I'm saying that aside from being an unnecessary imposition on the free wills of children, the Pledge of Allegiance is a shabby and hastily written composition which is literally meaningless because it binds us by our oath to a piece of fabric.
Oh, well... Happy birthday, Pledge. Now, go away!
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