Growing up in the 1960s in the United States, I started to wonder about the validity of saying the Pledge of Allegiance. That “liberty and justice for all” part seemed a bit, let’s just say, farfetched, with discrimination based on race, gender, economic condition, and so on. It was explained to me, though, that it was not a pledge to what is, but rather what the ideal nation could be. Hmm. Well, OK.
Back in 1940, in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, the Supreme Court “ruled that public schools could compel students—in this case, Jehovah’s Witnesses—to salute the American Flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance despite the students’ religious objections to these practices.” But a mere three years later, in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette held “that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protected students from being forced to do” these things. “It was a significant court victory won by Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose religion forbade them from saluting or pledging to symbols, including symbols of political institutions.”
And that was BEFORE the addition of “under God,” to the pledge in the 1950s, instigated by a sermon by a Presbyterian minister, and easily passed by a Congress in the midst of the Red scare, so that it now reads: “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.”
More recently, I’ve been reading about Christians who do not, or did not, believe in saying the Pledge, and there seemed to be two overriding, and not mutually exclusive, reasons. One was like my early thinking, that it was untrue, and that one ought not to swear to a falsehood. More intriguing, though, is the idea that pledging allegiance to the flag equates to making an oath of loyalty to an earthly kingdom, a form of nationalistic idolatry.
Interestingly, the argument tends not to be a divide among the liberal/progressive church folks and evangelicals. Laurence Vance notes that “the United States is in fact about as far from being ‘under God’ as any country on the planet,” that it “leads the world in the incarceration rate, the total prison population, the divorce rate, car thefts, rapes, total crimes, illegal drug use, legal drug use, and Internet pornography production,” among other sins, reasons for refusing to say the pledge.
Conversely, as the Restored Church of God website points out: “Saluting the flag is merely a way of showing respect, and is not of and by itself an act of worship. God commands us, in Romans 13:1-7, to show honor and respect where they are deserved. We salute the flag not because it represents another god, but because it symbolizes the many blessings—freedom being just one—that the Eternal God has bestowed upon one’s nation.”
What say you? Is the Pledge of Allegiance a lie, idolatry or showing respect to the country? I’m particularly interested in how folks from beyond the US feel about similar pledges, if in fact there are any in their countries.