I Pledge Allegiance?

For a long while, the Pledge of Allegiance has struck me as being wrong on several grounds. Recently, its wrongness has been pressed upon me since I learned that one of my children, who has been attending a Christian school a few hours a week, has been reciting the Pledge every morning. When I discovered this, I was both surprised and perturbed. In my naïveté I did not even consider the possibility that he would be asked to take the Pledge. Since I have now been forced to articulate my previously inchoate objections, I offer them here.

Practical Objections

1) Young children who are taught to recite the Pledge are often not required to obtain parental approval. But since they are primarily under the authority of their parents and not government functionaries, it undermines parental authority if their approval is not sought.

2) Children who are taught to recite the Pledge are not often (perhaps never) given an explanation of what the words mean. What is a republic? What is liberty and justice? What five year old understands the meaning of indivisible? The Confession teaches, “Whosoever taketh an oath, ought duly to consider the weightiness of so solemn an act, and therein to avouch nothing but what he is fully persuaded is the truth.” Far from being able to duly consider the weightiness of the Pledge, the young child does not even understand what it means. It is thus unlawful for them to make such a Pledge.

3) The Pledge is typically recited daily at both government and private schools. This is, at best, unusual. Most oaths, vows, and pledges are made just once. I vowed to love, comfort, honor and protect my wife one time. For once is enough. My vow would be cheapened if I felt it necessary to say it every day or even every year.

(This is not to say there is never an occasion to for renewing an oath or vow. Think of a man who has been unfaithful to his wife. If she consents to stay with him, church officers may recommend that he repeat his vows to her again. Although not necessary, I see nothing wrong with this. There is biblical precedence for this as well. Occasionally Hebrew leaders would involve the people of Israel in ceremonies of covenant renewal.)

4) A pledge of allegiance is understandable for naturalized citizens. If a foreigner wishes to renounce his citizenship in another nation and become an American citizen, it makes sense for him to take a pledge or oath of allegiance to his new nation. Children of citizens, however, are themselves already citizens and so their allegiance to the United States should be taken for granted.

Historical Objections

1) The Pledge was written by the “Christian Socialist” Francis Bellamy in 1892. It was first used in schools that same year on Columbus Day after a Proclamation by President Harrison. In 1945, the Pledge was officially sanctioned by Congress. That there was no Pledge before these dates points to it being superfluous. If our forefathers did not make take such a pledge, why should we?

2) The thought of taking a pledge of allegiance to the United States’ flag would have struck almost everybody as odd in antebellum America. Before the War, Americans were loyal to their flag, but their flag was that of their state not the Stars and Stripes. The insidious Fourteenth Amendment made most Americans citizens of the United States and so, under it, the Pledge makes more sense. But since I reject the principles which underlie the Fourteenth Amendment I feel no compulsion to make a pledge that acknowledges its moral legitimacy.

3) The word, indivisible, is distasteful to anybody of Southern heritage or sympathies. A needless war was waged by Lincoln in order to assure that the nation would not be divided. By brute force, the South was brought to heel. As one who loves Dixie, I feel I dishonor my forefathers by taking a pledge that undermines the principles and culture for which they fought.

Factual Objections

Though the Pledge is quite short, it contains a number of false propositions.

1) The Pledge asserts that the United States is “one Nation under God.” But this is not true. Nowhere does the Constitution assert that the United States is a Christian nation. In fact, the Supreme Court regularly rules against any display of overtly Christian symbols on government owned (“public”) property.

2) The Pledge states that there is “liberty and justice for all.” This is, of course, an ideal. No nation can claim to provide absolute liberty and justice for any individual let alone all. It should thus be qualified by a verbal such as striving for or with a prepositional phrase such as with the goal of. This may seem like a cavil, but since oaths are of such great import, wording must be as accurate as possible.

3) There a too many exceptions to the “liberty and justice for all” phrase that even qualifications will not fix it. The most obvious is the unborn. They are not granted any legal protections and so there is no liberty or justice for them.

4) The Pledge claims that the nation is “indivisible.” But this is not true. It may be a fact that the nation has not been divided, but this does not mean it will not be at a future date and it certainly does not imply that it cannot be divided. There is a separatist movement in New Hampshire. Perhaps it will gain momentum and the state will one day secede from the Union. It would be silly to say to them that they desire the impossible. Impractical maybe (at least at this time), but surely not impossible.

Principled Objections

1) According to the Confession, lawful oaths and vows call upon God as witness. Though the Pledge does mention God (“one nation under God”) it does not call upon him as witness. As such it is unlawful.

2) The Pledge is made to the Flag and to the Republic for which it stands. The problem with this is that the Republic is not defined. What then are we pledging fidelity to? The Constitution? The current regime? The mere idea of an American republic? Until this is spelled it, I cannot in good conscious make the pledge, since I do not know what the pledge amounts to.

3) The Pledge is not mandatary for the citizen. In its 1940 Gobitis decision (310 US 586) the Supreme Court ruled that government schools could compel students to recite the Pledge. But this was overturned three years later it the Barnette decision (319 US 624). Today school children may choose not to say the Pledge (though they are probably not advised that it is a choice). Native adults have never been forced to say the Pledge. But the Confession teaches that these types of oaths and vows are imposed by lawful authority. Since there is no imposition, there is no reason to say the Pledge. When one does, he trivialized the practice of vow- or pledge-taking.

4) The word indivisible is zero for four. Objections have been raised against it under the previous three headings and now here. There are many things that are practically indivisible. The electron, the soul, and zero. ( I realize that a number cannot be divided by zero, but zero divided by any number is itself zero, and so, in a sense, is itself indivisible.) But only God himself is indivisible in an absolute sense. Thus to claim a nation is indivisible is to impute to it a divine attribute. This is a form of blasphemy.

5) The Pledge smacks of statism. It is one thing to pledge fidelity to a nation comprised of those of common ancestry and history. But making a pledge to a government goes against our primal inclinations. I will pledge fidelity to my wife, my family, my nation, my church, and, under the right circumstances, my king. But I find it repulsive to make such a pledge to my government. My government should make a pledge to me and the rest of the citizens.


As a Christian, I am not, in principle, against making a pledge of allegiance to a nation. There may be appropriate occasions for some people to make a pledge, provided that the pledge is grounded in truth and is theologically sound. But I am against taking this particular Pledge. If a better one is ever recommended, I will be happy to consider it.

12 thoughts on “I Pledge Allegiance?

  1. Excellent work! I had hoped to add something, but my every objection seems to be already stated in more precise phraseology than I could have provided. I hope some nay-sayer will stop by so that you will have the opportunity to add an “objections answered” portion.

  2. I appreciate this, as well. I discontinued my flag-allegiance-pledging when I read a brief critique many years ago, but since I spend little time in the indoctrination camps (government schule), and only catch a Braves game every other year or so (at which the beer in one hand and the hotdog in the other make my failure to place hand over heart less odious to my fellow sports worshipper joining me in the solemn occasion), my decision is not on my mind often.

    Just last week, however, I took my daughter to a zoning meeting in Amherst County, because the siting of a regional jail was on the agenda (if anyone wants me to help with date ideas, I am a mastermind in that area, as you can tell). Of course, we were all duly instructed to rise and pledge. My daughter and I rose, but didn’t pledge. She didn’t ask or say anything, but I suspect the fact that she was looking around quizzically got some attention.

    I was afraid she might do something really embarassing like recite the Lord’s Prayer.

    It is good to have a refresher on my specific objections to it, and this was actually fuller than what I had previously read. So, thank you, again.

    You didn’t mention the salute that is to accompany the pledge (remember: “Attention! Salute! Pledge!”) Salute being the whole hand over the heart gesture. I’m sure you know that originally the salute consisted of jutting the right arm forward into the air at a slight upward angle, and with the hand flattened out and pointing forward (towards the sun, perhaps).

    Adolf thought it looked real neat, too. Of course, our statism is warmer and cozier than his, and so we want our government to be near to our heart, filling it with all its benevolent protection. Thus the symbol of hand to the breast.

    I don’t actualy know the stated reason for the change, but I imagine it has something to do with how tightly packed the sardines (pupils/subjects) are in the indoctrination chambers of our government institutions for young citizens. The original salute probably resulted in too many head and neck injuries resulting from wide-eyed enthusiastic automatons jabbing their excited little hands forward into the spinal cords of their cellmates unfortunate enough to have been ordered to stand on a spot directly in front of these future teachers and social workers.

    I imagine an agency was created to look into the problem (National Board of Allegiance Pledging Hazard Reduction, perhaps). And after twenty years or so, 200 bureacrats probably came up with the idea accidentally when one of them,in the middle of a pledge, had his monocle fall out of his left eye. Instinctively, he retracted his outstretched right arm to halt the lense’s descent, and lo and behold, hand met glass in the nick of time upon the left breast–over the heart, no less.

    And thus I suspect our current salute was scientifically arrived at by that government which is so eager to secure perpetual oblations of allegiance pledging, rising like a sweet-smelling aroma to its throneroom–the government school principal’s office.


  3. MAB,
    Building on your comments, an additional objection to the pledge could be its humanistic liturgy.

    The pledge is not made either:
    (a) calling upon God as a witness to the pledge, or
    (b) calling upon God for assistance in keeping the pledge. Indeed, even the term “under God” was added to the pledge as a bit of an after-thought.

    Instead, as you note, the custom is for the one pledging to place his hand over his heart, as though to swear by his own name (for he cannot swear by any higher) that his intent is true, and by his own strength that he will perform.

    Both of these would seem to be further valid objections to the pledge as it currently stands.


  4. That the hand over the heart is akin to swearing by one’s own name is interesting. Seems plausible. Do you have any historical support that this is the intended meaning?


  5. MAB,
    There seems to be evidence that it was originally intended to indication devotion of one’s heart. Thus, the gesture would be viewed as designating the thing devoted.
    See this account:
    “On June 14, 1889, George Balch, a kindergarten teacher in New York City, celebrated Flag Birthday in his classroom by introducing the first verbal salute to the flag. His was a simple pledge of fealty and devotion. “I give my heart and my hand to my country—one country, one language, one flag.” The words were accompanied by a ritualistic physical salute. Students touched first their foreheads, then their hearts and then recited the pledge with a right arm stretched out and palms down in the direction of the flag. When they completed the salute they chanted, “One County! One Language! One Flag!””
    Found here:

    However, it has also been treated as though the hand were being used for the oath-taking purpose, and thus as though indicating the thing relied upon.
    See this account:
    “According to Colonel Moss, no disrespect is displayed by giving the Pledge with a gloved hand over the heart, but he calls our attention to the fact that an Army Officer or an enlisted man always removes his right glove upon taking his oath as a witness. The Daughters of the American Revolution follow the custom of having the right hand ungloved.”
    Found here: http://www.flagday.org/Pages/StoryofPledge.html

    Hence my careful worded criticism read: “as though.”

  6. Well, it seems plausible from what you have said here, because when swearing on the Bible, the hand is placed upon it, often with the other hand raised. I wonder if that signifies reliance upon God? Velly interessssstink.

  7. I enjoyed the post as well. I personally have had misgivings about the Pledge of Allegiance (chiefly with the word “indivisible” — some Confederate misgivings there), but I did not liken it to an oath. In the military, when you take an oath, you say what you are going to do. I think all oaths are that way.

    Instead, in the Pledge of Allegiance, you state what you believe. This is why I think a Christian school should substitute the Apostles’ Creed or Lord’s Prayer in the place of the Pledge of Allegiance. They are being taught that their loyalty is first to their country. I have nothing against patriotism, but quite frankly it bothers me when children confess their beliefs about their country every day. It seems overkill, and it seems quite obvious that the state has been our chief religion.

    With reference to the hand over the heart, I don’t buy that you are swearing by yourself. As I already noted, in an oath you promise to do something. In the pledge you are promising to do nothing. Also, when singing the National Anthem, you are also to put your hand over your heart. The same is true during colors ceremonies on bases. Putting your hand over your heart is like saluting; it’s not like swearing. I do think a decent amount of respect should be given to our country (not to one man, and not to one form of government either — but certainly our country is a bigger thing than that).

    Again, I liked your comments. Most of my comments will only make sense you if try to imagine things from a military perspective.

  8. I grew up in a military family, so I understand the tension. It is an uneasy spot to be opposed to the hippie peaceniks, but also have some misgivings about the use of our military by a government that has rejected the Supreme Command, so to speak.

    I have a law professor who was a Marine most of his life, and I think he has done well trying to balance the tension, but he recently retired, largely because he felt the tension beoming more and more unresolvable. I don’t want to speak too much for him, though, he probably has a clearer explanation.

    Your take on the pledge and the hand over the heart is interesting, but I would disagree with your statement that you are promising to do nothing when reciting it. It is a pledge of allegiance. A pledge is by definition a promise, only one more strongly and emphatically given. What you are promising is allegiance to, essentially, the government, not the nation, arguably.

    I don’t think such a pledge is in all circumstances inappropriate, but at this time in our history, I do not think our national government is on the Lord’s side (none ever perfectly accomplish this, but at least shooting to be on the Lord’s side is necessary, I believe). Therefore, I cannot in good conscience pledge allegiance to any entity I believe to be engaged against my King.

    As Patrick Henry said, roughly, I think to do so would amount to treason against the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

    As to the hand over the heart, if it is a salute, why do we not simply do the standard military salute? Do you know? I’m curious if anyone knows the history of why that salute was selected.


  9. MAB,
    As another poster pointed out, originally, there was a salute (the stiff right armed one made infamous by Hitler and the National Socialist Party), and the change was likely made to differentiate the good American nationalism from the evil German nationalism.
    I disagree that the hand laid flat over the heart is a salute, but I may stand alone. It is, in my view, either simply the object of the pledge (as in “I pledge my heart to my country”) or the basis of reliance for the pledge (“upon my heart” or “cross my heart and hope to die”).
    The former makes little sense in the context of repeated oaths, but the latter seems (at least to me) more reasonable.

  10. I thought the change came earlier than Hitler’s rise to power, but I’m on shaky historical ground there. Perhaps I should take a trip to Wikipedia.


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