Copyright © 2003 Henrietta W. Hay
Patriotism and the Pledge of Allegiance
August 15, 2003
I feel so much safer now that school is about to start. The legislature
in its infinite wisdom this year, decided to add patriotism to
academics and passed a law requiring that each morning the students and
teachers must recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.
We will have about three quarters of a million Coloradans reciting the
Pledge every morning before they start in on math and that, according
to Rep. Bill Crane, R-Arvada, "builds good patriotism and good moral
Those are certainly desirable characteristics in our young people, to
say nothing of our adult population, but I don't believe you can
legislate patriotism. Good teachers have always taught love of country,
and perhaps there should be more classes in government. But patriotism
cannot be taught by a law which requires that kids repeat 31 words,
however beautiful and significant the words may be, every school day for
Before somebody sends John Ashcroft after me, let me state that I have
recited the Pledge, and meant it, many times in my lifetime. I do
feel deep allegiance to my country but it is such a natural part of me
that I don't feel the need to brag about it. Many organizations that I
have belonged to through the years have started meetings with the
pledge. Public meetings often start with its recitation. Even sports
events sometimes start with the pledge. But it is voluntary, the
choice of the organization and of those saying the words.
Now in Colorado it is not voluntary in school. The law requires that
every day in every classroom every student and teacher must recite the
pledge. And that is the difference. I guess the governor and the Lege
felt that this would make every student in Colorado an instant
patriot. It just doesn't work that way. As a matter of fact, rote
recitation of the Pledge daily for 13 years is far more likely to
diminish the importance of the Pledge than to enhance it. The Daily
Sentinel editorialized, "Expressions of patriotism should be heartfelt,
There are limited exemptions to this government-mandated patriotism.
Students are allowed to omit reciting the pledge on religious grounds,
if they are not citizens, or if their parents have sent a letter to the
school principal requesting that they be excused. In other words,
patriotism is selective.
What exactly are we talking about? The American Heritage Dictionary
says that "patriot" means "One who loves, supports and defends ones
country." Certainly that makes me a patriot, but It does not require
me to say so every day.
How did this Pledge of Allegiance to a flag replace the U. S.
Constitution and Bill of Rights in the affections of many Americans? In
1892 a socialist Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy created it for
the "Youth's Companion", a national family magazine for young people.
There have been several changes through the years, and the controversial
phrase, "under God" was added by Congress and President Eisenhower in
Perhaps a team of social scientists and historians could explain why
over the last century the Pledge of Allegiance has become a major
centerpiece in American patriotism programs. Maybe the time has come to
remember the Declaration of Independence, "We hold these Truths to be
self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their
creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are Life,
Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness," and the Gettysburg Address,
"...a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition
that all men (and women) are created equal."
Apparently over the last century Americans have been uncomfortable with
the word "equality." Perhaps the time has come to see that this
allegiance should be to the U. S. Constitution.
But for now we are safe when school starts.