David Lias

David Lias

I don’t know if this meme is still floating around on social media. I think I first saw it a couple years ago, probably on Facebook. It was posted by someone who seems to be angry most of the time, and it stated, basically that:

"My generation grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school with our hands on our hearts. They no longer do that for fear of offending someone! Let’s see how many Americans will re-post and not care about offending someone!"

Like I said, angry. It’s also not true and maybe we don’t see as many posts like this today because Facebook appears to be trying to clean up its act.

This came to mind Monday night when, during a special meeting of the Vermillion School Board, or I should say part of the school board, President Doug Peterson began the meeting by having everyone stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

It’s been years and years since I was a grade-schooler, beginning each school day by reciting the pledge. But, I’ve done it fairly often for most of my life and continue to do so.

One of my beats here at the Plain Talk is covering local government and the Vermillion School Board and the Vermillion City Council begin each meeting by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t make it to Clay County Commission meetings as often as I’d like, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they start each meeting with the pledge, too.

The opportunities to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the community are endless, when you come to think about it. Besides our local governing bodies, it’s likely that members of every service club that meets in the community takes time to begin each of their meetings with those words we learned as young kids.

Getting back to the Pledge of Allegiance and the Facebook claim -- Students can’t be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance under a 1943 Supreme Court decision that found it violated their First Amendment rights.

But, as CNN reported in 2019, it’s still "recited in schools across the US every day by students standing stiffly with their hands over their hearts."

That year, an 11-year-old was arrested in Florida when he told a substitute teacher he would not stand for the pledge because he thought the American flag symbolized discrimination against Black people, according to CNN, though police said he was detained because he caused a disturbance at school, not because he wouldn’t say the pledge.

Other, more recent news coverage shows that students in other states also have the option to stand for the pledge.

A couple years ago, an El Paso news station reported about how remote learning has affected students reciting the pledge. Some schools and teachers are not beginning the virtual day with the pledge, according to the station, but one elementary school begins its morning announcements with the pledge.

One parent said her children recited the pledge "every day in school last year."

At Whittier Tech in Massachusetts, "each day, teachers will take attendance, classes will say the Pledge of Allegiance and announcements will be given," according to a Sept. 18 press release from the high school about welcoming students back to campus.

In Johnson City, Tenn., a news station broadcasts different school classes saying the pledge on school days.

It’s understandable that some people may get angry if they fall for false Facebook posts that claim students are no longer reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. If I had my way, these people would wise up a bit about social media. It’s not a place to obtain accurate information.

I also wish they would simply take time to do something more productive than get angry. They could try learning about the Pledge of Allegiance itself and I’m here to help.

The pledge was written in 1892 by a Christian Socialist, Francis Bellamy, as part of an advertising campaign for The Youth's Companion, one of the country's best known and highly regarded magazines. Taking advantage of deep anxiety among Anglo-Saxon Protestants about an increase in immigration during the final decades of the 19th Century, The Youth's Companion hatched a scheme to turn nationalism into profit.

Through its premium department (essentially a mail order service that sold goods at discounted prices to lure new subscribers), the magazine began selling American flags and promoting the idea of putting one in every school. Seeing the opportunity to link the magazine and its flag drive to a high-profile celebration of Columbus Day in October of 1892, one of the magazine's marketers, James Upham, asked Bellamy to craft a Pledge of Allegiance that would accompany the ceremonial raising of the flag.

Bellamy wasn’t exactly a nice guy. Some describe him as a bigot and a xenophobe. Such labels appear to be fairly accurate, considering that besides the pledge, he also made these frightening statements in an editorial for the Illustrated American:

“A democracy like ours cannot afford to throw itself open to the world...Where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another every alien immigrant of inferior race may bring corruption to the stock. There are races more or less akin to our own whom we may admit freely and get nothing but advantage by the infusion of their wholesome blood. But there are other races, which we cannot assimilate without lowering our racial standard, which we should be as sacred to us as the sanctity of our homes.”

Hence, while the Pledge of Allegiance is widely regarded as a celebration of our patriotism and the "liberty and justice" upon which our nation was founded, its genesis can be traced to far more sinister fears about the racial, ethnic, and religious contamination that many Americans believed immigrants would bring with them.

Students should also learn when and why the words “under God” were added to the pledge. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, as Americans grew increasingly concerned about the threat of communism, there was a movement to add the phrase "under God" to the pledge. This movement, which coincided with a variety of attempts to inject religion into the public sphere in order to differentiate America from the godless communists, was ultimately successful. In 1954, Congress officially recognized the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance -- over 60 years after it was originally written and almost 200 years after our founding fathers labored to establish a nation that kept the church and state separate.

Students should be taught about the great melting pot in which they live, and how America is becoming more and more diverse. That means the chances of them encountering people with different ethnic and religious backgrounds than their own are growing rapidly. There is a likelihood that a classmate, even a close friend, may abstain from reciting the pledge because of religious or other beliefs. Thus, providing time for the pledge also offers the opportunity to teach young people that citizens who choose not to recite it are not any less American.

Patriotism is an important part of being a citizen, and the pledge is part of that. But it certainly isn’t the most important criteria. Nor is it a requirement.

It’s the day-to-day stuff -- actions that usually don’t generate news -- that ultimately defines us as Americans. That’s the message our young people should and hopefully do receive early on, with no decrees from the government required.

Want to truly enjoy American liberty and justice? It’s simple. Act like an American. Watch out for your fellow women and men. You will encounter people who are hungry or have suffered loss or are hurting. Help feed and comfort them. Volunteer in your community. Pay your taxes. Deliver meals on wheels. Think about attending the community’s Veterans Day and Memorial Day services. Vote.

And, if you wish, say the Pledge of Allegiance. Understand, however, that reciting those words likely will have the least impact of everything else you have the potential to do for your country.

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