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The Reflection

Our Side: The Pledge of Allegiance goes against Founding Fathers’ ideals

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For most Americans, the various icons of our country―the American flag; the Pledge of Allegiance; the National Anthem―are constants. They’re so ingrained into the public unconscious that, despite their omnipresence in our lives, many of us completely disregard them unless we’re actively participating in them. They’re practically white noise. At the same time, they’re treated with a reverence that borders on religious: the flag cannot be allowed to touch the ground; you must stand and place a hand over your heart during the Pledge; you absolutely cannot kneel during the Anthem, no matter what your reason may be.

However, America’s level of self-worship is very much not the standard in the world. In fact, while most countries have flags and many have national anthems, America is the only country which regularly recites a Pledge of Allegiance or anything similar―except for North Korea, where everyone seven years or older must pledge their allegiance to Kim Jong Un.

Now, make no mistake: it would be idiotic to claim that the situation in America is comparable to that in North Korea. The USA is not a dictatorship, nor is the Pledge of Allegiance a demand for absolute loyalty. However, the fact that no other countries have something similar to our Pledge, at the very least, shows that the USA is the outlier.

Being the outlier, of course, doesn’t automatically make the Pledge a bad thing. It does, however, prove that the Pledge of Allegiance is not a necessity. We are the exception, not the rule.

Why, then, do so many people treat the Pledge of Allegiance like an obligation that everyone must participate in?

The U.S. Supreme Court has already determined that forcing students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional; the First Amendment provides not only freedom of speech, but the freedom to remain silent. However, it’s still relatively commonplace for teachers to scold or punish students who don’t participate in the Pledge. In public places, meanwhile, those who opt not to participate are looked down upon and often openly scorned.

Those who are strongly in support of the Pledge often state that, without it, U.S. citizens would suddenly lose their patriotism.  Dozens of other countries have flourished without a Pledge of Allegiance. They haven’t crumbled or become consumed by treason and traitors.

Additionally, it’s questionable whether the Pledge of Allegiance currently inspires patriotism in U.S. citizens anyway, despite how omnipresent (and, often, mandatory) it may seem. In fact, the Pledge has been overused and repeated mechanically to the point of becoming nearly meaningless.

In preschool, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Did this nurture us into more patriotic people? Of course not―we were children who had no idea what we were even saying. We learned how to mindlessly recite a lot of words, not how to love our country. In fact, for most of our time at the preschool, we all thought that the line was “one nation, invisible,” rather than “indivisible.” Even once a teacher finally corrected us, we still didn’t know what the word “indivisible” meant.

By the time U.S. citizens are old enough to understand the Pledge, it has already become completely meaningless to us. We recite it blandly; monotonously. The only people who actually think about the words coming out of their mouths are those who are already incredibly patriotic.

So who benefits from the Pledge of Allegiance? People who care about the Pledge are already patriotic enough. People who aren’t patriotic are very unlikely to care about the Pledge. The only possible purpose for the Pledge would be to expose people―specifically, “unpatriotic” people who are “not loyal” to the United States.

Essentially, the Pledge of Allegiance is a way to identify anyone who disagrees with the government―often causing them to be shamed or punished. This isn’t an inherent part of the Pledge, but it’s a reality of the modern U.S. Attempting to force people into endorsing a government which they don’t agree with―again, often under threat of public humiliation or direct punishment―is, frankly, awful.

One of the foundational ideals of the original United States was that of free thought. Having narrowly escaped a tyrannical government, the Founding Fathers were wary of appointing a government with such power, because they knew that the government they established would not always be correct. The Pledge of Allegiance, itself, does not infringe upon this ideal (though, according to the Supreme Court, forcing people to say the Pledge does infringe on freedom of speech). However, treating those who don’t say the Pledge as traitors of some sort is essentially challenging their right to question the government.

To call the Pledge of Allegiance a brainwashing method would be overly harsh, but it is governmental propaganda, by definition. The fact that it’s so widespread―and that compliance is, if not demanded, at least expected―proves that. Even if there’s nothing wrong with it, it would still be propaganda. Being propaganda is not inherently bad; however, it’s imperative to recognize it as such. We cannot continue to treat the Pledge of Allegiance as a moral obligation. We must recognize that to value the Pledge so highly is to suggest that patriotism means to be blindly loyal to one’s country, no matter what. Such a mindset inspires jingoism and encourages people to never question their government or their political leaders, which is the exact opposite of the ideals on which America was founded.

The brave men who established this country were colloquially known as the Patriots. However, we cannot forget that their enemies were called the Loyalists. Yet, since then, patriotic and loyal have come to be known as synonyms. We must remember that the Founding Fathers were not loyal to their country―their country was England. Instead, they were patriotic towards their people, which is exactly why, when their government erred, they fought back.

To be patriotic should mean to care for one’s country, not to love it unconditionally. If anything, a truly patriotic person should always be critical of the government; we know that the government is not always right, so, if we truly love our country, we should always be trying to make the government better. We cannot rest on our laurels and assure ourselves that America can do no wrong; we need to continue working to assure that the government doesn’t do anything to hurt the United States―and that we don’t make the same mistakes we have made in the past.

1 Comment

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    Caidyn Hutchinson

    Great article with some rad points.


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