I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free; and I won’t forget the men [and women] who died to give that right to me. And I’ll gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today, ’cause there
ain’t no isn’t any doubt I love this land. [My personal patriotic statement ends there; I see no need to call upon a deity to bless my country.]
When the National Anthem plays, I sing. When my family discusses current events and aspects of American politics or society that may be less than perfect, I’m quick to remind my children that, despite its imperfections, American is the greatest country in the world and we’re extremely lucky to live here. When I’m at a gathering that recites the Pledge of Allegiance, I put my hand over my heart, face the flag, and unhesitatingly state my commitment to America.
However, I leave out two words: “under God.”
I made that change in my recitation a few years ago, for a couple of reasons.
First, I don’t believe that our nation is “under God.” As a musician, I don’t mind singing songs that have religious words or themes, because it’s a performance — I’m not making a personal statement of belief. But the Pledge is a personal statement of my patriotism, and I want every word of it to be my truth.
Second, the original Pledge didn’t include the words “under God”; President Eisenhower added them gratuitously in 1954.
1892: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”
1892 to 1923: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”
1923 to 1954: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”
1954 to Present: “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.”
It happens that my daughter (a high-school sophomore) also prefers not to say the words “under God” when she recites the Pledge of Allegiance. She has a friend who would rather not say the Pledge at all. Last year, they were able to act on their preferences every morning at school; students could stand and say the Pledge, or not, as they chose. But this year, the principal announced a new policy: all students must rise, must place their hands over their hearts, and must recite the Pledge, unless they have a note from their parents asking that they be excused from doing so.
I located the relevant portion of Indiana state law, which is as follows:
The governing body of each school corporation shall provide a daily opportunity for students of the school corporation to voluntarily recite the Pledge of Allegiance in each classroom or on school grounds. A student is exempt from participation in the Pledge of Allegiance and may not be required to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance if: (1) the student chooses to not participate; or (2) the student’s parent chooses to have the student not participate. Ind. Code §20-30-5-0.5.
Based on exception (1), students have the right to individually choose not to participate; a parental note is necessary only if the parent is making the decision for the child. As such, it appears that my daughter’s school’s policy is more restrictive than state law requires. I wrote to the principal, and he called to say that the change in policy came at the behest of the district superintendent. Apparently a student reported to his parents that not everyone was saying the Pledge at school; the parents called the superintendent to complain about the lack of patriotism, and the superintendent ordered that said patriotism be vigorously enforced in the schools this year — never mind the state law.
The principal said that he’d ask the district administration to investigate the legal fine points of the current policy and that he’d get back with me. I’m still waiting, and I’m willing to wait until September; after that, I’ll go the administration myself and, if necessary, the school board, to ask that they bring the school policy into compliance with Indiana law.
In 1954, when Eisenhower signed the words “under God” into law as part of the Pledge of Allegiance, he said the following:
From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty.
That’s a scary statement.
I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free from state-established religion. But apparently the First Amendment hasn’t trickled down to our local school system, where patriotic and religious coercion currently take place daily in every classroom.