Last week a federal court in San Francisco declared the phrase “under God” unconstitutional in the pledge of allegiance. This prompted the usual suspects to put up their usual clamor, as in “This is another example of the persecution of Christians!” and “We’re playing right into the Soviet Union’s hands!” (Seriously—everyone raise a hand who knows someone who thinks the Soviet Union still exists. I have a family member who said, when the Berlin Wall came down, “It’s a trick.”)
In the midst of all the clamor, I don’t see anyone stating the obvious, which is the fact that complaining about “under God” in the pledge of allegiance is like complaining about finding a fishhook in your tainted salmon. The pledge is a ridiculous waste of schoolchildren’s time, whether it’s two words shorter or not.
As a reminder, here it is: 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.
Now, surely I’m not the only person who realizes that everything after the word “stands” is fluff. It’s irrelevant. It’s nothing more than a description of the republic for which the flag stands, and as such it’s unnecessary. You’ve already pledged allegiance to the flag and the republic, so there’s no need for a commercial at the end. It might as well say 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, the land of the free and the home of the brave, a place with 50 states, and the birthplace of jazz, professional baseball, and David Letterman.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a believer or not: “Under God” has nothing to do with what you’ve pledged allegiance to. It’s fluff, and it’s fluff that was crammed into the pledge in the 1950s to show the Russians that we were just as good at indoctrinating kids as they were. I'll assume there were protests at the time, protests that they should be taking stuff out of the pledge instead of putting stuff in, although now that I think of it I’m sure that would have prompted a visit from HUAC.
So now for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that the fluff is gone, and that the pledge is down to its bare bones: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands. Now what do we do with it?
Do we make people say it every day? Well, that seems silly. It’s a pledge. Once you’ve pledged something, you’ve pledged it. If someone comes along and tries to make you pledge it a second time, your reaction should be “No, thanks, I’m good—I already pledged that.”
That’s especially true of allegiance. Unless you see a second-grader sneaking off to pledge allegiance to Great Britain or Antarctica or the “Soviet Union,” I think we can safely assume that his or her allegiance still lies with the country it was pledged to yesterday.
And that brings me to my final point. Does anyone believe that even the smartest kindergartener has the slightest idea what he’s doing when he says the pledge of allegiance? Good lord, no. When I was in fourth grade, we had to write a one-page paper on what the pledge meant to us. As I placed my essay on the teacher’s desk, I noticed that the kid ahead of me had titled his “The Pledge of the Legions.”
So here was a guy who thought he’d been saying the Pledge of the Legions every day for the last five years—which had to mean he thought he was saying “I pledge of the legions to the flag…,” which isn’t exactly common English syntax, which means he didn’t have a clue what he was saying.
Just like the rest of us.
All the energy expended on pursuing a court case to remove “under God” from the pledge of allegiance seems misguided to me. It’s aiming at the wrong target. Take out “under God” and you’re still left with a pointless exercise, because no pledge is valid if someone makes you stand up and say it.
If the goal is to create loyal Americans, I suggest discarding the pledge and using that time to study the Constitution. The short-term benefit of that is less wasted classroom time. The long-term benefit is a more conscientious electorate.
One Additional Thought on Pointless Exercises
+ I’ll never forget that time in grade school when that KGB agent disguised as a set of monkey bars offered me five bucks for a map of the locations of Defense Department missile silos. I told him I’d have to ask my mom and dad, but heck, now I know I should have said “Sorry, man, I just pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands—for the 387th straight school day.”