How reciting the Pledge of Allegiance became a sacred, patriotic ritual

The Continental Congress, the legislative body of the newly proclaimed United States, adopted an official flag on June 14, 1777. The delegates decided that “the flag of the United States has thirteen stripes, alternately red and white; that the Union has thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

In the nation's early years, nonetheless, this flag rarely appeared, except at government and military events.

That modified with the Civil War. As a historian and writer Marc Leepson writes in his Book in regards to the US flagNortherners began displaying the flag in homes and businesses to point out their support for the Union. After the war, the flag became an emblem of the reunited nation.

1885 Teacher Bernard Cigrand commemorated the anniversary of the introduction of the US flag for the primary time together with his students in Stony Hill School in Wisconsin. He then launched a campaign to make June 14th Flag Day. In 1949 The US Congress passed a resolution June 14th of every year is said Flag Day.

A poster bearing the words “140th Flag Day, 1777–1917” and “The Birthday of the American Flag, June 14, 1917” shows a man raising the American flag, another cheering, and an eagle flying above.
The American flag.
Library of Congress

One of the preferred patriotic rituals honoring the U.S. flag is the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. For generations, schoolchildren have recited this pledge every day to open sessions of the U.S. Senate and countless other government, public, and personal gatherings.

As a Religious historians in AmericaI have a look at this ubiquitous ritual through the lens of American civil religion – the patriotic beliefs, ceremonies, and symbols which might be sacred to Americans.

Civil religion

The concept of civil religion comes from European Enlightenment philosophy. Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in his treatise of 1762 “Articles of Association“that no state has ever been founded without religion as its foundation.”

US-American sociologist Robert Bella used Rousseau’s concept of civil religion in his Analysis from 1967 of American civil culture. Bellah claimed that an “American civil religion” persists alongside other religious traditions. American Christians, Jews, and adherents of other conventional religious traditions are also patriotic adherents of the national faith.

Bellah's argument inspired considerable debate. Numerous scholars have found the thought of ​​civil religion useful. Bellah's original essay mentioned references to God in presidential addresses and the sacred nature of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Other scholars have used civil religion to clarify legal interpretations the faith clauses of the US Constitution and in characterising nationally significant sites similar to the Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson Memorials in Washington, DC, as Sacred Spaces.

Critics dispute Bellah's assumptions. Religious historians John F. Wilsonclaimed, for instance, that Bellah’s view on civil religion distorts the complex political, cultural and civic cultures of the United States. Wilson argues that Bellah's concept reduces complex national cultures, including religious elements, to a one-dimensional “religion” of the nation.

In addition, historians Charles H. Lippy notes that Bellah’s interpretation of civil religion refers only to a certain a part of the US population as “the prerogative of white men to economic privileges.”

In my Book on American religious historyI take advantage of the term civil religion to know patriotic ceremonies and commemorations. In particular, civil religion offers insight into the historical controversies surrounding the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance.

Conflicts of religion

The oath of allegiance began as an commercial in a children’s magazine. In his Book in regards to the promisewriter Richard Ellis describes a resurgence of devotion to the flag after the Civil War.

This included a movement to hold the sacred banner in every school. A preferred children's magazine, The Youth's Companion, joined this initiative in 1892. It set the four-hundredth anniversary of Columbus' discovery of America because the date for a National Flag Ceremony.

The magazine called on every school within the country to carry a ritual flag salute. The ceremony was to incorporate a pledge of allegiance written by Francis Bellamy, a former Baptist minister. His original promise read: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic it stands for – one nation indivisible – with liberty and justice for all.”

The flag salute caught on, and several other versions were in use during World War I. An official flag code introduced within the Twenties included a revised version of Bellamy's Pledge of Allegiance. He added “the flag of the United States of America” ​​due to his anti-immigrant sentiments; the unique “my flag,” many thought, might consult with the immigrants' homeland. The flag code also included a greeting prescribedwhere “the right hand on the heart” must be prolonged with the “palm upward, toward the flag” when the words “to the flag” are said.

Children stand behind the American flag with one hand over their heart.
School children recite the pledge of allegiance.
John Moore/Getty Images

Not all Americans were smitten by the promise. The commonest complaints were religious. Followers of traditions with strong pacifist commitments, for instance, refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They Objection raised concluded that defending the flag would mean using violence, which fits against their religious beliefs. Others viewed the Pledge of Allegiance as a type of “Idol worship.”

In 1935, Jehovah's Witnesses condemned the requirement for schoolchildren to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They considered the prescribed salute in front of the US flag to be much like the German Nazi salute. The salute gestures were almost an identical. For Jehovah's Witnesses, the 2 salute gestures demonstrated “Unfaithfulness to God.”

Reverence for the American flag

Jehovah's Witnesses challenged several state laws requiring children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Their case went all of the method to the U.S. Supreme Court, however the court rejected their religious argument on the grounds of “national unity.”

However, public opinion modified with American involvement in World War II. Comparison with the Nazi salute made more Americans dissatisfied with the U.S. flag salute. In a later case brought by Jehovah's Witnesses, the Supreme Court overturned its previous ruling. On Flag Day 1943 Court decided that the federal government cannot “prescribe what should be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion.”

The Cold War after World War II brought one other change to the Pledge of Allegiance. National leaders often emphasized the religious roots of the American nation of their condemnation of the us's official atheism. They continuously used the term “under God” to characterize the United States in contrast to the “godless” Soviets.

President Dwight Eisenhower then signed a Congress resolution on Flag Day 1954. The phrase “under God” was added to the oath of allegiance.

Celebration of Flag Day began in 1885, and the Oath of allegiance was first recited on Columbus Day in 1892. Although neither has the force of law today, they’ve been recognized by resolutions of the U.S. Congress.

Despite past controversies, many U.S. residents proceed to revere the flag today. Along with the Pledge of Allegiance, I imagine Flag Day celebrations show a permanent patriotic devotion within the civil religion of the American people.

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