Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 27, 2012

Editorial: An empty political gesture


---- — A lot of Americans grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every school day morning, and there was usually a small American flag hanging on a wall.

If you're old enough to recall the Pledge you recited before 1954, you might remember that it wasn't the one we say today. Thanks to the then-powerful Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus, the words "under God" were added that year.

And only a handful of the millions who have recited the Pledge over the years likely know that it was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and Christian socialist and the cousin of socialist utopian novelist Edward Bellamy.

Imagine if a socialist tried something like that today.

According to Wikipedia, the original "Pledge of Allegiance" was published in the Sept. 8 issue of the popular children's magazine "The Youth's Companion" as part of the National Public-School Celebration of Columbus Day.

The celebration was the brainchild of James B. Upham as a campaign to sell flags to public schools and magazines to students.

The Pledge has been changed four times. Bellamy's original version is as follows: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Congress didn't recognize a version until 1942. That read: "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."

All of this is to point out that the pledge didn't come from the founding fathers, has always been a political document, and was last amended within the lifetime of most Baby Boomers, the result of power politics.

As sacred national symbols go, this one has a pretty pedestrian, political past. And it's no different today.

The Michigan Legislature recently passed bills requiring every state public school to provide students the opportunity to recite the pledge and every classroom to have a flag.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that students cannot be forced to recite the pledge, so mandating a time — and a flag — was as far as lawmakers could go.

This is more of what we've gotten from the Republican party in recent years — the empty political gesture wrapped in the flag and held up as a (meaningless) test of one's patriotism.

Never mind that school funding has been slashed, that tens of thousands of Michigan workers don't have jobs and that child poverty rates are climbing.

Let's set up a straw man and then attack as un-American anyone who points out how useless this kind of exercise really is.

The bills are waiting Gov. Rick Snyder's signature.