We pledged allegiance but didn’t know better.

Twenty of us have voted on the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance poll. The question is, “Did you grow up saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school?” So far, the top response is “Yes, but I didn’t know better then.” That’s gathered seven votes.
With five votes each are “No, I didn’t go to public school” and “No, but everyone else did.” Then, “No, I’m not an American” got two votes, and “Yes, and I’m glad I did,” got one. It seems no one doesn’t know what we’re talking about, no one said it reluctantly, no one said it despite not being an American, and no one didn’t but wishes they had.

No poll can completely reflect the myriad of possibilities, of course. I remember saying the Pledge sometimes as a homeschooled student, but most days we got right into whatever we were working on with just a prayer. It wasn’t an issue anyone made a big deal over. But then, my family didn’t start going to a Mennonite church until I was 13. Someone in our homeschool co-op wanted the kids to pledge allegiance to the Christian flag, but that didn’t go over real big. The story I heard was the Christian flag is really more of a Baptist flag, and we’re supposed to be pledging allegiance to God, not to a flag someone made and decided to call the Christian flag.

I tend to say the Pledge of Allegiance once or twice a week now since it’s the way most of my school boards, villages and cities begin their meetings. One village doesn’t, but they don’t even do a roll call of council members, and I’m pretty sure they don’t care about following Roger’s Rules of Order. I say the Pledge when everyone else does because I don’t feel like explaining to anyone why I’d rather not. I don’t want to have the focus on me and what I think, anyway.

But, I know Mennonites to whom this is a serious matter. A local Mennonite school experienced public scrutiny a few years ago when someone decided to publicize that the school’s sports teams stand respectfully before games while the other teams say the Pledge. I’m sure some people would lambast me as a bad Mennonite for having said the Pledge. Oh well, I’m not in this to impress anyone.

Is the Pledge a big deal to you? If it is, do you also oppose taking oaths?

Comments (19)

  1. AmyY

    I didn’t grow up in the Anabaptist tradition, but when I really understand the important of allegiances (somewhere in college), I stopped saying the pledge.

    Last year, my son started kindergarten in the Philadelphia public school system. I realized that he’d be asked the say the pledge, and I worried about that. But, for a number of complicated reasons (to varied to describe here, but which include having a husband that does not agree with me on this issue), I decided that the pledge is not an issue I’d get into with him and the school right now. My son knows that I don’t wear or fly flags. In fact, we really try not to buy things with labels or product markings of any kind (which isn’t easy) because that also displays a kind of allegiance I’m not comfortable with. When he asks why I don’t put a flag out on patriotic holidays, I always tell him, “Our allegiance goes to God first.”

    It’s a tough issue as an Anabaptist parent in an urban setting. People just don’t get it. But, I’ll work on our kids as best I can, and pray they can make good choices.

  2. lukelm

    I grew up as a Mennonite, and I didn’t say the pledge. My parents didn’t want me to. (I also didn’t participate in boys scouts, which I was interested in, because they felt too much of the focus was on patriotism and that it was kind of a pseudo-military organization.) Being older now and having much more complex thoughts about things like patriotism, pacifism, Mennonitism, and associated things, I still have a very visceral reaction to the flag and the pledge of allegiance to it. I always stand respectfully and try to blend in, but I couldn’t imagine ever saying the words to the pledge. While I can say that I believe I always want to work in the highest interests of my communities, including my country, I couldn’t stomach a pledge of my allegiance to such a symbol.

    I remember once several years ago I was sitting in the opening mass at Notre Dame, a big kick-off event in the huge basketball center for all students and faculty (my partner in a faculty member at ND), and at some important point in the service there was a ginormous American flag marched triumphally up front to be blessed. I had such a strong reaction to the flag being included in a worship service (I almost felt like the flag itself was being worshipped) that I felt physically nauseous, and was kind of in shock afterward about it. Obviously, for me the flag signifies something way different than for most Catholics.

  3. Tinny Ray

    The Pledge of Allegiance was the origin of the stiff-armed salute adopted later by the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazis).

    It is the worship of government.

    A new documentary video movie exposes the shocking facts on youtube
    and here http://rexcurry.net/pledge-of-allegiance-rexcurrydotnet.wmv
    and on google video

    The original Pledge began with a military salute that was then extended out toward the flag. In practice the second gesture was performed palm down.

    The Pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy. Francis was cousin to Edward Bellamy, author of an international bestseller in 1888 that launched the nationalism movement. Edward’s book was translated into every major language, including German. Francis and Edward were both self-proclaimed socialists in the Nationalism movement and they promoted military socialism.

    The Bellamys wanted government to take over all schools. When the government granted their wish, the government’s schools imposed segregation by law and taught racism as official policy. Government schools also forced robotic chanting to flags. All of that behavior even outlasted German National Socialism (or Nazism, although German National Socialists did not call themselves Nazis, they called themselves Socialists and National Socialists).

    Most of the above are discoveries of the noted historian Dr. Rex Curry, author of the book “Pledge of Allegiance Secrets.”

  4. Dan S

    I grew up Catholic and attended Catholic grade school, and they were very comfortable with thethe pledge and generally mixing up church and state. lukelm you are right about the boy scouts too – my cub scout experience was through the Catholic parish we belonged to, and while they teach many decent values, they are also very pre-military. I would never sign up my son for boy scouts today – at his school they had pictures of soldiers who had visited the cub pack to talk to the kids, and I’m guessing it wasn’t to teach them about the horrors of war.

    Skylark, it is an interesting question about whether saying the pledge means not taking oaths generally. I never say the pledge today, because it is just so sacrilegious. I don’t really have to say other oaths in life, but I probably wouldn’t have a problem with an oath to tell the truth in a court of law, for example. Affirming to tell the truth so help me God is quite different from pledging allegiance to the flag of a nation state.

    My country has my allegiance to the extent that it acts morally according to God’s will, and it simply fails to do that too often to give a blanket statement of allegiance. Heck, the same can be said of most churches, for that matter.

  5. ST

    In so many countries around the world, the flag represents the people, el pueblo. In the USA it represents the government…and some people feel it represents them too. That’s a huge difference I’ve seen as I’ve traveled.

    Here in Argentina there are flags everywhere, and there is even a holiday to talk about how awesome the flag is. They are currently making a flag that is 3 miles long…the longest in the world. When they protested in 2001 because the economy collapsed, there were flags all over in the midst of the screaming, government-cursing crowds. It must be interesting to feel the flag is YOUR flag, not the flag of the powerful who own your country.

    My mom told me I didn’t have to say the pledge. I used to turn around and look at the “social studies corner” at school. I liked that better because there were pictures of kids from all over the world on the walls. I understand why our teachers wanted to shape our idea of loyalty or community. But I would have wished it was around other values…love, kindness, trust and other universal values.

    If there was a human pledge of allegiance, I would probably do it. With the UN flag? That’s still complicated.

  6. Katie

    I went to a public school for elementary and middle school but I don’t really remember doing the pledge of allegiance. It’s possible that we did it and I’ve forgotten. On the other hand, I grew up in a small, rural, and heavily Mennonite community and I would have to guess that my elementary school got so inundated with Mennonite kids, parents, and teachers refusing to do it that they either didn’t do it or didn’t make a big deal about it. Maybe I’m just not remembering my childhood very well.

    I guess that would be an interesting case for thinking about the separation of church and state.

  7. Ron

    I went to public school. I said the pledge, but reluctantly. I knew that many Mennonites didn’t say the pledge and there was a religious exemption, but I wasn’t in a Mennonite area and I knew that the teachers and other students would either think that it was at a minimum weird, but more likely treasonous not to say the pledge. I felt weird enough as it was since I knew that I wasn’t supposed to fight even if I was attacked, so I didn’t want to feel even weirder on a daily basis.
    I also did Boy Scouts, but really just did it for the camping, canoeing and hiking trips and only ever earned one or two merit badges- first aid and canoeing. Yes, it was militaristic, and I sort of knew that and that’s why I only half participated.
    In a way, I think it all helped me to become a more independent thinker and to feel it was ok not to go along with the crowd, however I felt somewhat socially isolated since I always knew I was different from all the other kids.
    Now, I’m an adult and have a 9 yr. old daughter. She is homeschooled- no pledge of allegiance. We try to avoid any overtly nationalistic programs. I do not want her to feel coerced into something because the group is doing it the way I was when I was a child. She doesn’t like to be so different from the other kids. It is hard- even the 4H Program is very nationalistic and we stopped that when we realized that. Even many churches in our area have the U.S. flag in the sanctuary. Particularly now, it seems that U.S. nationalism equates with U.S. militarism, and we do not want to be a part of that.
    I am lucky in that my spouse and I have similar feelings about this. I understand that some of you have spouses who have different feelings about it. We have some of those interfaith couples in our Mennonnite congregation and it has caused some problems in the church since some of the ones who don’t come from a peace church background see military service as being almost Christ-like in that they are sacrificing themselves for others as Christ did on the cross.

  8. Skylark (Post author)

    Now this is weird: I could have sworn the comments went in the opposite direction when I looked at them last night. Or some of them weren’t there. Is this a function of hand-approving comments from new people?

  9. TimN


    You are right that new comments have appeared in the thread as a result of the comment approval process.

    As our third line of protection against spam, comments by people who are posting for the first time are caught by the blog software and held for approval by an administrator. When the comments are approved they appear in the order they were originally submitted.

    Once your comment has been approved once, you can submit further comments using the same name and email address and the blog software will not hold your comment for approval.

  10. Joseph

    I too am basically ambivalent towards saying the “pledge of allegiance,” however, I do think that many of us could stand to embrace more the idea of “being American” (United States of American, that is). To deny our national identity would be to forsake our brother/sisterhood with Americans with whom we have no other common bond. Yes, we always worry that embracing Americans leads to forsaking the rest of the world, or that identifying ourselves as American pits us against our global identity, but I think that the two are not mutually exclusive.
    In terms of saying the pledge, yes I think it is something akin to worshipping a false God, or something that distracts from our allegiance to truth, but it is also, in a sense, merely something that unifies us as a people. Growing up, I always said the pledge in school without thinking about it (no one thought about what it meant), it was merely a jumble of words that we all repeated, that we all knew by heart, and for most of us I think the mere sound of them brings a certain comforting, unifying feeling (when we don’t think about what we’re saying). And I think that’s okay. I frequently sing beautiful hymns without thinking much about the words. Some of my favorite hymns, in their lyrics, promote theology that I disagree with. I am still happy to sing them within a community of people who I love and trust.
    The pledge of allegiance is really very simple: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the USA and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Sure, I wish to pledge allegiance first to God and truth over country, but you know what, I believe in “liberty and justice” and I believe in the idea of a community (“republic”) that strives for unity (“indivisible”) and if that’s what the flag stands for (“for which it stands”) then I don’t have such a problem pledging allegiance to the flag. After all, I want to commit myself in love to my American sisters and brothers, not just my Christian ones. If there were a pledge of allegiance to the world, I would probably say that one too, but I also recognize that I have been profoundly shaped by my American identity in ways that no other country has shaped me. I have lived and traveled abroad and found that for as many things as I dislike about America , it is still my home and I want to commit to shaping it for the better.
    Pledging allegiance to “the flag” seems like idol worship, but in reality I think that worshipping idols can be very human and very good. We have made the cross into something of an idol. But the cross, like all effective idols, represents something that we believe in. It is a symbol for something very worthy of worship. The important thing is that we, as a community, intentionally interject “meaning” into our symbols. When I worship the cross in my home, Mennonite congregation I am comfortable with it in a way that I may not be in another church because I am wary of the meaning that they might be interjecting into the cross. The problem with symbols and idols is that we can lose track of their meaning until they take on power of their own that betrays their original purpose. Perhaps that is the difference between an “idol” and a “symbol,” the idol has lost its intended purpose or only serves to distract us from truth.
    In summary, when we “pledge allegiance to the flag,” maybe we are ‘committing ourselves to working in community with the people of our nation under common values of liberty and justice’ as opposed to ‘professing our agreement with the decisions of our government.’ It depends on what meaning we choose to give it; I think the words themselves suggest the former not the latter. The flag, after all, represents a democracy and in a democracy we are not all expected to agree or act the same.
    We ought to first embrace our home before we try to change it. As Abraham Lincoln once said, if you want to change someone’s opinion you must first convince them that you are their friend. I say that if we’re American, let’s be American; if we’re Canadian, let’s be Canadian; if we’re Mennonite, let’s be Mennonite. We have to engage the world from the strength of our social identities not by denying our social identities for the sake of a diluted unity with everyone. Striving for peaceable diversity in the world might just mean embracing our nationality as we let others embrace theirs, and that might mean that pledging allegiance to the flag isn’t such a bad thing.
    I offer this as a counter-point to other good arguments that aptly note the sacrilege of pledging allegiance to a country rather than to God. Again, I think we ought to play a role in shaping the meaning of our symbols, rather than denying them altogether.

  11. AmyH

    I didn’t grow up saying the pledge because I attended Mennonite schooling all the way through high school. By the time I made it to college, the few times the pledge was said, or the anthem played (sporting events), I was comfortable in my opposition to pledging allegiance to the flag or our government, so I never struggled with it for myself.

    My most recent inner debate relates to my job as a public school teacher. I have a homeroom class, and every morning during homeroom, the pledge is said during announcements. I don’t pledge, sometimes I don’t even stand. Many of my students don’t pledge or stand. Their reasons could be personal opposition, but I think by the time they reach high school, they’re just tired of it.

    So what’s my inner debate? How much should I require of my students? Should I require them to be quiet? Be quiet and stand? I would as soon ignore the whole thing, but there are many people who believe it’s important to pledge and I really don’t want to step on their toes either. I guess my question is: what’s the most respectful thing to do while still holding true to my own beliefs?

  12. Skylark (Post author)

    Amy, a good place to start is researching case law on teachers and expression of speech in the classroom. In Garcetti vs. Caballos, a public employee was found to have no right to freedom of speech on the job, so he could be fired for exposing another employee’s misdeeds if his superiors chose. Another recent case involved a school teacher who wore a polo shirt with the school’s logo to an event in her personal life where she drank alcohol. I can’t remember if this was a public or private school, but the court ruled if she was wearing the shirt, she was representing the school, so she couldn’t behave however she pleased.

    I don’t recall any recent cases regarding the Pledge, but it wouldn’t surprise me if you could be fired for leading a discussion about the positives and negatives of saying the pledge. Public school teachers can be considered the mouthpieces of the local or even federal government, if I remember right.

    When you know what’s legally allowed, you can then decide based on your conscience what you should do.

  13. Chris Landes

    Hi! This is my first post. As a 35 year old, with three children I really don’t qualify as a YAR. I was interested in responding to this thread, however.

    Below is a letter that we shared with our children’s two first-grade teachers this morning (names are removed). Thanks to a fellow church member who let us borrow much of the text that he uses with his children.

    August 29, 2007

    Dear (teacher’s names),

    We are the parents of _____ and _____ Landes and look forward to getting to know you both this year. _____ and _____ are excited about first grade since they had a wonderful experience in kindergarten. Thank you for the work you have already done to prepare for this year.

    We wanted to alert you to the fact that we do not want _____ and _____ to participate in the pledge of allegiance at school. In our family we teach that ultimate allegiance belongs only to Jesus Christ. This is a matter of conscience and something we feel deeply about, thus we teach our children not to pledge their allegiance to anyone or anything other than Jesus.

    This does not mean that we are ungrateful to live in our country nor that we consider it unimportant to be good citizens. We expect our children to be respectful and stand quietly when others are repeating the pledge, so please do not take _____ and _____ non-participation as a sign of being uncooperative. We teach them to be respectful of others who feel differently, and we hope that you will let us know if this is not the case.

    We are very willing to discuss this further if you would like. We hope your school year is a wonderful experience for both you and the students.


    Chris and _____ Landes

  14. Skylark (Post author)

    ST said: “In so many countries around the world, the flag represents the people, el pueblo. In the USA it represents the government…and some people feel it represents them too. That’s a huge difference I’ve seen as I’ve traveled.”

    I was thinking about this a little more today. On the street I passed someone wearing a T-shirt with the Confederate flag on it. This flag, it seems, invokes regional and lifestyle pride and doesn’t belong to any bureaucracy. Granted, there is no Confederate or Southern U.S. government. The flag seems to symbolize the pride people have in not being city dwellers (in the North) and being Southerners (in the South).

    Has anyone else noticed this?

  15. j alan meyer

    Hmmm. I always think of the Confederate Flag as a sort of pointless racist carryover from the civil war, generally displayed by white people. When I ask people why they display it, I’ve often heard, “I don’t know” or “because it’s cool.” But as a white academic, I’m probably just prejudiced against what it may represent.

  16. ArchaicFuturist

    To piggyback on Skylark’s comments to Amy:

    A first step would certainly be to research legalities of a particular stance … but I would suggest that illegality not necessarily be the factor that determines whether or not you take that stance. Conscience is inevitably a better guide than Supreme Court decisions. To (badly) paraphrase Jonathan Kozol on a recent broadcast of Alternative Radio, “I always counsel young teachers that to be fired for taking an ethical stance is not the end of the world. Almost inevitably their stance leads to better and more rewarding opportunities.”

    This isn’t necessarily to say that you should defy the law in this particular case, but to consider whether it is worth defying and, more importantly, whether your conscience requires that you defy it.

  17. Lora

    Chris, that’s a great letter. From second grade through sixth, I attended a nondenominational Christian school, housed in an Assemblies of God church. We had both the American and Christian flags on display, and had to pledge allegiance every morning. I remember complaining to my mom once that I didn’t like to say it (not for any great moral reason, just that I didn’t like it), and her response has stayed with me because to this day it still surprises me. She told me I’d better get used to it, because I’d have to say it for a long time yet. In seventh grade I transferred to the Mennonite school and then of course, it wasn’t an issue. I do have moral objections now, for both that and the national anthem. Sometimes I’ll stand, but usually not even that. As for oaths, as far as I can remember I haven’t been in a situation where it has come up.

  18. Skylark (Post author)

    Looking back at my comments, I realize I didn’t make it clear I completely agree with your piggyback. I think it’s worth knowing what’s legal so you can weigh the cost of defying it and following conscience. I wouldn’t want to encourage reckless defiance; only planned and thought-out actions.

  19. Kim

    If the Pledge of Allegiance is a big deal to me, then taking an Oath of Allegiance is also a big deal. I think it’s natural for any person who’s patriotic. I think the Oath of Allegiance covers more ground though.

    But also, I’m curious if people truly understand the meanings of the words in their pledges?

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