This video of Red Skelton has been circulating for some time in response to a Federal
Judge ruling against the use of "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. A later ruling reversed the first
ruling as explained below.
My primary reason for posting this video is that it's a great explanation of the words
in the Pledge and it's done by one of my all-time favorite comedians.
Pledge of Allegiance
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Pledge of Allegiance to the United States is an oath of loyalty to the republic of the United States of America, originally composed by Francis Bellamy in 1892. The Pledge has been modified four times since then, with the most recent change adding the words
"under God" in 1954. The Pledge is predominantly sworn by children in public schools in response to state laws requiring
the Pledge to be offered. Congressional sessions open with the swearing of the Pledge, as do government meetings at local levels, meetings held
by the Royal Rangers, Boy Scouts of America, the Freemasons and their concordant bodies, other organizations, and some sporting events.
The current version of the Pledge of Allegiance reads:
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.
According to the United States Flag Code, the Pledge "should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the
heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder,
the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute."
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), a Baptist minister, a Christian socialist, and the cousin of socialist utopian novelist Edward Bellamy (1850-1898). The original "Pledge of Allegiance" was published in the September 8 issue of the popular children's magazine
The Youth's Companion as part of the National Public-School Celebration of Columbus Day, a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's discovery of America. The event was conceived and promoted by James B. Upham, a marketer for the magazine, in a campaign to encourage patriotism and the display of the American flag in public schools.
The pledge was supposed to be quick and to the point. Bellamy designed it to be recited in 15 seconds. He had initially
also considered using the words equality and fraternity but decided not to.
After a proclamation by President Benjamin Harrison, the Pledge was first used in public schools on October 12, 1892, during Columbus Day observances organized to coincide with the opening of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois. Bellamy thought that the pledge would involve children across the country in the larger demonstration of national solidarity
and patriotism of the quadricentennial observances.
In 1923 the National Flag Conference called for the words "my Flag" to be changed to "the Flag of the United States", for the benefit of new immigrants. The words
"of America" were added a year later. The United States Congress officially recognized the Pledge as the official national pledge on June 22, 1942.
Swearing of the pledge is accompanied by a salute. An early version of the salute, adopted in 1892, was known as the Bellamy salute. It started with the hand outstretched toward the flag, palm down, and ended with the palm up. Because of the similarity
between the Bellamy salute and the Nazi salute, developed later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt instituted the hand-over-the-heart gesture as the salute to be rendered by civilians during the Pledge of Allegiance and
the national anthem in the United States, instead of the Bellamy salute. Removal of the Bellamy salute occurred on December 22, 1942, when Congress
amended the Flag Code language first passed into law on June 22, 1942.
Addition of the words "under God"
Louis A. Bowman (1872-1959) was the first to initiate the addition of "under God" to the Pledge. The National Society of
the Daughters of the American Revolution gave him an Award of Merit as the originator of this idea. He spent his adult life in the Chicago area and was Chaplain of the Illinois Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. At a meeting on February 12, 1948,Lincoln's Birthday, he led the Society in swearing the Pledge with two words added, "under God." He stated that the words came from Lincoln's
Gettysburg Address. Though not all manuscript versions of the Gettysburg Address contain the words "under God", all the reporters' transcripts of the speech as delivered do, as perhaps Lincoln may have deviated from his prepared text
and inserted the phrase when he said "that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom." Bowman repeated his
revised version of the Pledge at other meetings.
In 1951, the Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholicfraternal service organization, also began including the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. In New York City, on April 30, 1951, the Board of Directors of the Knights of Columbus adopted a resolution to amend
the text of their Pledge of Allegiance at the opening of each of the meetings of the 800 Fourth Degree Assemblies of the Knights
of Columbus by addition of the words "under God" after the words "one nation." Over the next two years, the idea spread throughout
Knights of Columbus organizations nationwide. On August 21, 1952, the Supreme Council of the Knights of Columbus at its annual
meeting adopted a resolution urging that the change be made universal and copies of this resolution were sent to the President,
the Vice President (as Presiding Officer of the Senate) and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. The National Fraternal
Congress meeting in Boston on September 24, 1952, adopted a similar resolution upon the recommendation of its president, Supreme
Knight Luke E. Hart. Several State Fraternal Congresses acted likewise almost immediately thereafter. This campaign led to
several official attempts to prompt Congress to adopt the Knights of Columbus’ policy for the entire nation. These attempts
In 1952, Holger Christian Langmack wrote a letter to President Truman suggesting the inclusion of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Mr. Langmack was a Danish philosopher and educator who
came to America in 1911. He was one of the originators of the Prayer Breakfast and a religious leader in Washington, D.C.
President Truman met with him along with several others to discuss the inclusion of "under God" and also "love" just before
"liberty and justice". At the suggestion of a correspondent, Representative Louis C. Rabaut of Michigan sponsored a resolution to add the words "under God" to the Pledge in 1953.
Prior to February 1954, no attempt to get the Pledge officially amended succeeded. The final successful push came from
George MacPherson Docherty. Some American presidents honored Lincoln's birthday by attending services at the church Lincoln attended, New York Avenue Presbyterian Church by sitting in Lincoln's pew on the Sunday nearest February 12. On February 7, 1954, with President Eisenhower sitting in
Lincoln's pew, the church's pastor, George MacPherson Docherty, delivered a sermon based on the Gettysburg Address titled "A New Birth of Freedom." He argued that the nation's might lay
not in arms but its spirit and higher purpose. He noted that the Pledge's sentiments could be those of any nation, that "there
was something missing in the pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American
way of life." He cited Lincoln's words "under God" as defining words that set the United States apart from other nations.
President Eisenhower, though raised a Jehovah's Witness, had been baptized a Presbyterian just a year before. He responded enthusiastically to Docherty in a conversation following
the service. Eisenhower acted on his suggestion the next day and on February 8, 1954, Rep. Charles Oakman (R-Mich.), introduced a bill to that effect. Congress passed the necessary legislation and Eisenhower signed the bill into law on
Flag Day, June 14, 1954.
The phrase "under God" was incorporated into the Pledge of Allegiance June 14, 1954, by a Joint Resolution of Congress
amending §7 of the Flag Code enacted in 1942.
When Docherty’s sermon was published in 1958, President Eisenhower took the opportunity to write to Dr. Docherty with gratitude for the opportunity to once again
read the sermon.
First graders of Japanese ancestry pledging allegiance to the American flag, (photo by Dorothea Lange).
Requiring or promoting of the Pledge on the part of the government has drawn criticism and legal challenges on several
One objection[by whom?] states that a democratic republic built on freedom of dissent should not require its citizens to pledge allegiance to it. If the intent of the Pledge is to instill a love of country in
young people, the argument goes, a better way would be to teach them about the nation's history and ideals without such a compulsion.
Another objection lies in the fact that the people who are most likely to recite the Pledge every day, small children in
schools, cannot really give their consent or even completely understand the Pledge they are taking.
In 2004, linguist Geoffrey Nunberg criticized the addition of "under God" for a different reason. The original supporters of the addition thought that they
were simply quoting Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. However, Nunberg said that to Lincoln and his contemporaries, "under God" meant "God willing" and they would have found
its use in the Pledge of Allegiance grammatically incorrect.
Legal challenges and responses
Prominent legal challenges in the 1940s were brought by the Jehovah's Witnesses, a group whose beliefs preclude swearing loyalty to any power other than God, ("Jehovah's Witnesses-Proclaimers of God's
Kingdom"1993 pgs 196-197) and who objected to policies in public schools requiring students to swear an oath to the flag.
They objected on the grounds that their rights to freedom of religion as guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment were being violated by such requirements.
In a 2002 case brought by atheist Michael Newdow, whose daughter was being taught the Pledge in school, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the phrase "under God" an unconstitutional endorsement of monotheism when the Pledge was promoted in public school.
In 2004, the Supreme Court heard Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, an appeal of the ruling, and rejected Newdow's claim on the grounds that he was not the custodial parent, and therefore
lacked standing, thus avoiding ruling on the merits of whether the phrase was constitutional in a school-sponsored recitation.
On January 3, 2005, a new suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on behalf of three unnamed families. On September 14, 2005, District Court Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled in their favor. Citing the precedent of the 2002 ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Karlton issued
an Order stating that, upon proper motion, he would enjoin the school district defendants from continuing their practices
of leading children in pledging allegiance to "one Nation under God".
A bill, H.R. 2389, was introduced in Congress in 2005 which, if enacted into law, would have stripped the Supreme Court and most
federal courts of the power to consider any legal challenges to government requiring or promoting of the Pledge of Allegiance.
H.R. 2389 was passed by the House of Representatives in July 2006, but failed due to the Senate's not taking it up. Even if
a similar bill is enacted, its practical effect may not be clear: proponents of the bill have argued that it is a valid exercise
of Congress's power to regulate the jurisdiction of the federal courts under Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, but
opponents question whether Congress has the authority to prevent the Supreme Court from hearing claims based on the Bill of
Rights (since amendments postdate the original text of the Constitution and may thus implicitly limit the scope of Article
III, Section 2).
In 2006, in the Florida case Frazier v. Alexandre, No. 05-81142 (S.D. Fla. May 31, 2006), a federal district court
in Florida ruled that a 1942 state law requiring students to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
In 2009, a Montgomery County, Maryland, teacher had school police remove a 13-year-old who refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom. The student's
mother, assisted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, sought an apology from the teacher, as state law and the
school's student handbook both prohibit students from being forced to recite the Pledge.
On March 11th, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance in the case of Newdow vs Rio Linda Union School District. The appellate court ruled that the words were of a "ceremonial and patriotic nature" and did not constitute an establishment