The Real Problem with the Pledge of Allegiance

Atheists in Massachusetts are challenging the Pledge of Allegiance.  I certainly think mention of God in a national standard oath is problematic Constitutionally.

However, there is a bigger problem with the Pledge that no one, even many libertarians, seem to mention:  It is abhorrent for our government to be requiring its citizens to take a loyalty oath.  This is particularly true in that the requirement typically falls on minors who don't have the experience and cognitive ability to parse what they are pledging (there is a reason we don't allow minors to sign legal papers).

There is nothing in our original model of government that requires that citizens be loyal to the country or to its government.  We must observe the rule of law and respect the rights of others, but at some level what does "allegiance" even mean?  I said above that kids can't understand what they are promising to do, but I don't even understand.  When I say those words, what commitment am I making, exactly?

Historically, the requiring of citizen loyalty oaths has certainly not been a marker of a free society.  In general, the more totalitarian the society, the more emphasis is placed on allegiance pledging.  It could be worse -- the most abusive of regimes generally require loyalty oaths directly to the ruler, rather than to the nation itself.  We have not gotten there yet, though some morons seem to be begging for just this sort of personality-cult totalitarianism.


  1. Morven:

    I agree. I was raised in England and there was never, ever anything like this. It comes across as creepily totalitarian to me, and probably to many.

  2. Ed Flinn:

    It was originally written by Francis Bellamy, baptist and socialist.

  3. jon:

    Beyond that even. The pledge is contrary to even the founding of the US (Declaration of Independence). Indivisible (so it that saying we should have stayed w/ Britain?). Under God - a nation that terrorizes the rest of the world, if you are religious how can this be under God - that is taking God's name in vain (and worshiping false idols - when pledging allegiance to anything besides God).

    As for the liberty and justice for all. If it is for liberty, then like you said, we shouldn't be requiring anyone to pledge there allegiance to it, even if they agree with the concept.

    My daughter (5) goes to a home education coop and I was appalled to hear that they do the pledge before activities. I got my wife to be willing to not have DD say the pledge. My goodness, I thought that was one of the bonuses of not sending our kids to government schools. I guess I was wrong - government still infiltrates the home.

  4. Daublin:

    Here here. It is a staple of childhood in America that you learn and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and people mostly don't think about it. It's wrong, though. We shouldn't be "pledging allegiance" in a free country.

    The U.S., like the E.U., is at its best when it is a trade agreement among the states. Arguably it also has a role for military security as well. It's not the sort of institution that deserves "allegiance".

  5. me:

    I'll offer up an updated version -- I pledge resistance to the Fascists of the Police States of America, and to the repression for which it stands, one nation under suspicion, indefinitely detainable, with surveillance and tyranny for all.

  6. MingoV:

    There are many problems with the pledge.

    I pledge allegiance to the flag... A number of religions consider this to be idolatrous. I just consider pledging allegiance to a piece of cloth to be ridiculous.

    ... and to the republic for which it stands... So the flag stands for both the USA and to its form of government.

    ... one nation... Well, a country cannot be more than one nation, so this is silly.

    ... under God... Claiming that the entire nation is monotheistic and leaving out atheists, polytheists, animists, etc.

    ... indivisible... Certainly, after Lincoln's unconstitutional but successful war against the formerly sovereign states that seceded.

    ... with liberty... Less and less and less since the Constitution was enacted.

    ... and justice for all.... Which is why we have the greatest number and greatest proportion of imprisoned people in the world.

  7. Larry Sheldon:

    I don't claim to be more than one, but when I was little I was told things that made it seem like I could if I wanted to, but wasn't required to....I was just required,as always when somebody else was talking, to be quiet.

    And yeah, now that I am old enough to think it through, there are things I don't get really behind for all interpretations. But I'm with it for most common interpretations.

  8. Reformed Republican:

    I think I stopped saying the pledge back in middle school. I still had to stand, but that was it.

  9. kidmugsy:

    What you chaps are missing is a Constitutional Monarch. Many British people react to your pledging-mania and flag-idolatry as Morven describes, but are perfectly happy to toast "The Queen, God bless her" even when they are not Royalists and are firmly atheist. The separation of political power from a figurehead who symbolises the nation is remarkably effective. Your having a President as elected monarch (and his wife as First Lady, for God's sake) is a dangerous game. Constitutional Monarchy is one of those Hayek phenomena - a result of human action but not of human design. After all, apart from yourselves and the Swiss, all the respectable, stable democracies have one - Canada, NZ, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg. Heavens, even the Spaniards decided to give it a whirl and found themselves with a King who acted in extremis (the only time a Constitutional Monarch should act politically) to successfully protect their then-new democracy. Whereas your Presidents since Wilson, or even Lincoln, have hardly been friends to the idea of democracy and a Constitutional Republic.

  10. Tim:

    The "Under God" bit was added in the 1950s; at the urging of the Knights of Columbus.

    I've attached a picture of Bellamy's salute to the flag, circa 1941.

  11. Nehemiah:

    Wow, this is disappointing. Who will stand up to fight for the nation should we actually need to defend ourselves? I love my country, even with its very current flaws. Saying the pledge reminds me I live in a country where so many have died protecting my freedom to say or not say the pledge.

    Geez, those silly Marines at Iwo Jima hoisting that silly flag after so many of their fellow Marines died that day. Or how about those knuckle headed firefighters at Ground Zero who put that flag up after 9/11? Duh, what were they thinking, pretty sappy hey.

    This is the type of position that libertarians take that really puzzles me. The only thing I would agree with in this post and thread is that the children don't understand what and why they are making a pledge. That is why I distribute Pledge Posters to elementary schools in my town. The teachers are thankful because it gives them an opportunity to talk about silly things like the Republic or Liberty or Justice in the context of our Nation.

    I thought Coyote's open borders and anti-police posts were a little over the top, but ranting about the pledge, really. Libertarians can be infuriating.

  12. kidmugsy:

    "Geez, those silly Marines at Iwo Jima hoisting that silly flag after so many of their fellow Marines died that day": you do know it was posed, don't you, the famous photo?

  13. Dale:

    Yes, the original photo was not used, the
    redone photo was taken under somewhat better conditions.

  14. Canvasback:

    My kid went to a private school. I don't know if he's ever heard the Pledge of Allegiance. I'm sure he can't sing the "Star Spangled Banner." Even at Christmas Santa took over for Jesus - though, because of the makeup of the school, he learned a lot about Hanukkah.

  15. Canvasback:

    That tells us a lot about Marines. They want to make sure they get their point across.

  16. JKB:

    I long ago replaced the wrongful pledge with the proper one. I don't normally make a spectacle of myself but if some one asks.

    "I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and to the nation that it governs....."

    You can freak people out by pointing out that an American has no allegiance to the government, except that it is operating under the Constitution. How much they can continue to chip away at the Constitution until I'm obligated to become an enemy of my government is not certain.

    The common denominator to be an American is to have allegiance to the Constitution. And the Constitution is what matters, not the flag, although I do salute it as a representative of the Constitution, not the land, not the government. All the latter can change and morph but as long as they are true to the Constitution, I'm obligated. But if they aren't true, then I'm obligated to defend the Constitution as a citizen and by my oath when I was commissioned.

    And I do understand that by stating the above, I've probably just made the current government's enemies list.

  17. Gil:

    That's akin to finding old photos of people with swastikas - that perticular salute had no special connotations before the Nazis.

  18. Tim:

    Yes and no.

    On one hand, it didn't have any special meaning before the fascists adopted it; on the other hand, ALL the fascists adopted it.

    Every other salute is rooted in the open hand/hat tip/visor lift kind of gesture, with your weapon hand to your forehead or straight up.

    I just don't think it's a coincidence. (But I also think that there's was a strong undercurrent of proto-fascism in this country in the period between the wars.)

  19. Harry:

    Coyote, there are bigger things for libertarians to think about besides the Pledge of Allegiance, which I did in school both with and without the "under God" part.

    Some of us have taken oaths to protect and defend the Constitution and the country from all enemies, foreign and domestic , and others, me included, have not have that solemn vow put to them. We cowards can respect those who took those oaths seriously.

    I do wonder about the folks who waver to say the Pledge, and what theoretical problem they have with it, or , in particular, what problem they have with freedom, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, James Madison, Frederic Bastiat, and other champions of freedom. Invariably these people I argue with side with authoritarians, excusing their failure with bald fallacies.

    So I sing the national anthem with my choir at every opportunity, wave the flag at my home, and say the Pledge of Allegiance. If Ward Churchill or Dave Axelrod choose not to join, that is their problem, but I do recognize them for their philosophical views.

  20. Edward Bellamy:

    The Pledge of Allegiance should be ended because it was the origin of the stiff-armed German socialist salute and of that type of behavior (see the new book “Pledge of Allegiance + Swastika Secrets” by the author Ian Tinny, explaining the discoveries of the historian Dr. Rex Curry). Many atheists completely miss the point. Bellamy was very religious, a “Christian socialist” and his original pledge was a small part of his much larger pledge program replete with hymns, prayers, references to the Bible and God, including the phrase “under God.” That is why the original pledge program cannot be performed in government schools, only the pledge’s tiny part (to which the newer deifiication was also added in 1954). The old news media will never mention the Pledge’s putrid past, nor print a photo or video of the early American stiff-armed salute. If they did, then no one would stand for the pledge. The pledge continues to be the source of Nazi behavior wherein government schools (socialist schools) begin each day by teaching bullying and peer pressure and punish dissenters. The pledge is a daily repetition of the Milgram experiment, a witch hunt, and a demonstration of the banality of evil. Francis Bellamy is sometimes referred to as America’s Leni Riefenstahl because of his earlier influence on spreading socialism (and the stiff-armed gesture) through government schools et cetera. Bellamy wanted government to take over education. When his wish was granted, government schools imposed segregation by law and taught racism as official policy. An old photo shows a segregated class doing the stiff-armed salute.

  21. Scott:

    Wow this is disappointing.

    If people died to protect the right to say or Not say the pledge, why are you comfortable advocating on behalf of forcing minors to recant the pledge every day?

    Idiots can be infuriating.

  22. Jess1:

    " I was raised in England and there was never, ever anything like this"

    God Save the Queen.

  23. Michael Stack:

    I think Professor Tabarrok said it best back in 2008: