Tomorrow is Independence Day – the 4th of July. We celebrate this date as America’s birthday since it commemorates the Declaration of Independence. I’ll have more to say about that document tomorrow.
So a new nation was born with both blessings and challenges, although it took a few years for the rest of the world to even know it existed, much less accept it. However, a nation is a special entity; America started out as just land and people. What defined it as a nation was when it established a government. This government provided both a means to coordinate the nation’s efforts and an identity.
God knows America’s government is not perfect (just read the news) but when I look at the alternatives, I have to think that our system is just about as good as humans can manage. We don’t have a military junta telling us what to do. We don’t have some self-proclaimed dictator, nor do we have a monarch who rules by accident of birth. We have an idea and a set of values that are enumerated in our Constitution which defines our beliefs and our leadership structure.
One of our traditions, based on our beliefs is the Pledge of Allegiance. This short piece is recited by schoolchildren around the country and by adults before meetings, some sporting and other events. Periodically somebody takes issue with the pledge and there’s a brouhaha followed ad nauseum by the media as the case winds its way through the court system.
But that’s the beauty of our system. Our Constitution safeguards the right of people to speak their mind in the First Amendment to the Constitution – the very first section of the Bill of Rights. It’s easy to protect the speech of someone who agrees with you; it’s much harder and much more important to safeguard those rights for people with whom we disagree. It is essential to protect the rights of those whose statements you find to be repulsive or even repugnant. It’s difficult because it means that each of us as an individual must put something ahead of our own interests.
Likewise, these people are guaranteed the right to have their grievances heard and adjudicated by Article 3 of the Constitution. Their grievances are not pre-judged to be right or wrong, but judged by our judicial system. Again, it’s not perfect, but as humans we’ve done a pretty good job.
But let’s take a minute to examine the pledge. It was written long before it was adopted by Congress during the Second World War, and has been changed several times. I’ll focus on how the pledge stands today. It is short and to the point.
“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”
Just what does the word “allegiance” mean? The online dictionary says:
al·le·giance /əˈlidʒəns / [uh–lee-juhns] noun
1. the loyalty of a citizen to his or her government or of a subject to his or her sovereign.
2. loyalty or devotion to some person, group, cause, or the like.
Please note that the very word “allegiance” does not speak of loyalty to a symbol, but to our government, or in other words our country. People in times past pledged loyalty to the crown or some other symbol. Americans needed a different symbol, and for us this became the flag.
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America – As a citizen, I am agreeing to be loyal to my nation. Personally, if I were not willing to do this, I’d find some place to live where the values were more in keeping with my own. As a citizen, I am a member of this country and it is in my own best interest to be loyal to it.
And to the republic for which it stands – We are a republic- that is our form of government. We have chosen to be a democratic republic whereby the citizens elect representatives to make our laws and lead the way. If we were a democracy everyone would be called upon to vote on every decision – a bit time consuming and inefficient. The flag represents the republic, so our allegiance is to that republic.
– A curious thing happened in our history; we started out as a confederation of 13 nations, but that didn’t work very well, so we united those individual nation-states into a single nation. During the early years the states were still seen as sovereign, but after the Civil War the importance of unity gained support. So today we define ourselves as a single nation-state.
Under God – This is probably the most controversial part of the pledge as well as greatly cherished. We were founded by men whose roots came from Great Britain. They built religious freedom into the Bill of Rights because they did not want an official church like “The Church of England”, also known as Anglican or here in the States as Episcopal. I believe in God so this phrase is fine with me. Many, if not most, Americans believe in some type of divine power and God may refer to the Judeo Christian deity, but not exclusively. Even though we capitalize the word, “god” is not a proper name – “Yahweh” or “I Am” would be more proper. However, given that our official, legal and national motto is “In God We Trust” (Not “e Pluribus Unum” – “Out of Many, One”) one can see where this would fit.
Indivisible – Again, after the Civil War, we’ve maintained a great emphasis on being as one and never allowing the nation to break apart again.
With liberty and justice for all – Liberty is the ability for an individual to have control over his or her own actions. From a theoretical standpoint this extends until it violates someone else’s liberty, or breaks rules that we as a nation have adopted. Justice is a set of values derived from ethics, natural law, common sense and even religion. It is designed to establish guidelines or rules in the way we deal with one another. We use these rules to provide a mechanism for resolving disputes. For all – probably the most important part of the pledge. This means liberty and justice for the person who is just like us. The person who has views that we detest; People who looks different; whose personal values are different from ours. For everybody – even those who go to court to have the pledge ruled unconstitutional.
I like America. For the most part I like Americans. I am thankful for the fact that I was born here and have all the benefits that go with being an American citizen.
And as for me, I am proud to say the Pledge of Allegiance.