Press "Enter" to skip to content

The Pledge of Allegiance Is Actually Pretty Creepy

The Pledge of Allegiance is a forced display of performative patriotism rooted in nativism, bigotry, and salesmanship. Originally composed by Francis Bellamy in 1892, the pledge was written as part of a patriotic public school program to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the Americas. Working as an editor at Youth’s Companion magazine, Bellamy wrote the pledge in conjunction with the magazine’s larger initiative to promote patriotism and raise an American flag over every public school in the nation. To that end, Youth’s Companion sold American flags separately or with subscriptions (at a reduced rate) as a way to promote the magazine and instill a sense of traditional American patriotism during a time of shifting demographics and social change. 

Bellamy, a former preacher and Christian socialist, was opposed to immigration for those he deemed unworthy and was largely inspired to write the pledge to encourage assimilation and his own definition of “true Americanism.” Bellamy viewed immigrants of “inferior race” as a threat to “traditional” American values and hoped the pledge would capture the spirit of the republic and create a sense of national identity. The pledge made its debut in a September 1892 issue of Youth’s Companion, tied to the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival to the Americas, and was recited by millions of schoolchildren for the first time just one month later. The pledge would become a hallmark of American schooling for generations.

More than a century later, after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, debates over the pledge were reinvigorated. Amid rising Islamophobia and growing racial, ethnic, and religious diversity in the U.S., the pledge was invoked as a means of ensuring the white gatekeeping of patriotism and American identity. Various state legislatures urged mandatory adoption of the pledge in schools. These conversations were a reminder that the Pledge of Allegiance has always been a creepy loyalty oath with an underlying ethos of assimilation and anti-multiculturalism.

These roots run deep. By the 1930s, the pledge had become mandatory for most schoolchildren, and it was around that time that its constitutionality first came into question. In 1935, Billy and Lillian Gobitas were expelled from their Pennsylvania elementary school for refusing to salute the flag and recite the pledge. As Jehovah’s Witnesses, the siblings believed that saluting the flag was tantamount to idolatry, which was against their religion. As a result, the Gobitas family sued the school district, arguing that the pledge mandate violated Billy and Lillian’s First Amendment rights. 

When the Supreme Court finally heard their case five years later, the court ruled against them. In Minersville School District v. Gobitis (a misspelling of their name), the Supreme Court upheld the mandatory flag salute and pledge mandate, ruling that public schools could legally compel students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance and expel them if they refused. In the majority opinion, Justice Felix Frankfurter asserted that national unity was an “interest inferior to none in the hierarchy of legal values” and that individual liberties aren’t always absolute. At the time, the United States was on the verge of entering World War II, and Frankfurter believed the pledge would help instill a sense of patriotism and national unity that he felt was necessary for a nation on the brink of war.

The ruling sparked an alarming increase in violence against Jehovah’s Witnesses across the country, many of whom quickly became targets of vigilante-style attacks. Hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses were beaten, tortured, castrated, and even tarred and feathered. 

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *