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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

We the People: How the Pledge of Allegiance evolved to the version we have today

Candidates recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a naturalization ceremony on Sept. 17, 2019, at CenterPlace Event Center. Ninety-eight new citizens from 40 nations participated in the Oath of Allegiance.  (Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Shafiq Moltafet and Grace Sonnichsen The Spokesman-Review

Each week, The Spokesman-Review examines one question from the Naturalization Test immigrants must pass to become United States citizens.

Today’s Question: What do we show loyalty to when we say the pledge of allegiance?

The Pledge of Allegiance is repeated by students across the nation as they start their days at school. It is announced by refugees and other immigrants who recite it during their naturalization ceremonies . The echoes of the pledge can be heard during Congressional sessions and other government meetings, including those of the Spokane City Council (at least before meetings became virtual in the pandemic).

The Pledge of Allegiance was written for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1892 by a socialist preacher, Francis Bellamy. While many Americans were speaking out against new immigrants, Bellamy’s pledge was part of a movement that was more welcoming and aimed to spread American ideals to recent arrivals, according to a Fortune magazine story about the preacher.

“The pledge was initially rooted by the panic of mass migration and a nativist fear,” said Cornell Clayton, the director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service at Washington State University. “It encouraged immigrants to appreciate their new homeland as they arrived from all over Europe.”

The original pledge was shorter:

“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Although it was changed throughout history, it represents freedom, perseverance, justice and the unity of the nation as a whole.

As someone repeats the Pledge of Allegiance, it shows loyalty to the United States and the flag.

“Why allegiance to the flag?” Bellamy said, according to The New York Times. “Because the flag stands for the Republic. And what does that vast thing, the Republic, mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation – the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clearer, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches.”

He considered other endings, but opted for simplicity.

“… We as a nation do stand square on the doctrine of liberty and justice for all. That’s all any one nation can handle. So those words seemed the only roundup of past, present and future,” he said, according to the Times.

Before World War II, students acknowledged the Pledge of Allegiance by standing, facing the flag and placing their right arm in front with their palm facing upward, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. This was called the “Bellamy Salute.”

Later, Americans argued that this looked too similar to Adolf Hitler’s Nazi salute. The salute eventually changed to one placing the right hand on the front of the left shoulder – thus, crossing their arm over their heart.

The words “flag of the United States of America” were added by Congress in the 1920s.

More controversially, during the Cold War in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower asked Congress to include the words “under God” to stress differences between the Soviet Union and United States. This is the pledge we recite today.

“In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war,” Eisenhower said in a statement supporting the change.

Bellamy’s granddaughter, however, said that he would have opposed the insertion of “under God,” despite his career as a preacher, according to Tampa Bay Times.

Schools across America have recited the Pledge at the beginning of the school day for over a century. Some students oppose the practice for reasons of values and religion. Under Washington law, a school is required to lead students in reciting the Pledge, but it must also respect the wishes of students who choose not to join in.

Washington state requires each school to have a visible flag on display during school hours. It is also requires for each classroom to have a flag on display to accompany the ritual recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the school day. Washington state does not require students to recite the pledge, but asks that “students not reciting the pledge shall maintain a respectful silence.” The law also says that the pledge or National Anthem “shall be rendered immediately preceding interschool events when feasible.”

Idaho, Oregon, and Montana follow very similar procedures. Each of these states provides an opportunity for students to participate in the pledge.