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Quick Comment: No Secular Prayers

Why I Don’t Like the Pledge of Allegiance

I’ve spoken before about the soiled history of flag worship in the United States, that is, turning the Pledge of Allegiance into a prayer of devotion to the Christian God. I don’t object only to the insertion of the divisive words “under God,” which turns the Pledge into an oath not just to the United States but to a God in which I don’t believe.

I object to the Pledge of Allegiance for the same reason I object to any loyalty oath: First, a loyalty oath places the burden of proof for disloyal acts on my shoulders, rather than on the state or nation where it belongs. Second, a loyalty oath is coercive conformity to a state-sponsored creed, which abrogates my rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution. It’s saying, in effect, “I swear to defend the Republic, which guarantees me the right not to swear such things.” Third, a loyalty oath is naïve: the very first lie a disloyal American will tell is that he is a loyal American. I cannot imagine anybody bent on the destruction of our system of government suddenly saying, “Oops! I pledged not to destroy our system of government!”

Specifically, swearing or pledging allegiance “to the flag” smacks of idolatry.* Swearing to support “the flag” makes the physical flag itself an object of veneration, a sacred symbol divorced from the principle of free conscience it symbolizes. This makes it easier to pass foolish laws making it illegal to burn an American flag in political protest – and if the First Amendment guarantees nothing else, it guarantees this.

On the other hand, to take Thomas Jefferson somewhat out of context, I believe that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance “neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” But it does violate my conscience. I oppose the Pledge of Allegiance because patriots don’t need it and traitors won’t heed it. No political scoundrel ever failed to wrap himself in the flag. You can judge my loyalty by my actions.

* ...which the Jehovah’s Witnesses argued before the Supreme Court in 1940 (Gobitis) and won, in a reversal on First Amendment grounds, in 1943 (Barnette).

Copyright © 2012 Ronald Bruce Meyer. To hear an audio version of this Quick Comment, click on this link: No Secular Prayers.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

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