One of my most powerful memories from elementary school is an all-school assembly in kindergarten. The principal asked everybody to stand, face the flag, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. I remember the boom of 600 voices saying these powerful words in unison. During that glorious moment, I felt proud. I felt proud to have recently mastered these tongue-twisting phrases. I felt proud to be a part of something so important. And, most of all, I felt proud to be an American.
As I got older, the Pledge lost some of its glory and power for me. Some mornings, I go into patriotic cruise control. Yes, I say the words, but my brain is actually focused on my French test, my math homework, or the fact that I could use a few more hours of sleep. However, each time I stop to think about these words, I am again amazed by their beauty, and the power and pride they hold for me.
To me, the Pledge of Allegiance is as unique as the values for which our flag stands. My French exchange student was surprised by the presence of the flag in every classroom and the pledge we made to it. Her country doesn’t have anything like that. We are lucky, but not just because of the poetic words we recite each morning. We are lucky because our country, like the pledge we make to it, is unique. We must not take for granted our inspiring history. We must not take for granted the mixing pot culture of our nation. We must not take for granted our system of government, or the “Republic for which it stands.” And most of all, we must not take for granted the rights given to us by this system of government, namely, “liberty and justice for all.”
However, amidst the beautiful, meaningful language of the Pledge, two words tend to make some of us uneasy. Whenever religious aspects are brought into a secular setting, controversy is bound to emerge. And the words “under God,” which were added to the pledge 60 years after it was written, have caused such controversy that even proud Americans condemn them as “unconstitutional.” They say that the inclusion of these two words violates the rulings of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as the First Amendment. I agree that religion should not be so directly associated with national pride – we should be able to swear allegiance to our country free from any religious undertones. However, I still say the Pledge each morning because the presence of those two words does not, in my mind, overshadow the importance of the other 29.
I’m not here to tell you that you should make a habit of saying the Pledge of Allegiance. In fact, doing so would be contrary to the very values stated in the Pledge. Instead, I’m only going to ask that tomorrow morning you think about the 31 words being recited. Think about what they mean to you. Does the presence of the words “under God” so dissuade you that you prefer to remain seated? Then do so. But do so respectfully. On the other hand, does the glorious history of our nation and the liberties that our ancestors fought to protect mean something to you? Are you proud to be part of a country where you are legally guaranteed the same rights as the person next to you? Are you thankful that, in our system of government, there are outlets through which you can voice your opinions, and people who will listen? If so, I urge you to stand up and pledge your allegiance to your country and your flag. But don’t stay seated just because you’re too tired, too lazy, or too apathetic to take a stand.