Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance

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.

It is appropriate this weekend to remember not only our fallen soldiers but what they fought for and why they defended us and our way of life.

We ask our children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, and for good reason. It expresses what unites us, what defines our society.

Most nations define themselves in other ways.

There are many ethnic nations in the world, but our nation consists of and welcomes all ethnicities.

There are many tribal nations in the world but we define ourselves more broadly; there are tribal nations within our borders, but Native Americans are also citizens of the larger nation of Americans.

There are religious nations. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, for example, all transcend national borders. But in this country our allegiance to the United States transcends our allegiance to any particular faith, as the various and diverse religious markers in our military cemeteries bears out.

There are many flags that fly in this country: corporate flags, school flags, and team flags; flags for each of the states; flags for various ideologies (the red flag, the rainbow flag, or the Confederate flag); flags for other countries including countries of our national origin or other countries that we identify with; and the flag of the United Nations. But we pledge our utmost allegiance to the flag of the United States, and to the republic for which it stands.

One nation, under God. These are the words uttered by Abraham Lincoln in the last sentence of his speech dedicating the national cemetery at Gettysburg:
It is rather for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
The addition of the phrase "under God" by Congress in 1954 (Act of June 14, 1954, ch. 297, 68 Stat. 249) is not meant to enshrine religion in the pledge or to exclude atheists from the community of citizens, but rather to remind us to honor the sacred principles that Lincoln led us to understand - that America was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal - and that the sacrifices of our ancestors and the soldiers who presently serve reflect a larger proposition - they defend not only our land and people but freedom and democracy itself.
Lincoln at Gettysburg

Wilson Huhn teaches Constitutional Law at The University of Akron School of Law.

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