US FlagCredit: Pixabay Images

For United States’ citizens, do you remember being in elementary school or high school, standing at the start of class with hand over heart to recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Prior to at least the 1980s this was the normal practice in U.S. schools. Those of us that grew up in the U.S. during the years 1900 through 1980 remember the routine:  A U.S. flag stood in the corner of the classroom. The teacher calls the class to attention and tells us to face the flag by saying something along the lines of “Stand for the Pledge of Allegiance” or “Everyone stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.” Then, either the teacher would tell one of the students to lead the class in the Pledge or the teacher would lead the Pledge. Our school days began with the words:  

“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.”

Did you every think about where these words came from, who wrote them or even why we were made to recite them? Did you know that these were not the original words to the Pledge? 


Most United States citizens believe we know the original words to the nations Pledge of Allegiance. As children we learn many things. Generally what our teachers and parents teach and preach to us in our youth is taken as the gospel truth and the only truth. Consider when, from the womb, the adults filled us with stories of Santa Clause, Saint Nicklaus, or Father Christmas. How long did it take before we gave up the notion that the old jolly fat man that gives us gifts was not real? How many other teachings from our youth turned out as incorrect or an alternate truth?      

The original Pledge of Allegiance of the United States is an expression of loyalty to the United States of America by using the flag of Stars and Strips as a symbolic representation of the U.S.A, its government and citizenry. It is a reminder that the flag and the Pledge represent the historic road the nation traveled from the first thirteen colonies, the War for Independence, the American Civil War, the Great Depression, two World Wars  and all other trials, turmoil, conflicts. And yet, in spite of all challenges and struggles it (we) survive and excel; we overcome. The nation may experience rough times of economic and political upheaval but we overcome.

[Spoiler alert – just joking]  It was originally composed by Francis Bellamy (1855-1931) in August 1892 and did not include the words "under God."  In time, those two words would create Constitutional debates

Francis Bellamy (1855-1931)

Bellamy was a Baptist and Christian socialist minister He first published the pledge in The Youth's Companion on September 8, 1892. The good minister had hoped the pledge could be used by citizens in any country.  In his telling of the story as to his motivation for writing his Pledge, he tells us that –

"At the beginning of the nineties patriotism and national feeling was at a low ebb. The patriotic ardor of the Civil War was an old story ... The time was ripe for a reawakening of simple Americanism and the leaders in the new movement rightly felt that patriotic education should begin in the public schools." [Taken from the Detailed Narrative by Frances Bellamy, Author of the Pledge][1]


Students swearing the Pledge on Flag Day in 1899Credit: Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) photographer

1.  From 1892 through 1942, the recitation of the pledge included a hand salute much like that of the ancient Roman custom. Ironically, it was adopted in the 1920s and 30s by Italian Fascists and Nazis Germany. As you can imagine, once the U.S. entered the Second World War, and the U.S. public learned that “their” pledge salute was also being used by the enemy, the Bellamy pledge salute was quickly and officially replaced by the hand-over-heart salute (officially) December 22, 1942.

Students pledging to the flag with the Bellamy salute circa 1941.Credit: Unknown

2.  James Upham, a big supporter of the idea that every school should have a U.S. flag, used the “pledge” as vehicle to encourage schoolhouses and communities to buy American flags – which he would sell them (of course). 25,000 flags were sold during the first year of the sales campaign.


Sept. 8, 1892 (first version): The Youth's Companion, a Boston-based family magazine, publishes the original pledge with these words: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the republic for which it stands; one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

1923-1924:  Against Bellamy's wishes the pledge is altered during a flag conference hosted by the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution as follows: "I pledge allegiance to the (deleted “my”) Flag of the (added “United States”) and to the republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."

1954 (current version): The Knights of Columbus (KoC), a Roman Catholic organization waged a campaign in Congress to add the words "under God" to the Pledge. With a growing Communist threat of the times, President Eisenhower believed that the KoC proposal would serve as a positive step in discouraging any sympathy towards Communism in the U.S., thus, he and the KoC encouraged Congress to add the words "under God," creating the current version of the pledge: "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." However, the good Reverend Bellamy's daughter vehemently objected to this alteration, but Eisenhower and the KoC got what they wanted.[2]

Legal Conflict and the Establishment Clause

Because of the addition of the words “under God” added to the Pledge, and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing all citizens freedom of religion, including the restriction against the government (or government run institution such as public schools) the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled many time stating that students cannot be compelled to recite the Pledge, nor can they be punished for not doing so. Just two words – under God – added to the already established pledge recited in schools and government functions across the nation: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all," created a firestorm from a constitutional legal, social, and religious perspective.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution includes what is commonly referred to as the “Establishment Clause.” This clause prohibits the government from making any law that establishes or implies a government religion. Historically, this goes all the way back to the first settlers in the new land when people were trying to escape countries that forced religious compliance, established national religion, Catholics, Protestants and Jews were persecuting each other, denying each other religious freedom. This is why the clause exists: to forbid the government from establishing an official religion and to prohibit government actions that favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.[3]

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Of course the pledge is unlikely to ever be returned to its original form in spite of all the courtroom drama.