|(this is a talk prepared for the Independence Square Toastmasters group
You may have noticed that I donít salute the flag at
the beginning of our meetings. And you may have wondered why. Let me
assure you that I am loyal to the United States of America. And I do value
this group. In fact, the reasons I donít say the pledge are the
importance I place on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the
trust I place in this organization. I am trying to live consciously, and I
want my words to mean something.
I grew up in schools where teachers and students recited
the Pledge of Allegiance first thing in the morning. I was an obedient
student and followed along. I remember my surprise when I learned that
Jehovahís Witnesses were refusing to Pledge Allegiance to the Flag
because it violated their religion to pledge allegiance to anything but
God. Iíd never thought about the words and what they meant. It was just
a poem that we recited every day.
I decided to read this Pledge more carefully, and think
about it. I found that I agree with the sentiments expressed in the
Pledge. I have studied the Constitution and I value my freedoms that it
guarantees. For me, there is nothing objectionable in the pledge itself.
But I found myself objecting to the fact that Iíd been saying it for a
decade and never once thought about what I was saying.
Yes, my teachers had put the words "pledge"
and "allegiance" on our spelling and vocabulary lists. I could
easily define the words and get them right on a spelling test. But I had
not thought about the meaning of reciting the pledge every day.
Memorization is considered useful for learning phone
numbers and multiplication tables and state capitals Ė not for
understanding ideas or believing in ideals. Patriotism is not something
that can be memorized.
I researched the origin of the Pledge itself.
I learned that when Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of
Allegiance in 1892 he intended it for one-time use. He worked for The
Youth Companion Magazine, which was promoting the sales of US Flags to
Bellamy wanted to include the word "equality"
in the Pledge, but the civil war had only ended 27 years before he wrote
it. Segregation was legal. Women could not vote. He knew the Pledge would
not be accepted with the word "equality" in it. And while he
could have made the Pledge say "I pledge allegiance to the
Constitution," his company was selling flags, not copies of the
As part of this flag selling campaign, Francis Bellamy
lobbied President Benjamin Harrison to endorse the creation of Columbus
Day in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbusí landing in
the Bahamas. When President Harrison endorsed Columbus Day, The Youth
Companion published Bellamyís patriotic poem. The Youth Companion
sold 25,000 flags and 475,000 copies of the magazine with the Pledge
in it. I admire this entrepreneurial achievement.
The Youth Companion never sold
another flag. For the next five years, Columbus Day was celebrated without
the Pledge. But 6 years later when the United States declared war on
Spain, the New York State Legislature passed a law requiring school
children to recite the Pledge.
By 1905, 19 states had legislated the recitation of the
Pledge in schools. Today 25 states require daily recitation and another 9
require it at least once a month. Pennsylvania is not among them.
The Pledge took on the same protective aura as the
Maginot line that protected 400 miles of the French - German border,
before World War II. The Maginot line did not protect France from German
attack in 1940. Likewise, the Pledge does not protect our students from
terrorism, or insure their patriotism. It is not a vaccine.
Be honest, when you recited the pledge at the beginning
of todayís meeting, did you think about the words? Will those words have
any impact on your thoughts for the rest of today?
Laws that make reciting the Pledge mandatory have been
declared unconstitutional. As Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson said
in 1943, "To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic
ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine
is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our
Mark Twain said that reciting the Pledge was treason. He
said it was equivalent to saying, "My Country, Right or Wrong"
which he considered to be the worst form of treason. It is betraying our
responsibility to speak out when we think our country is making a mistake.
As a result of my research, I believe that making the
recitation of the Pledge into a ritual was a mistake.
The peer pressure to recite the pledge is intimidating.
After my first visit to this group, I checked the Toastmastersí website
and was relieved to discover that the pledge is not required.
The Pledge has become like an advertising jingle that we
canít get out of our heads, but it has become so familiar that it no
longer reminds us of the product it was designed to sell. Patriotism is
not like soap or cereal. We wonít switch brands if we donít see
Our very organization is living proof that we value our
We, in Toastmasters, are engaged in one of the most
patriotic of acts. We are learning to express our opinions on a wide
variety of topics, so we can best enjoy and utilize the rights granted us
as citizens of America.
We donít need to recite a poem to remind us why we are
What was supposed to make us think, instead has become meaningless memorization. What was supposed to unite us, instead has divided us. What was supposed to promote freedom, instead has restricted us.
We are here to speak words that mean what they say. I ask that we vote to restore freedom and unity to our meetings. Let's stop making a ritual out of the pledge.