I Am a Morning Announcer. The Pledge Needs to Go.
Reading Time: 3 minutes
I say the pledge of allegiance every morning, even though I do not believe in it. That’s because it’s my job. As the student morning announcer, I recite, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” while most of the student body remains seated. In fact, if Stuyvesant were to conduct a referendum on its continuation, I bet we’d vote it down.
Perhaps more than any other practice, the pledge evokes American patriotism. Its writer—ironically a socialist minister named Francis Bellamy—never actually intended for it to be used by the United States. He omitted any mention of the country in the original copy, and the U.S. inserted itself around 1923. Now that it was readdressed to the “flag of the United States of America,” the pledge had a clear purpose: to instill a sense of patriotism in children.
Yes, patriotism is important, inspiring the near 1.5 million U.S. soldiers to defend our country and citizens to pay their taxes. However, I question if the pledge is still the right way to spark inspiration in our younger generations. We shouldn’t have to use propaganda to get children to love their country.
After all, the United States is one of the few democracies that mandates the recitation of its pledge of allegiance in government spaces like schools. Historian and author of the book “To The Flag” Richard Ellis notes that most democratic governments don’t require their citizens to recount a pledge, especially not on a daily basis. Still, the United States ranks 75th in military enrollment per capita, lagging behind democracies like France, Italy, and Greece. This practice is instead reminiscent of authoritarian rule, like in North Korea, which has a pledge that requires its citizens to offer their bodies and minds to the nation.
The mandate that the pledge is to be read aloud in New York City schools hails back to 9/11, when the New York City Board of Education imposed a requirement that it be shared at the beginning of each school day. While established during the post-9/11 surge in nationalism, the mandate still stands 20 years later. The symbolic weight that the pledge likely held after the attacks has largely been lost. Most students do not stand for or see the value in the pledge. Its daily recitation has become more of a mundane task than a moment to rekindle our love for America.
While the pledge no longer effectively does what it was implemented to do—that is, pull on our patriotic heartstrings—it is also problematic.
My first concern lies with the words of the pledge. Congress added the phrase “under God” to the script in 1954, and upon signing the bill, Dwight Eisenhower praised that it would uphold our nation’s dedication to God. For students who adhere to different religious beliefs or do not identify with a particular religion, the pledge forces them to acknowledge a god they do not believe in. I am not particularly religious, and it feels insensitive when I have to read that our nation is “under God” aloud to the Stuyvesant community. The pledge does not align with the freedom of religion and separation of church and state we pride ourselves on.
Moreover, not every student at Stuyvesant is a U.S. citizen. Forcing people to pledge to a country they are not considered legal members of is illiberal. Despite its voluntary nature, reciting the pledge of allegiance every morning also creates social pressure for non-citizens and those with other religious affiliations to give in and participate. Outside of New York’s generally liberal bubble, where the pledge is supported by 98 percent of the Republican population, social pressure prevents the pledge from being optional. In these places, those who do not find themselves in the pledge’s “target audience” find it impossible to remain seated and silent in a class full of standing students.
The message that the pledge asserts is not aligned with the reality of our country. It contends that our nation has “liberty and justice for all,” yet simultaneously, people are profiled for the color of their skin or their identities, and many are imprisoned falsely or for minor crimes. To recite that everyone has justice in America is in poor taste. While some argue that the pledge of allegiance pushes us toward the ideal of justice for all by reminding us of it, the pledge itself is not a tangible way of creating change.
Instead, we should explore other alternatives to convey our allegiance to our country. We should focus on becoming moral champions of democracy that citizens naturally want to defend and fight for. The school time we devote to the pledge could be devoted to real conversations about America and our roles within it. We could even start by implementing universal health care and social services or by expunging minor drug offenses. Let’s create liberty and justice for all instead of just preaching it.