commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Buddha#/media/File:Buddha_1251876.jpg (CC BY 3.0)
US Flag, in public domain
Over the holidays, there was some flack given to me regarding my thoughts on the current US Pledge of Allegiance. It’s a pretty simple thing:
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.
… but for me, it smacks of blind obedience, rather than a rational and thoughtful pledge of one’s allegiance to an idea. It is drilled into you when you attend US public schools, and it doesn’t make you think at all. You pledge allegiance, and the why or how isn’t even mentioned. The bit about ‘with liberty and justice for all’ is also a bit of a joke, considering that a great deal of justice in America depends on how much you can afford to pay. The Republic is more of a plutonomy, as the folks at Citigroup have soberly noted (you can still find the memo, by a bit of searching around; Citigroup has tried to erase traces of it, but it is out there). The Pledge is also a recent thing; invented by the (socialist!) Edward Bellamy in 1892, it was designed to instill loyalty to the country’s flag and by extension, the country.
The problem with this pledge, though, is it doesn’t really cut to the core of what the country is about. Pledging allegiance to the country, especially when the country has lost its bearings, seems to me the wrong tack. What we really want is something that reminds us that a) we are all in this together, and b) that we are citizens of a nation governed at its core by the Constitution, and c) we aren’t perfect, but certainly are doing our best. Check out the Oath of Allegiance, which naturalized citizens recite:
I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.
Not only is it more clear about what it means to be a citizen, it (the act of specifying allegiance) was something that was recognized very close to the founding of the Republic (1790), even if the wording has been modified and codified over the years.
This oath is very similar to the oath that enlisted servicemembers take when they join the military:
“I, (state name of enlistee), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”
Officers take this one:
I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
In all three oaths, direct reference to the Constitution is made. The Pledge has no mention of it, and perhaps that’s what bugs me. As a natural born citizen, no such oath or statement has ever been required. We are to pledge allegiance to the flag, not to an idea; you don’t even need to know that Constitution exists, or know what is in it. Yes, there is the bit about ‘the republic for which it stands’, which might obliquely refer to the Constitution, but appears to be a bit of a stretch.
A while ago, the possibility of a new Magna Carta was written on this blog. In a similar vein, we may want to tweak or entirely replace the pledge itself, so that the Constitution’s importance is more magnified, and more prevalent in our civic outlook. A new pledge should also remind us that we aren’t perfect, but are trying to at least “hit the center of the target.” Something like this might work:
I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America, for it represents the Constitution, with our rights and responsibilities as a united and free people. No nation is perfect, yet we strive for as much liberty and justice as humanly possible.
In some ways, this new pledge, with the recognition of our imperfect nature (but our striving for perfection!) would be along similar lines to that the Buddhists:
Though the many beings are numberless,
I vow to save them.
Though greed, hatred, and ignorance rise endlessly,
I vow to cut them off.
Though the Dharma is vast and fathomless,
I vow to understand it.
Though Buddha’s Way is beyond attainment,
I vow to embody it fully.
The version above is from here.
It may seem strange, that this new, proposed pledge asks more of our citizens, but blind obedience and pledges aren’t what we need.
- What would your version of a new Pledge of Allegiance look like?
- What key elements would you include?
- Shouldn’t we acknowledge the Constitution, our rights *and* responsibilities, *and* our imperfectability?
- Others have discussed alternate pledges; this one of government workers to the citizenry. What do you think about that?