Flag Day OK, Allegiance Not So Much

June 11, 2010

Editors: for release in connection with Flag Day, Monday June 14 (526 words)

The U.S. flag is a powerful symbol. It is in outer space, on T-shirts and bumper stickers. We pledge allegiance to it. Coffins of heroes have been draped with it. It flies in even other nations. It’s been burned in protest and praised in song.

You can understand why we have a Flag Day.

It’s that Pledge of Allegiance I want to talk about.

The pledge’s author was Francis Bellamy, a fired and apostate New York minister and rabid “one-world” socialist.  His original 1892 pledge was written when there was no official U.S. flag. At the time, it was called “idolatry” by many Christians who tried to have this child-indoctrinating, stiff-armed salute of a ritual banned. Bellamy in 1923 angrily opposed replacing his words “to my flag” with “to the flag of the United States of America.” And he certainly would have opposed the addition of “under God” 30 years later. His point was to replace individualism with statism, after all.

Perhaps the pledge’s origin doesn’t matter. But perhaps its origin explains why we have an oath to a symbol, and not to the Constitution.

Until 1892, the only nationalistic oaths in America were oaths sworn by politicians and soldiers to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Our nation’s founders knew what had happened to the Jews and early Christians who refused to make oaths to idols, or to “Lord Caesar.” They wanted no citizen oaths to a person or abstraction such as those demanded by feudal lords, churches or the King of England. After all, no man is above the law, right?

That’s why the Oath of United States Citizenship clearly replaces oaths to people or abstractions with a dedication to the written contract that binds us as a nation:

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 . . .

What a great oath. A person could read the Constitution and understand exactly, literally, what this oath entails. For despite how much politicians pull against any leash on their power, the Constitution is clear.

But how does one obey a flag other than as a signal in battle? To what end and degree, and by what rules must we citizens obey it? It’s certainly contrary to the spirit of 1776. And for any Christian or Muslim, can an oath of allegiance to a symbol be anything other than idolatry? Why pledge to what was officially, until 1923, only a military banner?

It may be true that we can no longer use words like “socialism” and “idolatry” without invoking tribalist loyalties and defenses.  The point here, though, is that we should think hard about what we’re promising, and to whom. And the politicians we choose should keep their oaths of office — to the Constitution, too.

Is it too much to ask that our words mean what they say, and that our actions fit our promises?

How about we actually read the U.S.Constitution to see what we’ve been missing?  I could face the flag and pledge allegiance to that.

Andrew M. Horning, an adjunct scholar of the foundation, was the GOP candidate for the 7th Congressional seat and more recently the Libertarian candidate for governor. A businessman, he owns land near Freedom in Owen County.



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