What does the Pledge of Allegiance mean? Children and adults recite it, but few have bothered to study its meaning. I know I didn’t.
Actor and comedian Red Skelton (1913-1997) is best known for this slapstick comedy and portrayal of a lovable “tramp,” as homeless men were called in the 1930s. Here Skelton shows a more serious side, breaking the Pledge of Allegiance down into its component parts.
What does the Pledge of Allegiance mean?
Skelton touches on the meaning of each word, in context.
Pledge – swear to give
Allegiance – loyalty and service
Flag – symbol, sign, designation of national membership
United – brought together
States – individual governing units connoting autonomy
America – the place where everyone is equal to the law
Republic – we elect representatives
nation – we are joined for defense against the world
indivisible – not able to be divided by external armies or internal schemers
liberty – the assumption that you may do what you want unless it hurts someone else
justice – what someone deserves, they get
all – every citizen, and to some extent to visitors
Periodically, evangelical atheists will try to get rid of the Pledge of Allegiance, or to remove the words “under God” from it.
“Under God” recalls our founding documents
In holding that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance are not a prayer, but a wholly constitutional reference to our nation’s founding, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts said (emphasis added),
In 1954, Congress amended the pledge to include the words “under God.” Id. See Pub. L. No. 83-396, 83d Cong., 2d Sess., c. 297, 68 Stat. 249 (1954). The amendment came during the escalation of the Cold War, and there is some indication in the legislative history that the amendment was intended to underscore that the American form of government was “founded on the concept of the individuality and the dignity of the human being,” which is grounded in “the belief that the human person is important because he was created by God and endowed by Him with certain inalienable rights which no civil authority may usurp.” H.R. Rep. No. 1693, 83d Cong., 2d Sess., at 1-2 (1954).
The House Report acknowledges that “[f]rom the time of our earliest history our peoples and our institutions have reflected the traditional concept that our Nation was founded on a fundamental belief in God.” Id. at 2. The report identifies a number of historical statements and documents of the founding fathers and subsequent national leaders that refer expressly to “God,” “Nature’s God,” the “Creator,” and like terms, and that reflect an understanding that the Nation was founded on a belief in God, including the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, and the Gettysburg Address. Id. at 2-3.(14),(15) See School Dist. of Abington Township v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 213 (1963) (“The fact that the Founding Fathers believed devotedly that there was a God and that the unalienable rights of man were rooted in Him is clearly evidenced in their writings, from the Mayflower Compact to the Constitution itself”); Newdow v. Rio Linda Union Sch. Dist., 597 F.3d 1007, 1032, 1038 (9th Cir. 2010) (“The words ‘under God’ were added as a description of ‘one Nation’ primarily to reinforce the idea that our nation is founded upon the concept of a limited government, in stark contrast to the unlimited power exercised by communist forms of government”; “A reasonable observer . . . aware of the history and origins of the words in the Pledge would view the Pledge as a product of this nation’s history and political philosophy“).(16)
What Does the Pledge of Allegiance Mean?