Friday, September 11, 2009

The pledge confusion of 1923

The pledge confusion of 1923

What's the plan? Before an engraver is turned loose to mar the walls of the Capitol Visitors Center unnecessarily, I'd like to know exactly how the finished engraving will appear. Has any consideration been made for the grammatical problem posed by the written pledge as opposed to its merely spoken words? If not, we may be allowing some grave (and engraved) confusion to occur if someone doesn't check this out carefully.

Let me explain:

Bellamy's original Pledge read: "I Pledge Allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all," and subsequent changes were made until it finally became the version we have today - the one that includes "under God".

The last change to the wording of the pledge, the inclusion of "under God," was made official in 1954. In fact, I remember relearning the pledge in order to accommodate the new addition and since then nothing has changed. A healthy sensible challenge was mounted at the time the wording change was brought, aimed at blocking the change. It was lead primarily by, atheist, Madelyn Murray O'Hare, but yet the change was instituted. Additional challenges have been attempted since with the most recent one to reach the courts being brought by, atheist, Michael Newdow in 2005, but there, too, failure resulted.

We currently are on the verge of spending an additional $150,000 to engrave the words "under God" into stone. That's not a whole lot of money (at least not by the way the government tends to toss dollars around) but its something, isn't it? I think we ought to look a little closer at just how the pledge is going to be written before we proceed hastily to completing the project. (If it isn't done already... There's been a virtual fever to see "God" stamped on everything.)

I suspect the engraving plan is to write the words "under god" using a capitol letter "g" ... indicating that a specific god is being referenced, and that alone ought to raise a few eyebrows (although it hasn't raised enough of the right ones so far, has it?) Yet, it's clear and becoming clearer all the time, that the "under God" insertion of 1954 wasn't a universally welcomed change at its birth and time hasn't warmed it much since - quite the opposite, in fact - partly for reasons of ambiguity.

And now consider this: There was a former change in wording made to the pledge back in 1923 which I think deserves looking at. At that time, the question was over changing the original words "my Flag" (see above).

...the National Flag Conference called for the words "my Flag " to be changed to "the Flag of the United States ". The reason given was to ensure that immigrants knew to which flag reference was being made. The words "of America " were added a year later. (Wikipedia)

It seems we have a similar confusion to settle today - and for a very, very similar reason.

People need to know exactly which god is being referenced in the pledge. Capitalizing the word "god" suggests, at least here in America and to experienced Americans who have all been taught to apply a capital "g" colloquially, implying that god is likely the god of Abraham (And there's something wrong with that to begin with...) yet to a foreign observer, a visitor, or to a new immigrant, considerable confusion may occur over the word "god" especially because its capitalized.

The situation is so similar to that of the 1923 case that it deserves a serious second thought... "under gods" might be more appropriate but "under God" is certainly not.

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