Don’t Be Fooled: Saying the Pledge of Allegiance, Now a Religious Oath, is Always Optional


The text of the original Pledge of Allegiance, as it existed until 1953. In 1954, Congress added the words “under God” to it, effectively changing it from a purely patriotic statement into a religious statement.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s recent refusal to stand during the playing of the national anthem has spurred debate over coerced and often perfunctory recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance.

In reaction to the September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, people started reciting the Pledge more frequently, on more occasions and in more venues than ever before. Many U.S. public schools starting requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily. Mesa County’s District 51’s student handbook (pdf, at page 35) says students get an “opportunity” and have the “right” to say the pledge, but it never expressly says in a neutral manner that students also have a legal right not to say it. Rather, the manual practically sneers at students who choose not to say the pledge by using language that infers such students are likely to be disruptive and disrespectful in doing so:

“If you feel, based on personal convictions or religious beliefs, that you do not want to recite the Pledge or salute the flag, we ask you to remain respectfully silent, not interfering with the
rights of others to recite the Pledge and salute the flag.”

By contrast, even Delta County School District 50J’s policy (pdf) is clearer, simpler, less judgmental and more even-handed in its language about reciting the Pledge:

“Any person not wishing to participate in the recitation of the Pledge for any reason shall be exempt and need not participate.”

The Pledge of Allegiance originally was purely a patriotic oath. From 1923 to 1953 the Pledge read as follows:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

That was it.

But in 1954, Congress turned the Pledge into a religious oath by officially adding the words “under God.” Legislators inserted the clause at the urging of religious groups, primarily the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men’s club. (To thjs day, the Knights of Columbus only admits men over the age of 18 who are practicing Catholics.) Inserting the new wording was intended as a way to repudiate the “godlessness” of Communism during the Cold War.

Many students are unaware that their grandparents said a different, non-religious pledge.

But the U.S. has a secular government, meaning American government at all levels is precluded by law from imposing religion or religious practices upon its citizens, so no American can be compelled to say a religious oath against his or her will.


Western slope public school students, especially District 51 students and those who are non-religious, need to know there is no requirement whatsoever that they recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day.

In addition, no student can be singled out, told they must stand and put their hand over their heart or otherwise be rebuked or penalized for not saying the pledge. It is also against the law for students who participate in or lead the pledge to be rewarded or favored in any way over students who don’t participate.

A Texas students was punished for not saying the Pledge

A Texas student was punished for not saying the Pledge

Schools need to take extra steps to fully inform students of their civil rights in regard to the daily recitation of the Pledge, and should not pressure, make judgements about or stigmatize students who don’t want to participate. It would be easy for students to be misled by a school district-mandated, crowd-driven activity into believing they have no choice in whether to participate in this particular activity. Any time a public school tells its students it’s time to stand for the pledge, they should also include a verbal disclaimer telling students that America is a free country, and no student must stand or participate in the ritual if they don’t want to.

But do District 51 schools do this? Do any western slope public schools?

Probably not.

After all, students who are uninformed about their rights are less likely to assert them and cause trouble for school districts, and less likely to enlighten other students about their rights as well.

So if you are a student and your rights are violated in any way in regard to saying the Pledge, don’t be afraid to make a fuss over it. The law is definitely on your side.

  5 comments for “Don’t Be Fooled: Saying the Pledge of Allegiance, Now a Religious Oath, is Always Optional

  1. de…what did we all have in common before that is not present now? We all were never Christians; we all were never one color; we all were never one sex; we all were never poor or rich….so how is NOW different?

    Education was, is and will always be the answer. Education helped people question, problem-solve, plan and evaluate. Emphasis on education was a common ground to this nation. It is the reason this nation believed in PUBLIC education for all. Always with the belief that a good education meant a good job. Now a good education means student debt and no job that pays well enough to pay off the loans.

    Meanwhile, banks are charging next to nothing in interest for huge capital outlay of funds to corporations to make them look prosperous. The Dakota Access pipeline is a good example of that. Over a dozen banks have “loaned” money to the tune of $7 Billion to push this through and the only thing stopping them from constructing the pipeline, that WILL leak, is the Standing Rock Sioux and a few others. This is the REAL battle….for resources and the protection of what every living creature must have access too….WATER.

    Survivors of the resource apocalypse will not remember a female President, Trump, or either party. The survivors will remember that those that came before them cared so little for the continuance of life that they did not protect the water, air and land as ALL other American generations had done before.

    I salute the young men protesting this nation by not standing for or taking the “Pledge.” I applaud them for their courage. They are NOT against the military….that’s myth is corporate media and Obama-speak, They are FOR the right to live … not in fear. Not in fear of arrest; not in fear of no access to water, air and productive land; not in fear of believing that being different makes one a target. They are doing what the Constitution tells them they can. The Constitution has always been the glue.

  2. I have to agree, no one should be forced or even expected to say they believe in something that isn’t obviously true to all. We need to have the freedom to graciously disagree. This applies to ALL beliefs: in a ‘God’, in ‘Gay rights’, in American ‘manifest destiny’ and hegemonic ‘rights’, abortion ‘rights’, extreme forced taxation, etc.
    The sad thing is that we have a melting pot culture in the US that has almost no common way of life or belief any longer. Can such a hodge-podge society really continue peacefully to exist? I have some doubts. Perhaps we really do need to break up into separate small ‘nation states’ like Europe, where people choose to live with like-minded people and see how the experiment works out? Liberal California and Wisconsin; Conservative New Hampshire and Nebraska? (just guessing!)

    • We’d never make it to the experiment stage. Can you imagine all the fighting that would commence once the disparate groups were assigned a given area of the country?

  3. For every “right” there is a responsibility and most times that responsibility is to remain neutral and not to promote one’s opinion as fact. We have a fundamental right to disagree but NOT the “right” to force our point of view on those that disagree with us. I appreciate your stance on many occasions but you define things in a very narrow framework. Your comment on District 51 policy for example. (I am no fan of the district by the by)

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