It’s come to my attention that school is starting already. I recall being in a school auditorium as a youngster when they added the words,
‘under God’ to the Pledge of Allegiance. Mr. Doak and Mr. Burke, Civics and
History teachers, were up there trying to get it right while teaching it to a couple of hundred kids. Kids who were still on shaky ground from learning it the first time. That would have been in the mid-1950s:
Mr. Doak: “Okay. This isn’t complicated and shouldn’t take long. Just say it like you always said it, but after, ‘one nation’, pause, then say, ‘under God’, then pause again before going on.
“Try it. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation,
with liberty and justice for all.”
Cacophony of 300 kids lost mid-way through. Mr. Doak pauses with a frown waiting for the noise to die down. Mr. Burke’s frowning too. He nudges Mr. Doak.
Mr. Burke: “Eh, John, hold on a minute. I think it’s supposed to be ‘one
nation under God’, not ‘one nation with a pause, under God with a pause.”
Mr.Doak: “Ralph, look at it. The comma’s in front of and after ‘under God.'”
Mr. Burke: “John, that doesn’t mean it’s supposed to sound like some run-on sentence. This is the Pledge of allegiance!”
Mr. Doak: “Ralph, I know what it is.” Doak scowls and turns back to the 300 lost faces. “Let’s try it again now.”
Burke: “No, no, no, John. Let’s try it one time my way.”
Doak grinding his teeth: “Ralph, we have to get this over with.”
Burke: “I’m not the one holding it up John. We’ve got to get this right. What you’re telling them is wrong.”
Doak: “Who’s in charge of this, Ralph? When Livingston said one of us has to do it you didn’t volunteer to get up here and explain it.”
Burke: “Neither did you.”
Doak: “No, but I eventually agreed to. You just agreed to come up and help.”
Burke: “Never mind. Tell them to do it any way you want to. The Pledge is yours! I have nothing more to say.”
Doak: “Good.” Turns back to the 300. “Okay, let’s try it again.”
The question of whether the framers of the Constitution would have thought a child having to say, ‘under God’ is a fairly weird one, by hindsight. But not because the placement of the commas is a major issue.
The reason it’s weird lies in the fact that the question of whether this nation
is indivisible was never considered by the Supreme Court, never mentioned in the US Constitution. The founders put off any debate about the indivisibility issue because every member knew that no state would agree to become a member if the decision was irreversible, whatever the circumstances. So, while it was discussed, it was also pointedly not discussed in loving detail.
Half century later it was discussed, however. The discussion began at Fort
Sumter and ended with Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. That avoidance by the founding fathers of an inevitably crucial issue was decided by force of arms, one half, (the half possessing an army) of the nation believing it was indivisible, the other half believing it was divisible. The stronger half forced the weaker half to accept indivisibility at gunpoint after a lot of bloodshed.
Thus, the Pledge of Allegiance came into existence after Lee’s surrender at
Appomattox. The winning side forced each surrendering Confederate soldier to say a pledge accepting indivisibility as one of the precepts of citizenship, followed afterward by many generations saying the pledge from early childhood since then.
But the US Supreme Court was never asked whether that Pledge acknowledging indivisibility was Constitutional, which might have saved a hundred thousand lives, legs, arms, and a whole different approach to US governance.
Instead, they’ve been asked repeatedly to decide the easier matter of whether it’s a violation of a child’s civil liberty to utter the words, “Under God”.
Fife and drum – Battle Cry of Freedom – 145th Gettysburg
Note: The flag with a Native American waving a weapon flies summertimes near the booths along IH10 as it passes through the Laguna tribal lands. Although the Laguna universally despise the Acoma neighbors neither tribe has engaged in warfare against anyone since 1597.