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If you assumed political correctness is foolish and stupid but not really dangerous, you’d be wrong. “PC” is reaching epidemic proportions and infecting nearly every aspect of our culture and politics. Take, for example, its latest victim, our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance.
Some parts of our culture have built up strong immunities to PC, and for that we should all be grateful – but on many high school campuses, the fashionable way of demonstrating PC is the cheap iconoclasm of revamping the Pledge of Allegiance. High-school students in some of our more progressive communities are being encouraged to indulge their multiculturalist sensitivities.
Recently, a high school in Madison, Wisconsin, made news by deciding to change the words of the Pledge of Allegiance. After experimenting with dropping the words “under God” entirely, they soon settled on substituting “under Peace.” And a few months ago a student club at a high school in Fort Collins, Colorado, was permitted to recite the Pledge in Arabic over the public address system, with the words “under God” translated into Arabic as “under Allah.”
Should we be surprised that both of these recent events occurred in communities dominated by a huge state university campus?
Let us pause to reflect on the real meaning of translating and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in a foreign language. What exactly is the purpose of that exercise? Are they merely improving their language skills, or is it some form of “cultural protest”?
To understand what is going on, it’s useful to recall the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and why it is recited today in public schools in 45 of our 50 states.
The Pledge of Allegiance is a recent tradition, and its use in public schools is not mandated by federal law but by state laws and school board decisions. Those laws could be changed and the tradition could be abandoned. That could happen. But another way of abandoning that tradition is to change not the law but the words of the Pledge itself or to diminish its meaning.
When we look at its origin and history of the Pledge of Allegiance, right away we see why it has detractors and dissenters among the progressive left. It was written in 1892 by a Baptist minister and was first recited in public schools on Oct. 12, 1892, as part of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ discovery of America. Already, on learning this, the PC antenna of Berkeley and Harvard professors begin humming.
The words of the Pledge have changed a couple of times since 1892. The original version was a pledge to “my flag.” In 1924, that was changed to a pledge to “the flag of the United States of America,” which was done in part as a response to the large wave of immigration our nation experienced between 1890 and 1920. The Pledge existed prior to the immigration wave, but it became more important afterward. There was to be no confusion about which flag we are pledging allegiance to: “my flag” was changed to the United States flag.
The Congress of the United States did not formally adopt the Pledge until 1942, and the phrase “under God” was added by Congress in 1954. President Eisenhower said at that time he liked the addition because it emphasized that our nation is founded on faith in a higher being.
Can you imagine the ferocity of the debate in Congress and across the country if we had to do all of that all over again in 2014?
Today, the Pledge of Allegiance is not recited in all public schools, but it is widely honored within schools in 45 states. The Pledge is also recited each morning in thousands of public assemblies and most state legislatures. Significantly, in most states, unlike the morning prayer, which is recited before the official gavel and Call to Order so that it is not part of the official business of the legislature, the Pledge is recited after the Call to Order. Legislators routinely pledge allegiance to the flag as a part of their official duties.
Thus, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is a tradition honored regularly by tens of thousands of public assemblies and in most public school classrooms across the nation. Yet, recently, in some of our public schools, administrators are discovering a previously unknown mandate to allow students to refashion the Pledge as a foreign language tutorial or an experiment in cross-cultural communications.
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Does saying the Pledge in a foreign language change its meaning? Not necessarily, if the translation is literal and accurate. Arabic is a language, not a religion, so translating the word “God” as “Allah” may be a literal rendering of the word God in the Arabic language. If that is the case, then Christians who speak Arabic would worship “Allah” as the God of the Bible, not the very different deity worshiped in Islam.
Contrary to popular culture and song, not all gods are the same, and not all deities demand the same kind of obedience from the faithful. So, it makes a difference what was intended by translating “God” into “Allah.”
It is possible that people who take offense at the word “Allah” are over reacting if it is a literal translation of the word God into Arabic. The more important question is, why recite the Pledge in a foreign language in the first place?
To the vast majority of Americans, the Pledge of Allegiance should not be viewed as something to be reinvented or reinterpreted in dozens of different ways. It is not a 19th century poem, not a highway sign and not an inaugural speech by one of our 44 presidents.
The pledge became popular and nearly universal over the past century precisely for the reasons it is being challenged today by the apostles of multiculturalism. It is a voluntary statement of allegiance to the unity of our great nation – one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Each of those phrases conveys meaning: one nation … under God … indivisible … with liberty … and justice … for all.
If the words of our Pledge of Allegiance need to be changed, then they should be changed for everyone, not for one group, one class, or one school or religion.
The Pledge is and ought to remain voluntary, not a matter of compulsion under law. Under many Supreme Court decisions, there is an opt-out for students who have religious objections. Moreover, we should remember that no oath or pledge is meaningful if it is done under duress. But when the Pledge is recited voluntarily, it should be recited without change or deletion of key parts.
The Pledge of Allegiance is a pledge of faithfulness to the principles that bind us together as one nation. Where it is abandoned or altered, that act, too, tells us something important. It tells us we are no longer one nation.
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