June 01, 2017

The Pledge of Allegiance: America’s Need of a Reawakening

By Bishop Arthur Serratelli *
The Pledge of Allegiance: America’s Need of a Reawakening

In the early 1890s, patriotism in America was very low. The fires of the Civil War had been extinguished and there was a general cooling of any national sentiment. A Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy was thoroughly convinced that the nation needed a new awakening of national ardor and so he composed the “Pledge of Allegiance” to that end. 

Bellamy believed that the best way to instill a love of country was to begin with America’s youth. And so he worked with the National Education Association. Together they campaigned to have President Harrison make the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in every public school the centerpiece of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. That day, October 12, 1892, gave birth to the hallowed ritual of saluting the flag with the Pledge of Allegiance, thus reinforcing the biblical principles of liberty, equality and charity upon which America is founded.

On Flag Day, June 14, 1954, President Eisenhower officially added the two very significant words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. The previous February, he had gone to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. He sat in the very same pew in which President Lincoln sat when he attended services. Eisenhower heard a powerful sermon delivered by the pastor, George MacPherson Docherty. And, he was inspired to add those two words.

In speaking about the Pledge of Allegiance in his sermon, Docherty said, “There was something missing in this pledge, and that which was missing was the characteristic and definitive factor in the American way of life. Indeed…this could be a pledge of any republic…” And so the pastor added the very phrase that President Lincoln had added to his Gettysburg address. In delivering that address, Lincoln inserted the phrase “under God” when he said “that the nation shall, under God, have a new birth of freedom.” Those two profoundly significant words, now in our Pledge of Allegiance, express the fundamental conviction of our Founding Fathers that God’s just providence rules over all people and guarantees their rights. 

Today, the unity of our country is sorely tested. Political speech is reaching a new low of disrespect for others. There are constant protests against authority. Students feel free to walk out on speakers with whom they disagree. There is no tolerance for the views of others. Comedians with politically-fired quips keep stoking hatred and anger. And, the result is the tragic loss of basic civility and respect. 

Furthermore, on very fundamental issues, we are a nation divided. Many do not hold to the sacredness of life, the freedom of religion, the Creator’s design for marriage, and charity toward the needy and the stranger among us. Is it not fair to question whether or not our unity as a nation has been shattered by those who attempt to refashion our society on human ideas without any reference to God’s providence? For America to truly become “one nation, under God, indivisible, with justice for all,” we need a reawakening of faith in the public forum.

Bishop Serratelli is the bishop of Paterson, New Jersey.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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