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Currents--University of Rochester newspaper

Alum's Pledge stirs current debate


From the moment 4,000 high school students in Malden, Mass., recited in unison Francis Bellamy's famous 23-word sentence, the Pledge was an instant hit. For the next 110 years, the Pledge of Allegiance would rouse patriotic fervor along with debate.

In August 1892, Bellamy, Class of 1876, penned the oath to commemorate the new Columbus Day holiday. His original version read, "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands-one Nation indivisible-with liberty and justice for all."

Today the ubiquitous Pledge includes 31 carefully chosen words, including the two currently under debate after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Pledge's phrase "under God" is unconstitutional.

Beyond the debate over authorship that was officially settled in 1957-26 years after Bellamy's death-there have been other legal debates and politically inspired iterations. In 1942 the Supreme Court ruled in favor of members of the Jehovah's Witnesses whose children refused to salute the flag because their religion forbids them to pay homage to symbols.

In 1923, the first National Flag Conference voted to add "the flag of the United States" to ensure immigrant children understood to which nation they were pledging their allegiance. And in 1954 Congress added the phrase "under God," setting the stage for the decision currently under debate regarding the blurring of church and state.

Perhaps the irony that the most recent addition to his Pledge is stirring both political and religious debate would not be lost on Bellamy, an ordained Baptist minister who left the clergy to pursue a career as writer and journalist.

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