The primary reason stated by the board members for their decision against reciting the Pledge was that the Pledge did not align with the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion values. They added that the division the Pledge caused was not a good way to start meetings. This of course begs the question; Is the content of the Pledge inherently wrong and divisive, or are the people opposing it unnecessarily causing the division by objecting to perfectly innocent and valuable content?
Specifically, some members took issue with the words “under God,” which were deemed potentially offensive to certain groups including atheists and agnostics. “Under God” was also deemed non-inclusive due to the perception it references the Judeo-Christian God and not the Gods of other religions. Quotes from the board members (found in the linked article above) on the subject include;
“The text is clearly referring to the Judeo-Christian god and therefore, it does not include any other face such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, all of which are practiced by our staff and students at FPS.”
“I would much prefer that we open our meetings with a shared statement of purpose that would bring us all together to do the work of the board.”
“Rather than starting our meeting on opposing sides of an issue, I’d rather us start by saying something unifying.”
“We live in a diverse community and that is what matters.”
These quotes reflect a profound misunderstanding of not only the Pledge, but our country as well. The Pledge reflects our commitment to upholding a political system built upon American founding values. These American values, which reflect natural law and Enlightenment moral principles, not only promote true diversity, equity, and inclusion among other positive ends, but they are essential to it by informing and guiding America’s course through changing times. The addition of “under God” to the Pledge, when properly understood, actually reinforces these secular and universal ideas by referencing back to the Founding and the sentiment found in Jefferson’s eternal Declaration that inspired our nation. To reject the Pledge on the grounds that the notion “under God” in this context is “divisive” is to reject that which is instrumental to unity in our diverse nation – this ends up promoting division in itself.
The current version of the Pledge of Allegiance is as follows, “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”President Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (Bliss Copy), 1863
We ought to teach children what “under God” means to our nation in this context. Everything from natural law, to a proper understanding of fundamental inalienable rights, to the concept of an “an appeal to heaven” found in John Locke’s Second Treatise depends on it. Take this example from Locke; the term “heaven” has a similar connotation as “under God” and may be misinterpreted in the same way by the same types of people. John Locke said,
“And where the body of the people, or any single man, is deprived of their right, or is under the exercise of a power without right, and have no appeal on earth, then they have a liberty to appeal to heaven, whenever they judge the cause of sufficient moment. And therefore, though the people cannot be judge, so as to have, by the constitution of that society, any superior power, to determine and give effective sentence in the case; yet they have, by a law antecedent and paramount to all positive laws of men, reserved that ultimate determination to themselves which belongs to all mankind, where there lies no appeal on earth, viz. to judge, whether they have just cause to make their appeal to heaven.”John Locke, Second Treatise, Of Civil Government (1689)
“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence (excerpt)
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Imagine educators rejecting these documents and not teaching our youth what they mean in context because they reference “God” and “heaven.” Imagine thinking these ideas are somehow “divisive” and that the recent “social justice” doctrines and fringe Leftist theories of a few dissident malcontents can solve the long-standing problems of injustice and alleviate socioeconomic challenges present in our society better than our traditional moral and philosophical orientation that has already achieved so much progress. This is what is occurring in our schools and it is why, even when discussing the seemingly inconsequential things like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, we must stand firm against baseless accusations and defend our cherished principles.
This is not to suggest we should force anyone to say the Pledge or demand they agree with it. There was a time in my youth when I did not understand it properly myself and was lured into disenchantment with it by certain ideological commentators. There are other reasons one may object to it as well and there are even some ways I would change it to make it better (in my opinion). But to outright reject it and deny it a place in society for these personal reasons is petty and irresponsible. Educators and leadership ought to know better than to bend to the will of people advocating for action based on anti-intellectual, emotional responses. The Fargo School Board should reconsider their position and determine who is really being divisive regarding the Pledge – those that want to recite it and teach children to live up to its meaning, or those that will throw it and what it stands for under the bus because a small minority misunderstand it and are offended by its historically rich, objectively valid concepts.