Skip to content

Focusing on the flag

Speak to virtually any atheist in the United States and they’ll tell you that they don’t support the pledge of allegiance and find it to be a violation of the Establishment Clause, and all of that based on two simple words: “under God”. In fact whenever any atheist discusses the pledge of allegiance, that is their singular focus: “under God”. Why focus on just those two words? I don’t understand it.

Why focus on just the two words and not on the fact that the Federal government has entered into the United States Code specific speech and a method of rendering it?

Now the pledge of allegiance is not an oath of any kind. The Federal government must, under the requirements of the Constitution, define an oath of office to be rendered by every person who enters the employ of the Federal government or the military, but the pledge is not part of that. In fact no person is required at any time under any Federal law or regulation to recite the pledge of allegiance. The flag code (Title 4 of the United States Code) does not define any criminal statute, nor is there any criminal statute (Title 18 of the United States Code) that specifies penalties for not reciting the pledge. The reason for this is quite simple: the First Amendment.

My problem with the pledge of allegiance concerns its target: the flag. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America”. Let’s look into this a little.

We are all familiar with the current design of the flag:

But how did it receive its current design? If you look at 4 USC § 1 & 2, you will see that the flag is defined by ordinary legislation:

The flag of the United States shall be thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white; and the union of the flag shall be forty-eight stars, white in a blue field.

On the admission of a new State into the Union one star shall be added to the union of the flag; and such addition shall take effect on the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.

The President establishes by executive order the exact design specification of the flag fitting the general statutory description. The current specification of the flag is provided by Executive Order 10834, enacted shortly after Hawaii was admitted as a State, with the current design of the flag taking effect on July 4, 1960.

But again the flag is defined by a mere act of Congress, a simple statute. In about every State, if not every State, the flag is also defined by statute or regulation and can change. Some States have had more than one flag across their history. Georgia is a clear example on that one, having had multiple flags across its history. Georgia even has a pledge of allegiance as well (O.C.G.A. 50-3-2), adopted by statute in 1951 with revision in 1955.

Why would a State that has changed its flag design multiple times across its history have a pledge to a flag that has been the official design only since 2003 with three prior designs since the adoption of its pledge? I mean at least the United States has been somewhat consistent, only adding new stars for new States but keeping the overall design the same. That is with the exception of its brief flirtation with a 15-stripe flag after the admission of Vermont and Kentucky to the United States – it is this design to which Francis Scott Key wrote his infamous composition that has since been adopted as the national anthem.

And Georgia clearly shows the fallacy in pledging allegiance to a flag. When pledging allegiance to a flag, you are pledging allegiance to the sitting government, since it is the sitting government that adopts and changes the design of the flag any time they see fit.

There isn’t much stopping Congress from adopting a  new official flag of the United States – perhaps a new flag for each sitting President? Again the President can change the exact specification of the flag by executive order, meaning the President could adopt a union design that writes his likeness into the blue union with 50 white stars if so desired. Would you then be reciting the pledge of allegiance if that were to occur, since according to those who vehemently defend the pledge, pledging allegiance to the flag is a show of patriotism and support for the ideals of our Founders? If no, why not?

As the flag of the United States cannot represent anything other than the government that adopted its design, how is pledging allegiance to the flag not pledging allegiance to the United States government? And why, for God’s sake, would any well-meaning person who refers to him or herself as an American pledge allegiance to the Federal government or any State government therein?

Share