Did You Know: A Christian Pastor Wrote the Pledge of Allegiance?

Interestingly, an upstate New York Baptist minister’s son, Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance years after following his father’s footsteps into the pulpit and then out into the public square in New York City and Boston.

Later in his life, Bellamy accepted a job to promote a family magazine, Youth’s Companion, which had a readership base of roughly half a million subscribers. Through this opportunity, in 1891, Bellamy was tasked with organizing a patriotic program for schools across the country to coincide with the upcoming 400 year anniversary of Christopher Columbus discovering America.

Bellamy’s ideas would shape the opening ceremonies for the Columbian Exposition held in Chicago (but one year later than planned, in 1893.) He successfully lobbied Congress to adopt a resolution endorsing the ceremony, which it did. And his efforts helped encourage President Benjamin Harrison to sign a proclamation that declared Columbus Day as a national holiday.

One key aspect of this commemorative program included a new salute to the flag by schoolchildren while reciting a Pledge of Allegiance.

According to the  Smithsonian:

Bellamy recalled his boss saying. “You write it. You have a knack at words.” In Bellamy’s later accounts of the sultry August evening he composed the pledge, he said that he believed all along it should invoke allegiance. The idea was in part a response to the Civil War, a crisis of loyalty still fresh in the national memory. As Bellamy sat down at his desk, the opening words—”I pledge allegiance to my flag”—tumbled onto paper. Then, after two hours of “arduous mental labor,” as he described it, he produced a succinct and rhythmic tribute very close to the one we know today: I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands—one Nation indivisible—with liberty and justice for all. (Bellamy later added the “to” before “the Republic” for better cadence.)

According to the Youth’s Companion, millions of schoolchildren participated in the Columbus Day ceremony. Bellamy said he heard the pledge for the first time on October 21, 1892 when “4,000 high school boys in Boston roared it out together.”

Since then, various attempts have been made to change the pledge.

In 1923, members of the American Legion and the Daughters of the American Revolution, held a National Flag Conference, proposing that the phrase, “my flag,” should be replaced with “the flag of the United States.” The next year, they added to the phrase “of America.”

On the pledge’s 50th anniversary in 1942, Congress adopted the pledge as part of a national flag code, which included saluting the American flag. By 1942, saluting the flag was an institutionalized, national action. Some state legislatures obligated public schools to have their students recite the pledge every day. But individuals and groups challenged the laws. In 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that no student should be compelled to recite the pledge, citing the First Amendment.

In 1954, Congress added the phrase, “under God,” to the Pledge of Allegiance. Aware of the controversy surrounding the vote, the bill’s sponsors anticipated that the reference to God would be challenged. Opponents would argue that the phrase, “under God,” would violate the First Amendment, so the bill’s sponsors clarified that the phrase “wasn’t really religious.” They wrote:

A distinction must be made between the existence of a religion as an institution and a belief in the sovereignty of God. The phrase ‘under God’ recognizes only the guidance of God in our national affairs.”

Their disclaimer didn’t prevent the inevitable slew of lawsuits that would occur over the years in several state courts. And, in 2002, a U.S. appeals court ruled that the phrase, “under God,” turned the pledge into an “unconstitutional government endorsement of religion when recited in public schools.” However, this ruling was challenged and went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2004, the Court ruled unanimously to keep “under God” in the Pledge.

Interestingly, the original Pledge of Allegiance didn’t include the phrase, “under God,” even though it was first written by an ordained Christian minister. Instead, Congress voted to add the phrase, and the Supreme Court ruled to keep it.

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