The Pledge of Allegiance is once again in the news. David Habecker, a council member in Estes Park, Colorado, has decided not to stand to say the Pledge because he has a problem with the addition of “under God” to the original version. As a result, there is a recall effort under way. Habecker would be on more solid ground if he had refused to say the Pledge because of its socialist origin. Let me explain.

The earliest version of the Pledge of Allegiance was written in August, 1892, by Francis Bellamy, a newspaperman, who wrote for Youth’s Companion magazine. The original Pledge appeared in the September 8th issue of the magazine and was first recited in public at a Columbus Day program on October 12, 1892, the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s discovery of America. To celebrate the anniversary in a big way, Chicago held the World Columbian Exposition. This was before Christopher Columbus became politically incorrect.

Francis Bellamy, the author of the original Pledge was a Baptist minister. He was the first cousin of Edward Bellamy, author of the socialist utopian novels Looking Backward (1888) and Equality (1897). John W. Baer, author of The Pledge of Allegiance: A Centennial History, 1892–1992, writes that “it never would have occurred to Francis Bellamy to put ‘under God’ in the Pledge, at least according to what he had to say at the time.” While Bellamy preached sermons on topics such as “Jesus the Socialist” and “The Socialism of the Primitive Church,” over which he lost his pulpit at Bethany Baptist Church in Boston, he believed that religion belonged only in the family and church.

Bellamy believed that universal public education was the great equalizer and remedy for national unity. He saw the Pledge, as it was originally conceived, to by a way for immigrants to adopt a new national identity. “Our fathers in their wisdom knew that the foundations of liberty, fraternity, and equality must be universal education,” Bellamy wrote in a speech. Consider this frightening manifesto from Bellamy:

The free school, therefore, was conceived as the cornerstone of the Republic. Washington and Jefferson recognized that the education of citizens is not the prerogative of church or of other private interest; that while religious training belongs to the church, and while technical and higher culture may be given by private institutions–the training of citizens in the common knowledge and the common duties of citizenship belongs irrevocably to the State.

Of course, at the time, public schools were generally Protestant, a carry over from the Puritan heritage of the colonies. With the rising tide of immigration, Roman Catholics became a growing segment of the population. If they sent their children to public schools, they would get Protestant indoctrination. I can remember the first time I attended public school after five years of Catholic elementary schooling. Bible reading and prayer were still said in public schools when I entered the 6th grade in 1961. The Lord’s Prayer was said every morning. But to this Catholic boy, the “Our Father” ended in a way different from the way I had learned it. This Protestant line had been added: “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.”

In order to counter the Protestantism in the public schools, Catholics built their own parish schools guided by Catholic doctrine. Catholic kids who did not go to Catholic school had to go to catechism classes on Saturday morning. To Bellamy, this was not what America was all about. He wanted a national religion that was civic in nature and socialist in principle.

As we’re beginning to see, the Catholics understood the problem, but as the public schools got more secular, that is, less Protestant, Catholics felt it was safe to send their children to what they believed were religiously neutral schools. Boy, were they wrong!

The biggest problem we face as a nation is not whether “under God” is in the Pledge and said in government schools, but the fact that Christians continue to send their children to government schools in the first place. Christian groups are wrangling over “under God” in the Pledge when God has been persona non grata for decades. It’s my dream that one day public schools will be sold to Christian schools for pennies on the dollar. I hope I live to see it happen.

Quoted in Terry Mattingly, “The Pledge of Conformity” (July 3, 2002).