Still Lacking “Equality”

by Martin Kent on February 18, 2010

53 Million Schoolchildren recite the Pledge daily.

We say it without thinking. We say it without question. Over and over, we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, learned in childhood. Every morning, Monday through Friday, 53 million schoolchildren, a new generation of Americans, place their hands on their hearts and utter these words: “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.”

Inspiring words. A beautiful ode to patriotism. But if we were to think about it, if we were to question it, we’d realize something’s missing. Our pledge lacks one powerful word: Equality.

Did you know the word equality was originally intended as part of the pledge? And then discarded?

In 1892, when Baptist minister Francis Bellamy (1855-1931) wrote the first version for schoolchildren to recite at a commemoration of the 400th Anniversary of Columbus landing in the New World, it read: “I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands — one nation, indivisible — with liberty and justice for all.” It was an abridged version.

Bellamy was inspired by the ideas of his cousin, Edward Bellamy, author of the American socialist utopian novels, Looking Backward (1888) and Equality (1897). He strongly considered placing the word equality at the end of the Pledge. But deliberately left it out. Besides being a man of the cloth, Bellamy was also chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education in the National Education Association. He knew that his colleagues were, for the most part, against equality — for women and African Americans. The word equality would never fly.

One man wasn’t about to slip in a concept that had so long been denied in America. For hundreds of years the American economy had been based on slavery. Even our first President, George Washington, owned slaves. And yet, our Declaration of Independence proclaimed: “All men are created equal.” What of the slaves? Oh yes – the fine print, so to speak. They weren’t considered men. They were considered property.

Surely, after the Civil War, when the slaves were freed, when men were no longer property, they were equal, were they not? Not really. For another 100 years, until the Civil Rights Act was passed, African-Americans suffered through segregation, humiliation, violence and lynchings.  They lived in a society that in many, many ways refused to allow them the right of equality. This was a right that was jealously guarded by white men. Women weren’t given the vote until 1920. Equal pay for the same job as a man — that’s still at issue. Native Americans, the indigenous people who preceded European colonization by 10,000 years, were not granted citizenship until 1924. The reason? They weren’t considered equal.

America is a nation of reinvention. It’s practically a national pastime. Think of the many amendments made to our Constitution for over 200 years. The Pledge of Allegiance has also been altered — four times in fact — since Bellamy’s composition.  Thus, the inclusion of the full name of our country, “the United States of America.” The phrase “under God” was added by an act of Congress in 1954, at the urging of then President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

And yet, the revolutionary concept of equality, pondered and discarded by Bellamy over 100 years ago, is still not part of our Pledge. Bellamy, who quit the ministry in protest of the bigotry he encountered there, died a disappointed man, grappling to understand the painful contradictions in the country he loved.

Today we have a different culture, or so we aspire. America has searched its soul and legislated equality – for women, African-Americans, Native Americans and others. Scattered across the 50 states we are seeing legislation for equality for gay Americans. Equality for people who love one another, want to marry and enjoy equal protection under the law. It’s a slow process. But it’s happening.

Tolerance, the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or racial or ethnic differences of others, is an ideal, but most assuredly still not practiced universally. That’s because on a fundamental level, the right of equality is still questioned. When one group denies another group these rights it can set off a dangerous sequence. Hitler brainwashed a nation to believe that Jews were not equal to the so-called Aryans. First, the Jews lost all rights accorded to other Germans. Finally, horrifically, they even lost the right to live. In recent times we are still seeing the same ugly progression of prejudice, hatred, violence and ultimately genocide, in places like Bosnia, Darfur and Rwanda.

Still, in America, ask anyone on the street if they believe in the right of equality, especially if you point a television camera or microphone at them, and they’ll probably say yes. It’s because we really have come very far since 1892. We have elected the first African-American President, after all. That’s really far. But…not far enough. Equality is still a moving target.

America is a great nation. For most Americans, it’s the greatest country in the world. But one of things that makes America so great is its ability to look inward, to shine a light on its dark places. And make changes. And yet, in the course of 100 years, despite several modifications, the Pledge of Allegiance has never been restored to its true and most powerful form.

What if for the last 100 years while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, we had as a nation voiced the concept of equality? Imagine how that might have influenced our collective mindset. Imagine what might have been if we had not been cheated out of Bellamy’s original concept and vision. We might have embraced equality generations ago and avoided many heartaches as a nation.

It’s time for the Pledge of Allegiance to be changed once again. Let it live up to and embody the promise of the founding fathers, who proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, “all men are created equal.” No fine print this time. Our Pledge should follow suit, and conclude with the words: “with liberty, justice and equality for all.” Maybe if we say it enough, we might actually one day fully believe it. And it might actually come to be.

What do you think? If you agree, it’s time to shout it from the mountaintops. Let’s make history together. Send us your comments. I will take this message to legislators in Washington. Let America once again be a beacon of hope to the world. It’s time we stopped committing, on a daily basis, the sin of omission.

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Changing the Pledge, Not So Mainstream « Sara for America
May 18, 2011 at 6:06 am

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I.G.S. February 21, 2010 at 11:43 pm

This is something that we need to show that America has changed

Yaniv Fituci February 21, 2010 at 11:48 pm

This is a country that has proven to change over time and words are powerful. By adding words to that convey our tolerance and progressive nature, we show that our country accepts all races and creeds.

Sepideh February 22, 2010 at 12:19 am

America is a great nation. There is no other country in the world where one can freely retain their culture of origin and embrace the American culture all at the same time!!! We are a tolerant nation, but there is always room for growth and progress.

M. Anderson February 22, 2010 at 1:09 am

As the great great grandson of slaves and the father of a young son that is bi-racial (Asian/African American) this idea is particularly interesting to me. I have talked to my son many times about how the world will “see him”.. As a black man. And while things are “better” they still are not quite where they “should be”. The idea might take a while to make it to the pledge of allegiance. I hope that my son’s life finds the spirit of the idea manifest in his life. It’s what his ancestors died for..

Frank Dantona February 22, 2010 at 8:23 am

“All men are created equal” may be the most famous five words in the lexicon of American democracy. In 1776, Thomas Jefferson included them in the Declaration of Independence as part of his argument for the very existence of the new nation. It has been this nation’s sad history that too often those words were ignored. However, that has always been changing slowly, but inexorably.

The word “equality” should be included in the pledge. It would remind us of a central ideal that we chose to defined ourselves as a nation from our very beginning and that we need to work each day to make that ideal into a universal reality.

R. Mojanoff February 22, 2010 at 10:54 am

America IS the nation of immigrants: people of different ethnicities, cultures, traditions…, it is One Nation under God, equality is our Right to enjoy, cherish and be proud of. People come to this land to enjoy the rights equally and proudly and be part of this country. Equality is the most important and essential part of our country’s culture and traditions and should certainly be added as part of American democracy. I believe that the word “Equality” should be included ( restored) in the pledge. When if not NOW? We are trying to accept NOW as way of our life, this Change will certainly change how the world perceives our great country. Change IS very important for this country, isn’t this what we voted for last year? Then, let’s do it NOW and make this important Change.

Gabby February 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Unfortunatelly the human race is prone to be agressive, always making one race better than the other one. It has always been a battle to allow other human beings to have rights. In America — first Black and Jewish, now its gay and Hispanic, many have suffered in one way or another, and the only way to stop it is to educate the new generations RESPECT AND TOLERANCE=EQUALITY — we are different on the outside but the same INSIDE like flowers, different colors, different scents but at the end all flowers.

My blood has a great source of different and wonderful sources, Spanish, Jewish and Mexican, people have a difficult time to place me in one race, and it upsets me to know that we have to be labeled as BREEDS and not people. The love of my life is a black man, my best friends and helpers in life have had different sexual orientation and I’ve learned so much from other religions, so I just consider myself A CITIZEN OF THE EARTH and I’m teaching my boys to accept, respect our neighbors, we don’t care about their color, religion or place of birth, we only care for the love and integrity that grows inside. Peace!!!!

Patricia Savage February 22, 2010 at 4:02 pm

While our country has been evolving into a more tolerant society, the positive changes have been very slow in coming. I believe adding “equality”, a small yet so significant word into the Pledge of Allegiance would go far toward instilling this precious value into the hearts and minds of future generations.

Debbie February 22, 2010 at 6:22 pm

This is an excellent idea. Growing up as an Asian/American, I can recall a number of times when I felt that I wasn’t treated equally because of my ethnic heritage.
I think it would be wonderful if Americans continually pledged to support the concept of equality, an ideal that has too long been beyond our grasp.
I definitely support adding the word equality to the pledge.

vicki February 22, 2010 at 10:56 pm

“All men are created equal” It is not only time to change the pledge to include equality.. it is time to change the word”men” to “individuals” to reflect women.

Danielle Kirk February 23, 2010 at 4:37 pm

Martin – YOU ARE BRILLIANT!!!! Thanks so much for leading this initiative – SO IMPORTANT!!!! :-)

Carol February 23, 2010 at 7:30 pm

I can’t see anyone objecting to making this change. This would make a great and welcome addition to the pledge. Maybe I’d even start saying it again!

Bottomless February 26, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Interesante, no va a continuar con este artнculo?


Chuck Greenlee March 2, 2010 at 5:23 pm

I can’t agree more. The explicit inclusion of ‘equality’ is long past due.
One would think concept of equality to be understood as inherent to both the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Sadly, that is not the case.
Perhaps by including the word in written form and constant repetition, future generations will actively embrace equality and not leave it an obscure concept.

Bonnie March 3, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Yes, I’m all for adding the word “equality” to the pledge. It makes me feel good just to hear the word, especially in these difficult, violent times.

LJR March 11, 2010 at 11:40 pm

This is a very interesting article about the origins of the Pledge of Allegiance–I recommend it to everyone! (and shared it on FaceBook)

I was astonished that I spent my life reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and never realized that the word “equality” was not listed along with “liberty and justice for all”.

Perhaps we were not ready for it ‘way back when’–but I think we have come far enough in our understanding and growth as a nation to be ready to add that extra word to the pledge now!

Thank you for this information.

Nicole Flemister March 16, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Equality is a trait we should all teach our children. Being equal to your fellow man could change the future for all.

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Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

ken brahmer July 11, 2011 at 6:04 pm

Over a year ago I visited your website and became aware of your work. This began as a result of the film Schindler’s List (Ark) and research I made.
Today I visited again and was struck by the concern over the word “equality” absent from the Pledge of Allegiance. I am reminded of several churches, when I was a young boy in the 50′s, that often sang “Jesus loves the little children all the children of the world…red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. ” In lower Alabama few people in that town ever truly considered the meaning, sang boldly and were oblivious to the irony…there were still KKK signs at the outskirts of town. I’m not sure adding the word will resolve much in the depth of this issue. Your website with video clip may offer more. Thank you!

Martin Kent July 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Thanks for your insightful and heartfelt comment, Ken.

joe llaben March 25, 2012 at 10:28 pm

I’d rather be at the beach.

I wish we could clone this man and put him in every school in our country and not only that, I wish he would run for President!!!!!

From: Dennis Prager, Principal – Redding, California

To: The students and faculty of our high school

Date: The first day of classes in 2010

I am your new principal, and honored to be so. There is no greater calling than to teach young people.

I would like to apprise you of some important changes coming to our school.

I am making these changes because I am convinced that most of the ideas that have dominated public education in America have worked against you, against your teachers, against your parents, and against our country.

Therefore :

First, this school will no longer honor race or ethnicity. I c ould not care less if your racial makeup is black, brown, red, yellow, or white. I could not care less if your origins are African, Latin American, Asian, or European, or if your ancestors arrived here on the Mayflower or on slave ships. The only identity I care about, the only one this school will recognize, is your individual identity — your character, your scholarship, your humanity. And the only national identity this school
will care about is American.

This is an American public school, and A merican public schools were created to make better Americans.

If you wish to affirm an ethnic, racial, or religious identity through your school, you will have to go elsewhere. We will end all ethnicity- r ace-and non-American-nationality-based celebrations. They undermine the motto of America , one of its three central values — E Pluribus Unum — “from many, one.”

And this school will be guided by America’s values. That includes all after-school clubs. I will not authorize clubs that divide students based on any identities. This includes race, language, religion, sexual orientation, or whatever else may become in vogue in a society divided by political correctness. Your clubs will be based on interests and passions not blood, ethnic, racial or other physically defined ties. Those clubs just cultivate narcissism — an unhealthy preoccupation with the self while the purpose of education is to get you to think beyond yourself. So, we will have clubs that transport you to the wonders and glories of art, music, astronomy, languages you do not already speak, math, carpentry, and more. If the only extracurricular activities you can imagine being interested in are those based on ethnic or racial or sexual identity, that means that little outside of yourself really interests you.

Second, I am not interested in whether or not English is your native language. My only interest in terms of language is t hat you leave this school speaking and writing English as fluently as possible. The English language has united America ‘s citizens for more than 200 years, and it will unite us at this school. It is one of the indispensable reasons this country of immigrants has always come to be one country. And if you leave this school without excellent English-language skills, I will have been remiss in my duty to ensure that you are prepared to compete successfully in the American job market.

We will learn other languages here — it is deplorable that most Americans only speak English . B ut if you want classes taught in your native language rather than in English, this is not your school.

Third , because I regard learning as a sacred endeavor, everything in this school will reflect learning’s elevated status. This means, among other things, that you and your teachers will dress accordingly. Many people in our society dress more formally for a meal at a nice restaurant than they do for church or school. Those people have their priorities backwards. Therefore, there will be a formal dress code at this school.

F ourth, no obscene language will be tolerated anywhere on this school’s property — whether in class, in the hallways or at athletic events. If you can’t speak without using the “F-word,” you can’t speak. By obscene language I mean the words banned by the Federal Communications Commission plus epithets such as the “N-word,” even when used by one black student to address another, or “bitch,” even when addressed by a girl to a girlfriend. It is my intent that by the time you leave this school, you will be among the few of your age to distinguish instinctively between the elevated and the degraded, the holy and the obscene.

Fifth, we will end all self-esteem programs. In this school, self-esteem will be attained in only one way — the way people attained it until the state of California decided otherwise a generation ago — by earning it. One immediate consequence of this is that there will be only one class valedictorian, not eight.

Sixth, and last, I am reorienting the school toward academics and away from politics and propaganda. No more time will be devoted to scaring you about smoking and caffeine, or terrifying you about sexual harassment or global warming. No more semesters will be devoted to condom-wearing and teaching you to regard sexual relations as only or primarily a health issue.

There will be no more attempts to convince you that you are a victim because you are not white, or not male, or not heterosexual, or not Christian. We will have failed, if any one of you graduates from this school and does not consider himself or herself inordinately lucky — to be alive and to be an American.

Now, please stand and join me in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America . As many of you do not know the words, your teachers will hand them out to you.

Brandon April 11, 2014 at 7:36 am

I.. disagree..

I do believe that we are all created equal, however, I think the lesson from Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron story..

We are born equal, however, it is not for the government to keep us that way… We must work to give hands up to people, however, to have institutionalized efforts to keep us equal, stymes liberty… Which is even more essential, as you cannot have true equality… We much strive for liberty, fair laws, and as individuals give “hands up”.

Brandi Ellen Kinard May 22, 2014 at 7:06 am

I am currently a high school senior at Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was picked by my school to read the Pledge of Allegiance in our 2014 graduation ceremony. So, today, I decided to research the meaning of the Pledge and found this statement. I am impressed by the quality your research. You provide strong evidence. You captured my attention with the hook: “We say it without thinking. We say it without question. Over and over, we recite the Pledge of Allegiance, learned in childhood;” because it is shockingly true (with the exception of me, because I question the meaning of almost everything). It would be a wonderful idea to take this claim to legislators in Washington.
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.
In case, you need someone to read the Pledge of Allegiance for you at your conference in Washington, I’m all in. Good luck!

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