“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.”

I have always proudly stood, put my right hand over my heart, and recited the Pledge of Allegiance when given the opportunity. I typically fancy myself as the guy whose voice carries over the crowd and rings with sincerity and patriotism. I’m usually the first guy on my feet when the flag comes into view at a sporting event or in a parade.

I am up and down a lot at Independence Day parades.

What’s more, we often hear about school districts or city councils or even town halls wherein a controversy has arisen regarding whether or not to require all those present to recite the pledge to kick off activities.

Take this incident in Oregon: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/06/28/compromise-on-pledge-allegiance-in-oregon-town-has-some-seeing-red/

Some say it is totally un-American to not say the pledge. Some say it should be a required part of the day of every kid in public school. In some parts of the country, if you stay seated during the pledge, you get frowned at– at the very least.

Then of course there’s NBC, for some reason editing out the “under God” portion of the pledge and having viewers call in quite incensed. And duly so– there is no doubt that the Founders, as a whole, believed in a being of higher power who was the creator and author of their lives and world. Surely many of them felt that a god-fearing people would have a better chance at sustaining the nation they were building.

But when was the last time you really took a look at the words of the pledge and the insisted practice of every person in a given locale standing and reciting it with hands over hearts?

First, the ritual:

Everyone stands, places hands over hearts, and recites the pledge in one voice. (Remember that the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist pastor and self-described Christian Socialist, and that the words “under God” were added in 1954 after a successful campaign by the Knights of Columbus.)

This can be seen as a sign of wonderful unity– a moment where all present raise their voices in heartfelt devotion to their country.

This can also be seen as a moment of extraordinary conformity wherein many present feel pressured by societal expectations to recite something they don’t care about. You’ve seen the mass games of North Korea? Google it if you haven’t, or watch A State of Mind– a very revealing documentary. And this mass recitation of the pledge happens in a country that claims individuality as a cornerstone of its culture.

And people often insist it be a required activity in public schools.

Does that not sound a little (a lot?) like indoctrination? Try to change the context to perhaps China, Soviet Russia or North Korea. Look at this ritual through that lens.

Interesting, isn’t it?

Is it possible that, perhaps, when people want to opt out of saying the Pledge of Allegiance at any given event or locale, they should be allowed to do so because disagreement and protest against established government and mores is quintessentially American?

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that children should be taught love of country, loyalty to nation, and I believe that America is exceptional– or at least has been for most of its life. Personally, I believe that these things should NOT be taught by a government-run educational system. That is very, very far afield from the founding principles of this nation, in my opinion.

You see, there’s the establishment clause. And when a government requires that children, en masse, around the nation, stand and recite a pledge of loyalty to a symbol above their heads, with a ritualistic gesture, that feels to me like the establishment of a religion of nation-worship.

Perhaps I’m a kook.

But then there are the words: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands,…”

Harmless, more than likely. Again, I don’t think a pledge like this needs to be institutionalized outside of a military corps whose loyalty and unity must be unquestionable.

Then: “one nation, under God, indivisible, …”

Yes, this is one nation, and I believe that God is the author and finisher of my faith, that He set aside this land as a choice place for the people of the world, and that it is MY job as His son on this Earth to obey the righteous laws of this land and do good in this world. That being said, not every Founder believed in the same type of God and neither do all Americans. Not all of us call our deity or symbol of our faith ‘God.’

This, I truly believe, is in actual violation of the establishment clause. But that doesn’t matter, because if a person wants to stand and say the Pledge, he or she can say whatever they want, I think. It is their right. Freedom of speech.

But “indivisible”? Really? I don’t agree. This country was and is to be united and a great nation. But where does the highest law of the land say that the country is indivisible? The idea was to form a federation of states.

I don’t want the country to divide, but I fear a central government that has the power to keep a sovereign state of sovereign people under its thumb if that sovereign state has a compelling reason to leave the union. That’s scary stuff there.

“With liberty and justice for all.” Bellamy wanted to add “equality,” too. It felt too socialist to his brother.

What this comes down to is that I, obviously, subscribe to very libertarian ideas in many areas. There is one kind of liberty, when all is said and done: individual.

I like the pledge. I choose to honor my flag and country, which I love greatly, by standing and saying the pledge at every opportunity. When soldiers and/or veterans march or drive by during parades, I’m the first on my feet. I choose to fly the flag in front of my house from dawn to dusk, unless it’s raining.

I choose to teach my children about the history of this nation and we discuss its founding principles.

Notice: I choose. That is beauty of this nation. It is a choice.

How about you? What are your thoughts on requiring the pledge in schools? What do you do when the pledge is recited? How about the words? What would you change, if you could?