The Complicated History of the Pledge of Allegiance | Episode 1 July 16, 2019

The Complicated History of the Pledge of Allegiance | Episode 1

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This season is all about the complicated history of the Pledge of Allegiance and the legal controversies it spawned. The first episode can be heard below!

A list of citations and other notes can be found here. Also, Patreon donors who give $10/month get early access to the episodes.

Below is the full transcript for Episode 1:

Hubert Eaves was only 11 when he decided to protest the Pledge of Allegiance in his Iowa school because he knew our country’s history. He knew how African Americans, like he and his family members, were being treated. He knew all about Jim Crow and lynchings. He knew there really wasn’t liberty and justice for all and he believed the flag was dirty. He’s even reported to have said I’ll “salute the flag as the flag salutes me.”

And because he refused to participate in the Pledge ritual, he was arrested at his school. His case even went to trial. But if you haven’t heard that story, it may be because the judge eventually said it wasn’t a crime in his state to not salute the flag, so the kid didn’t actually break the law. Hubert was allowed to come back to school and not say the Pledge, and everyone just moved on.

Or maybe you haven’t heard that story because it took place in 1916.

There are a couple of different versions of that story involving Hubert Eaves with the details changing depending on your source, but what’s not in doubt is that the child protested the Pledge more than a century ago, that he was not an anomaly, and that we’re fighting the same thing today. How did we get to that point?

I mean, if you were designing a classroom from scratch, and thinking about how to get children in the right mindset to learn, I imagine the last thing you’d want to do is begin the day with an activity that unnecessarily creates controversy where none existed by pressuring children to say something they might not want to say and which doesn’t serve an educational purpose.

Yet for several decades now, that is exactly what we’ve done with the Pledge of Allegiance. In public schools around the country, kids are told to get up, put their right hands over their hearts, and say the 31 words many of us probably have etched into our memory from grade school.

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.

On the surface, there’s nothing about the Pledge that should be controversial. It’s just saying you love your country, right? But that alone can be an issue, and a closer inspection of those words, at least for people paying attention to what they’re saying, uncovers even more problems.

For example, if you’re an atheist like me, maybe you have a problem saying you live in a nation Under God. If you’re an advocate for social justice, like Hubert Eaves, maybe you have a problem with the Pledge implying that our country really does have liberty and justice for all because you know we don’t. Or maybe you just don’t think we should be automatically pledging allegiance to a nation that is — let’s face it — responsible for so many atrocities. Maybe you think I like criticizing my country! Let’s not confuse a patriotic ritual with actual love of the nation, which includes pointing out its flaws and working to make it better.

The fact is, there are a lot of reasons you might not want to stand for or say the Pledge. And the good news is that you don’t have to. Your school can’t make you, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a student or teacher. But that wasn’t always the case. People had to fight for the right not to say the Pledge. The irony in all this is that Pledge protests, which are frequently associated with atheists or civil rights activists and which are often criticized by religious conservatives, began as a religious objection from people who didn’t want to fight at all. We really owe religious minorities a debt of gratitude for leading the charge here.

But while modern-day Pledge fights still make headlines, we don’t talk a lot about why people used to object to the Pledge, and that’s unfortunate, because that’s vital to understanding why today’s protests still matter and how our First Amendment rights developed over time. They involved groups that did not have a lot of power, and judges who realized they made a huge mistake, and a lot of violence over the question of what a real American looked like. (Where have we seen that one before?) The Pledge’s history involves political backstabbing, and questionable legal strategies, and a battle over child custody — and all of this stems from something that was really nothing more than a marketing tool that got taken way too seriously.

The Pledge originated in an unlikely place. There was a Boston-based magazine called The Youth’s Companion that was flourishing in the mid-1800s. It began as a publication for children and morphed into a general family-friendly magazine. If you were a writer, that was a great place to have your work published. The people who wrote for it included Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Emily Dickinson. By the end of the century, it was one of the most popular periodicals in the country with a circulation of over 500,000 copies per issue.

The man who ran the publication, Daniel Sharp Ford, didn’t just rely on the written word to get more subscribers, either — he basically offered the equivalent of an NPR tote bag for new members. He also had incentives if they recruited other members. Get me a certain number of new subscribers, and I’ll throw in this fancy sewing machine. He also sold those goods through the publication itself. So it was both an exciting magazine and a place for people to check out the latest trinkets they could buy, which was a relatively new idea. This was around the same time the Sears catalog began.

Now, that was good marketing… But Ford really ramped it up in 1888 when he started selling the American flag. This was at a time when an American flag just wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s not like there was one outside of every household or one in every classroom. So, Daniel Ford along with his nephew-slash-new director of promotions, James Upham — spelled U-P-H-A-M — decided, Hey, it would be a great moneymaker for us if we could convince everyone they needed a flag in the classroom! So that’s the marketing campaign they tried to run with. In 1890, they even ran an essay contest in the magazine called “The Patriotic Influence of the American Flag When Raised over the Public Schools.” In other words, tell us why it’s so important for the good of our country to have a giant flag at your school. By the way, a winner from every state will get a giant flag for his or her school. By the way, we also sell flags. Wink wink nudge nudge. That’s just one example of a flag promotion they ran — but there were many, many others.

My favorite promotion may have been this one: If any student told the magazine he or she wanted a flag, they didn’t just get one. Instead, they were sent 100 small paper certificates that they could sell for 10 cents apiece. All the papers said, “This certificate entitles the holder to One Share in the patriotic influence of the School Flag.” They were literally selling shares of fake patriotism to their neighbors the way kids today sell Girl Scout cookies or coupon books. And if the kids sold 100 of those certificates, and sent the magazine the $10, they would get a good-sized, substantial flag for their schools.

As authors Jeffrey Owen Jones and Peter Meyer put it in their book The Pledge, that campaign “scored a trifecta for the magazine — raising patriotic awareness, achieving valuable promotion, and generating income from the sales of flags.”

But James Upham was a marketing genius, and he knew he could go even further. In 1891, Upham knew that Chicago was going to break ground for its upcoming World’s Fair in October of 1892. And that also happened to be the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage. It was shaping up to be a major holiday for American patriots. Might as well join in on the festivities. And you know what everyone needs when they’re celebrating? A flag. It was no longer just a classroom prop. It was shorthand for how much you loved your country. The more flags you had and the bigger they were, the better.

It also helped that another employee at the Companion had a way with words. Daniel Ford had hired this other guy, Francis Bellamy, because Ford attended Bellamy’s church. Bellamy was a Baptist pastor, but he was also something of a socialist, a very Bernie Sanders-like figure, often giving sermons on wealth inequality and the rights of the working class. But after six years as a pastor, and less money to work with, and a general feeling of being burnt out, and constant criticism from people who didn’t like to think of Jesus as a socialist, he chose to resign, and Daniel Ford was right there to snatch him up to work for the magazine. Ford assigned him to work with Upham and even said to Bellamy, “James is very much interested in a patriotic propaganda to get the public school children to raise flags over their schools.” He actually used the word propaganda.

So now you had Upham and Bellamy working on this big 1892 patriotic extravaganza, and they were selling flags like never before. Bellamy even managed to score a meeting with President Benjamin Harrison and convinced him to issue a resolution declaring Columbus Day a national holiday. At the time, Columbus Day wasn’t a thing. It didn’t become an annual tradition until 1934, but the 400th anniversary deserved special recognition. And that’s what Harrison offered in June, months before the big day. So this was shaping up to be a huge deal. Everything was going according to plan.

But if they really wanted school teachers across the country to play along, Upham and Bellamy knew they needed to guide those teachers along the way. What good is a nationwide celebration of Columbus Day if no one has any set plans for what to do? So, with the approval of groups that wanted to promote the World’s Fair and the endorsement of superintendents from across the country, they set out to design a program to deliver to public schools — a list of activities of what students could do to mark the occasion. And you can bet those activities involved flags.

They didn’t have much else to work with, obviously. It’s not like they could send over a PowerPoint presentation. So a program full of speeches would have to do instead. The kids would say prayers, they would sing the song that begins My Country Tis of Thee, they would recite some poetry. All of that would have been perfectly normal at the time. It also would have been pretty forgettable as far as history goes. The one thing they had not written, that they knew they wanted to include, was a Salute to the Flag. They liked the idea; they just didn’t know what the Salute should say. And being the procrastinators that they were, the night before the program was scheduled to go to the printing press, they had written a grand total of zero words of the Salute.

So they assigned that task to the low man on the totem pole: Francis Bellamy. He was the better writer, after all. He later said it took him “two sweating hours.” And he ended up with a 22-word Pledge that went like this: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Not bad for a first draft. Bellamy almost immediately revised it to say “to the Republic” because he thought it sounded better. So 23 words.

According to Bellamy, when he took that draft and presented it to Upham, the reaction was nothing but joy, partly because it justified all the flag-pushing the guys at the magazine had done and pushed back against their critics who mocked them for practically worshiping a piece of cloth. Bellamy is paraphrasing here, but Upham said something like this:

“My boy, you’ve done a bigger thing tonight than you know. These twenty-three words express the dream I’ve had for a year. They sum up the long movement to educate the children to love of country by means of the school flag. When the people hear the children say that, they will justify all the effort. It will put those pale-blooded editors who have called the flag-raisings the ‘worship of a textile fabric’ where they belong. I can’t help thinking that this flag pledge will live after you and I are dead.”

Give the man some credit. He was right about that. Remember: This was only a few decades after the Civil War ended, and lots of immigrants were arriving to the country at a newly opened processing center called Ellis Island. Bellamy was hoping the Pledge would help unify a country that had nearly been torn apart in his lifetime and which was rapidly changing before his eyes. It’s why he included that memorable phrase one nation, indivisible. This was also a time when nationalism — and I use that word with the best of intentions — was relatively low. People just weren’t celebrating their love of country like they used to after it was founded. So if the Pledge helped rejuvenate that, all the better.

That Pledge appeared in the September 8, 1892 edition of Youth’s Companion. The official program for the Columbus celebration consisted of eight items, including a prayer, a reading of a really long poem, another address that was really long, and a whole bunch of flag-related actions. I’m not kidding. Of the eight items on the list, #1 was reading a proclamation from the president, which ended with the line, “Let the Flag of the Nation be unfurled above this School.” #2 was the raising of that Flag. #3 was Bellamy’s Salute to the Flag. Basically, if you didn’t have a flag, you were out of luck. Item #3 was very specific, too, telling students exactly what to do while they recited the Pledge:

“At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the Flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly: ‘I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.’ At the words, ‘to my Flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, towards the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side. Then, still standing, as the instruments strike a chord, all will sing AMERICA — ‘My Country, ‘tis of Thee.’”

It’s almost weird to think about how they needed to provide instructions for how to say the Pledge when kids today just seem to become robots when they hear the Pledge during morning announcements. It’s easy to forget that they had to learn how to do that at one point in their lives.

Just in case there was any doubt about how seriously Bellamy and Upham took this, the top of the full-page spread encouraged readers to give a copy of the program to their school’s leaders. Then it hammered home the point: “Not one School in America should be left out in this Celebration.” It almost comes off as a threat. But when a popular magazine spells out exactly what needs to happen during a Columbus Day celebration, down to the gestures, it’s really hard for teachers to say no. And that was all just for the morning celebration. The very last item on that page also told teachers what to do in the afternoon, and it began with a preamble saying Columbus Day should be made a real holiday. Because if you do this every year, people will always need to replenish their flag supply, right?

The Bellamy Pledge didn’t become popular all at once, but it grew in popularity with each passing year. Saluting the flag and saying the Pledge basically went hand in hand and both became staples of many patriotic events. This was also around this time that baseball games started opening with a singing of the Star Spangled Banner, and what is that other than a way to inject some patriotism into a large gathering of people? Bellamy quickly became the Pledge’s greatest advocate. He went from preaching religion to preaching patriotism. And people were receptive. It wasn’t until decades later that we started hearing about protests.

If you’re coming away from this thinking Bellamy sounds like a good guy, let me burst your bubble on that. His approach to Christianity might seem refreshing, especially given the current power and actions of the Religious Right, but Bellamy, like so many people in his time, also held views that we would say are xenophobic and racist. He promoted Americanism, as he called it, because he worried about immigrants pouring over the country.

In 1893, he gave a speech that sounds so much like something Donald Trump might say today. Speaking to a group called the Women’s Literary Union, he agreed the United States had always been a nation of immigrants. But we were a land of good immigrants — you know, from northern and western Europe. But Bellamy feared the new wave of immigrants coming into the country. From Italy, he said, “We are receiving the vilest elements.” From Poland and Russia, he said, came “expelled Jews who will not labor with their hands, but choose to be parasites of tenement houses and worthless vendors.”

Years later, working for a different magazine, he wrote an editorial where he elaborated on his belief that not all men are created equal. See if you can tell who he was talking about:

“A democracy like ours cannot afford to throw itself open to the world. Where every man is a lawmaker, every dull-witted or fanatical immigrant admitted to our citizenship is a bane to the commonwealth. Where all classes of society merge insensibly into one another every alien immigrant of inferior race may bring corruption to the stock. There are races, more or less akin to our own, whom we may admit freely, and get nothing but advantage from the infusion of their wholesome blood. But there are other races which we cannot assimilate without a lowering of our racial standard, which should be as sacred to us as the sanctity of our homes.”

You’re just waiting for him to say, They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. Professor Richard Ellis, whose history of the Pledge called To the Flag is incredible, says it’s not enough to see the Pledge simply as an act of civic patriotism because that obscures the racial and ethnic anxieties that led Bellamy to write it the way he did.

So whenever you hear the Pledge, remember that it’s not just meant to inspire love of the country. It’s meant to inspire love of a certain kind of country, one that has very little affection for newcomers who don’t fit a preconceived notion of what an American ought to be. The flag those immigrants were told to salute represented a country whose biggest cheerleaders often wished would exist without them.

And yet when the protests began, they were over a different problem entirely.

For the first few decades after the Pledge was introduced, there were very few protests — at least none that gained any national visibility. When people complained about the Pledge, they were usually talking about how the flag was being fetishized. It was subverting actual displays of patriotism, which couldn’t be shown through rituals.

It wasn’t until 1911 when Pledge protests as we know them today really began. And the student who did it was a 14-year-old girl from New Jersey named Katherine Audsley. She was born in the U.S., but her parents were from Britain, and she wasn’t sure she could pledge allegiance to the U.S. flag in good conscience, so she asked her dad what she should do. He told her that as long as he was a British subject, so were his kids, according to British law. She took that to heart.

The New York Times says that with her parents’ encouragement, then, Katherine “flatly refused today to salute the flag and also ridiculed the Constitution of the United States.” God, I wish I knew what she said. But the Perth Amboy school superintendent sent her home until he could get further guidance from the state’s attorney general. Because Katherine was clearly the biggest troublemaker ever. In a brief editorial, the Times even wondered why this was a big deal: “Why school children should take the oath of allegiance every day, when there is so much arithmetic and geography to be learned, is not quite understandable.” No kidding, right? But then that same editorial lashed out at Katherine’s father, saying, “It would be making a mountain out of a molehill to exempt his children, by special law, from a part of the school ceremonial.” As if her father, and not the school district, was the one blowing things out of proportion. The state’s board of education eventually decided that if the district said kids had to say the Pledge, then kids had to say the Pledge.

By the way, the Times also reported that boys in Katherine’s class dressed up as American soldiers and showed up at her house. Police had to drive them away on at least one occasion. So in case you were wondering, boys couldn’t handle an opinionated girl a century ago, too.

We also had Hubert Eaves, that 11-year-old African American boy protesting in 1916, but like I said, his case was eventually tossed out.

The truth is: There wasn’t going to be a national controversy unless kids were forced to say the Pledge, and kicked out of school for not saying it, and school officials refused to budge on the matter.

It didn’t take too long before that happened.

The first major protest against saying the Pledge for reasons of conscience took place in 1918, courtesy of a group known as the Mennonites, who were conservative and anti-war. They were pacifists. And that anti-war belief was front and center for them in 1918 because this was around the time the United States formally entered World War I. A few states had begun mandating recitation of the Pledge, and that posed a conflict for Mennonites because they had no desire to fight. And saying you had an allegiance to your country implied that you would defend it in times of war. They were not going to do that.

So what did that protest look like in practice? Listen to this story from 1918.

There was a Mennonite father named Ora Troyer. He was from Ohio, and he told his 9-year-old daughter Ruth not to say the Pledge because it went against their religious beliefs. For her, that meant skipping class until the Pledge was over. But a parent can’t just tell a kid to skip school. Ora Troyer was actually arrested for allowing his daughter to be truant. He pleaded guilty. He paid a fine. But then he tried something different. He told Ruth to go to school in the morning. But if her teacher kicked her out because she wasn’t saying the Pledge, he told her to just wait until the noon recess had ended, then go back inside the school. She tried to do that. But when she returned in the afternoon, her teacher kicked her right back out.

In short, Ruth was still truant. But her dad could now say it wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t breaking the law. Blame the school!

You can guess how that went over. Ora Troyer was arrested once again for the truancies. But this time, because it was his second offense, he was handed a 25-day jail sentence. He tried appealing it, saying he wanted her at school! It was the administrators who were sending her home! But a judge insisted it was his fault, because he’s the one who told Ruth not to say the Pledge. He was the one who was poisoning her mind. The judges actually wrote that if it weren’t for the dad, Ruth would have said the Pledge in cheerful compliance. Those were the exact words. Because that’s how all children react when they’re told to do something, right? They always do it with smiles on their faces. Maybe the judges weren’t parents because they added that “There is no instinct in the heart of the native-born American child to show disrespect, disloyalty and rebellion against the beautiful banner which symbolizes American independence, its free institutions and the glory of this great nation.” You have to wonder: Had these judges ever met children? Rebellion is what they do. They’ll lash out when you’re trying to feed them and that’s when they’re hungry; why on earth would they suddenly be compliant when you’re asking them to perform a ritual? Still, the judges said if not for Ora Troyer, Ruth would have been able to attend school. How dare he get in the way of that?!

The judges also said this about refusing to say the Pledge, and it is truly frightening:

“Such conduct on the part of our citizens is not conscionable, for conscience would lead
to respect for government and to its defense, especially in a time of war, but rather it is
the forerunner of disloyalty and treason. All true Americans are conscientiously opposed
to war, but when war is upon us, we will fight and fight until the victory over our enemy is
won.”

How’s that for a No True Scotsman? If you’re a real American, you will fight and you will shut up about your critiques about our government. What Ruth did at the instruction of her father, they said, was un-American. He was telling her to be a traitor. All good Americans would have obeyed the rules and said the Pledge. It’s the least they could do.

This story of Ora Troyer was not unique, though. Let me share with you one more egregious case study of what happened to kids who did not say the Pledge.

In September of 1925, a nine-year-old boy named Russell Tremain began the school year in his hometown of Bellingham, Washington. His father, John, had already told school officials that Russell would not be saying the Pledge because they were members of the Elijah Voice Society, part of a small group that has a loose connection to today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses. John Tremain said that their family’s religion did not allow for saluting the flag because they opposed war and militarism. The school officials, however, said they didn’t care. State law required kids to pledge allegiance to the flag at least once a week.

So how did the family respond? They kept Russell home. A truancy officer visited their house that first day he was gone, and his mother Ethel said if saluting was a requirement for attending school, Russell would not be attending. So school officials decided they would take the Tremain family to court.

A week later, a judge imposed a $25 fine against John Tremain and told him that if he didn’t send Russell to school, John would be charged with “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” — and that charge included the possibility that Russell would be taken out of their home.

John Tremain called their bluff. He did not pay the $25 fine and he was placed in jail. Ethel Tremain kept Russell out of school during this time. They were ready to fight this. And the county attorney soon filed charges against John. The petition actually said Russell was a habitual truant and “in danger of growing up to lead an idle, dissolute and immoral life.” All because he wasn’t saying the Pledge. And then, just to stick it to the family, the judge said this normally private battle would be open to the press just so everyone could see the punishment the Tremain family would receive for their disobedience. He wanted to make a public example out of this family.

The threats the court made eventually panned out. Russell was taken from his parents’ home and placed in a juvenile detention center, a place usually reserved for incorrigibles and children with criminal tendencies. His parents didn’t stop fighting, though. They packed up two suitcases, one with clothes and the other with toys, and gave it to Russell before he went to that detention center.

By May of 1926, the courts told the Tremains that Russell would be put up for adoption by a Christian, patriotic family. That’s what the boy needed. It’s what the country needed, according to the judge, in order to avoid descending into chaos and tumult. It was just inconceivable for this judge to understand why anyone could have religious objections to saying the Pledge.

Put yourselves in the Tremains’ shoes, by the way. All of this just reinforces your belief that you should not pledge allegiance to the flag — look at what the nation’s leaders are doing to your family! They don’t deserve respect. They don’t deserve allegiance.

The ACLU offered to step in and defend the family, but the Tremains rejected the help. They didn’t believe in the authority of earthly courts — and that meant they weren’t going to defend themselves or enlist the help of anyone else. They took the pacifism thing very seriously. One very frustrated ACLU attorney even wrote in a letter, “The fundamental difficulty seems to be that our very structure of government is not designed to protect the rights of people who refuse to protect themselves.”

It took nearly two years — November of 1927 — before Russell was reunited with his family. That only happened because a new judge rescinded the old order after the parents agreed to send Russell to a private school that didn’t do a flag salute.

This is what was happening because kids were not saying the Pledge. While I just told you about the worst reactions, these types of cases were happening across the country, but most of the time, they got settled. Everyone just dealt with it. And in some cases, conflict was averted by just letting kids who didn’t want to say the Pledge come to school a few minutes late.

But no one had resolved this very real conflict: On the one hand, you had a government that wanted loyalty in a time of war and immigration, and the Pledge was, they believed, a reasonable way to achieve that. On the other hand, you had people objecting to it for personal or religious reasons. Did freedom of speech and freedom of religion — two of the most important principles in any free country — override a nation’s need for unity?

In some ways, we’re still grappling with that question today, but I think we generally agree that dissent deserves protection. Religious minorities deserve protection, too, certainly if they’re not hurting anybody else, and it’s not like these protesters were telling other people they couldn’t say the Pledge. They weren’t even arguing that the schools should not say it every day. But at the time, any dissent was really considered blasphemy. We’re in the middle of a war, people, Get your act together!

These battles continued for the next decade and the Mennonites were at the center of several of them. There was even a case in Delaware in the late 1920s that shows you how this fight evolved. This time, it wasn’t just one kid. It was a whole classroom full of them. According to an account by the grandson of one of these students, a protest at Greenwood Elementary School involved roughly 36 children who refused to say the Pledge, and the school just ignored the matter for a couple of years. The teachers didn’t raise too much of a fuss about it either. But the principal did and later asked the state’s superintendent for some guidance. The matter soon went to the state’s Board of Education, and several members seemed to have little interest in the Mennonites’ objections. They recommended a severe punishment for students who did not comply: First, the kids would be suspended. If they still objected, they could be expelled.

Part of the Board’s objection was that they didn’t buy the argument that the Pledge meant you were pro-War. They felt the Pledge and the American flag itself were symbols of peace. But as one religious leader defending the Mennonites put it,

“We love peace, we desire to be true to the entire New Testament which we feel teaches nonresistance, also that we shall love our enemies, which make it impossible for us to take part in promoting war. Pledging allegiance to a flag as we see it, though we honor and respect it, at least implies a pledge to defend it against all its enemies, which would mean to resort to arms and to take human life.”

They didn’t want to pledge allegiance to this country because it implied they would literally defend the country in war. The only option for those religious people was to move their kids to a private school, which not everyone had money to do. Still, they were hoping public schools would accommodate their request. By 1929, the ACLU offered to represent the Mennonites for free in court. But as we saw earlier, the leaders said no. They hated confrontation. That meant filing a lawsuit in a court was also prohibited by their faith. It was one thing for Ora Troyer to defend himself against what he felt was an unjust arrest, but Mennonites instigating a lawsuit? No thank you. Without their help and participation, the ACLU couldn’t do anything at the time no matter how eager they were to fight this.

So there was this period of several years where religious groups objected to the Pledge, but they were forced to participate or at least go through the motions to avoid punishment… or hope that local school officials just didn’t care enough to make a big deal about the kids who chose not to take part.

That finally changed in the 1930s when a religious group opposed the Pledge and was absolutely willing to challenge the law in court.


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