Last year I was honored to lead our entire fourth and fifth grades in the recitation of the Red Skelton Pledge for an end of the year program for parents. Students researched flag history, flag facts, important times our flag has flown, and even researched who Red Skelton was. Students presented their research with posters and power points including a demonstration on how to fold the United States flag. Our cafeteria was filled with evidence of student research and a few of the power points were presented at our program to much acclaim.
Our fourth and fifth grade choir sang several patriotic song and as the finale we recited the Red Skelton Pledge for parents. I was honored to lead the children in this since I had taught almost every single child in the 200 strong member group. It was a real thrill to work with the fifth graders again after not being their teacher for almost a year. In order to learn the proper way to recite The Red Skelton Pledge I gave each student the script that follows:
The Red Skelton Pledge of Allegiance
Me; an individual; a committee of one
Dedicate all of my worldly goods to give without self pity
My love and my devotion
To the flag
Our standard; Old Glory; a symbol of courage and wherever she waves there is respect; because your loyalty have given her a dignity that shouts, Freedom is everybody’s job
That means that we have all come together
Individual communities that united into fifty great states. Fifty individual communities with pride, and dignity, and purpose. All divided by imaginary boundaries; yet united to a common cause; and that is; love of country…of America.
And to the Republic
Republic---a sovereign state in which power is invested in representatives chosen by the people to govern. And government is the people; and it’s from the people to the leaders; not from the leaders to the people
For which it stands
Meaning; so blessed by God
Incapable of being divided
Which is freedom; the right of power for one to live his own life; without fears, threats, or any sort of retaliation
The principal and qualities of dealing fairly with others
For all---that means, it’s as much your country as it is mine.
I recited the actually words of the pledge and students recited the explanation portions that are bolded. I worked with four different homerooms of fifth graders and four different homerooms of fourth graders everyday for two weeks to get them used to the wording and used to which areas of the speech should be emphasized. During the last week of practice the entire 200 member group got together to practice for a few minutes each day. At first it was slow go…..I was worred we would end up sounding more like a musical round than a spoken speech in unison.
We finally ran out of practice time and the big event was moments away.
I knew that the kids wanted to do a good job and I knew my seven other colleagues were depending on me to make us all look good. I had taken the words to the pledge and placed them on power point slides so that as the students and I recited the pledge our audience could see the words as well. Our practice paid off.
Two hundred voices recited the entire Red Skelton Pledge in total unison just as it should have been….no mistakes. At the end the kids cheered more than the parents. Then we invited everyone to stand with us and to recite the pledge again.
It was a great way to end the year.
Here is Red Skelton performing his pledge as he did on his show in 1969.
There was a reason why Red Skelton felt it was necessary to present something so serious on a comedy hour. The year was 1969 and the Vietnam War was being protested daily. Images of our flag being drug through the streets, worn, trampled, and burned were presented almost nightly on the news. Also the Supreme Court cases Abington School District v. Schempp and Murray v. Curlett had been decided six years earlier which removed prayer from our public schools.
Mr. Skelton was using his freedom of speech as well….but how prophetic his final words were. You see, the words ‘under God’ were never in the pledge that was originally approved when Congress added the pledge to the United States Flag Code in 1942. ‘Under God’ was added in 1954 when President Eisenhower signed a bill to include the words in the pledge. This was in reaction to the Red Scare during the McCarthy Era. For many people thoughts of Communisim lead to thoughts of Atheism since Communist governments regulate religious practices.
President Eisenhower supported the words ‘under God’ being added to the pledge after hearing a sermon from Rev. George Docherty that was also attended by many in the National Press Corps on February 7, 1954. In his sermon Rev. Docherty lamented, “Apart from the phrase ‘the United States of America’, it could be the pledge of any republic. In fact, I could hear little Muscovites repeat a similar pledge to their hammer and sickle flag in Moscow.” News spread, and public opinion began to immediately support the addition of ‘under God’ to the pledge.
I can’t wonder but think how the pastor’s sermon would be interpreted by today’s National Press Corps.
As you might already be aware the Pledge of Allegiance was banned from public schools on June 26, 2002, in a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals due to the fact that the phrase ‘under God’ is an unconstitutional establishment of a religion. Naturally there was plenty of outcry. Attorney General John Ashcroft condemned the decision and stated, “[the Justice Department will] spare no effort to preserve the rights of all our citizens to pledge allegiance to the American flag.”
Two years later on June 15, 2004, the Supreme Court of the United States in an unanimous ruling said the phrase ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance could remain intact as a patriotic oath in public schools. However, the ruling was based on a technicality since it was found that the gentlement who filed the original action did not have the legal right to do so. The court did not actually rule on the constitutionality of the ‘under God’ phrase nor on the ‘separation of chuch and state issue.’
In January, 2005 a new lawsuit was filed (Michael Newdow, et.al. v. John Carey, et.al in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of California on behalf of three unnamed families. Federal Judge, Lawrence Karlton, ruled in September, 2005 that it is unconstitional for students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.
In strong reaction the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a proposed Pledge Protection Act (H.R. 2389) to ‘protect the Pledge of Allegiance from federal judges who might try to stop school children and others from reciting it.' It failed to be voted on in the Senate.
Todd Akin, a Representatives from Missouri, introduced H.R. 699, or the Pledge Protection Act, in January of this year. It is currently awaiting review with the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.
This is a very tense issue. The Pro/Con Website has an excellent presentation on every side of this issue including poll results and the text and supporting documents for the lawsuits mentioned above.
I would like to point out that when we presented our program for parents they were fully informed about what we would be doing, and any student who did not wish to recite the pledge was not required to do so. Every public school student has this right because of a lawsuit filed in 1943 that states public school officials cannot make students recite the pledge. Also, during the course of our learning the Red Skelton Pledge I discussed the current legal actions concerning the words ‘under God’ and the course of history that caused the words to be added in the first place. I don’t really see how you can teach the history of our flag and of our pledge without getting into this issue, and most states include teaching the history of our flag in their state standards. It should not be left out, however, some parts of the issue are a little over the heads of nine and ten year olds.
Many stated in our discussions, however, if someone objected to the wording why couldn’t they simply not say the words, or if they object to the pledge all together why couldn’t they simply sit and not say it. Some didn’t understand because through the years they have known many students who didn’t stand to say the pledge, and to them it wasn’t a big deal. Many inquired about saying it anyway if it was ever cut out from our morning routine by state and school officials.
They wondered what would happen if they stood on their own did it anyway.
Basically the concensus was, “I don’t mind it you don’t say it, but don’t keep me from doing it if I want to.”