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Ahlin: Pledging allegiance Christian Socialist style

History teaches us well if we pay attention. Take the Pledge of Allegiance. Originally described in the children's magazine "The Youth Companion" in 1892 as a "salute" by its author, the Christian Socialist Baptist minister Francis Bellamy, the words were, "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all."

It was written for public school children to recite this way: 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 [the words] together slowly. At the words, "to my flag," the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.

The military salute soon was changed to putting hand over heart, but it wasn't until World War II that the extended arm was dropped because it was seen to be too much like the Nazi salute. (Interestingly, the push to get the pledge into schools was later identified as America's first successful advertising/public relations campaign.)

Francis Bellamy's cousin Edward Bellamy was a utopian novelist who wrote on socialistic themes. His novel "Look Backward" was written in 1888 but set in the year 2000. In looking ahead he imagined America as a socialist country where "citizens...[were] employed in the national industrial army until [the age of] 45, [and that they] worked because of a desire for honor and prestige and experienced no material want." Both Francis and Edward thought the United States would have to move through many stages of lesser equality, but their great sense of patriotism was rooted in a belief that equality finally would prevail.

If their notion of total equality was naive, they understood how integral public schools were to democratic equality. In fact, today, as a significant percentage of Republicans insist we'd be better off with Christianity as our state religion, something else written by Baptist minister Francis Bellamy should be revisited.

He wrote, "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."

The late 1800s, known as the Gilded Age, was a time of democracy-threatening income inequality that echoes strongly today. Once again we face rising inequality and threats both to public education and separation of church and state under the guise of "religious liberty" and "free speech."

Time to look to history. Time to reconsider patriotism.

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum. Email janeahlin@yahoo.com

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