Oaths, the Pledge of Allegiance, and Ted Leo

I do not believe in oaths. As an American, I do not believe we need to pledge allegiance to anything.

My Country – Oaths and Pledges

On February 22, 1634, the Privy Council barred the departure of ten ships bound for New England. The Council felt they boats were filled with people “ill affected and discontented as well with civil as ecclesiasticall government.” They feared these people would add confusion and disorder to the Colonies, especially in regards to religious affairs. The Council ordered that during the voyage, the Common Prayer book of the Church of England would be read morning and night. But before departure, each person needed to produce a certificate stating that they took an oath of allegiance.

Justice Douglas states that the “history of oaths has burned itself deep in men’s minds.” He states that all oaths appeared obnoxious to “our people.”

But Douglas had an interesting history with the Pledge of Allegiance.

Minersville School District v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586 (1940)

Jehovah Witnesses have given us many of our great First Amendment cases. In Gobitis, the public school district of Minersville, Pennsylvania, expelled Lillian and William Gobits for refusing to salute the national flag as part of a daily school exercise. The school board forced everyone to stand and recite the flag. However, for the Gobitises and other Jehovah Witnesses,  “a gesture of respect for the flag was forbidden by command of Scripture.”

Justice Douglas joined Justice Frankfurter’s majority opinion that did not reverse the expulsion. The Court decided that the legislature decided for national unity, the pledge brought people together.

We are dealing with an interest inferior to none in the hierarchy of legal values. National unity is the basis of national security. To deny the legislature the right to select appropriate means for its attainment presents a totally different order of problem from that of the propriety of subordinating the possible ugliness of littered streets to the free expression of opinion through distribution of handbills.

If the legislature wanted to leave room for religious exemptions, they could have done so. Therefore, the Gobitises needed to make their case for an exemption there. Otherwise, the Pennsylvania legislature decided that all needed to recite this oath and they believe it will benefit society as a whole.

Justice Harlan Stone dissented. Stone wrote that any legislation that infringed on an individual’s ability to practice their religion needs to be held to a higher standard. The children need to go to public school and have certain beliefs. If the government forces them to go to the school, they should not force them to choose a behavior that goes against their religious beliefs.

Three years later, Justices Douglas and Black had a change of heart.

West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

Although the majority opinion does some gymnastics (which upset Justice Frankfurter, who now became a dissenter), Justice Black’s concurrence holds the most interest. Black notes that after some reflection, the principles of Gobitis hold, they do not work in this case. They begin by noting that a person cannot do anything based on what a religious faith may say they can do.

No well ordered society can leave to the individuals an absolute right to make final decisions, unassailable by the State, as to everything they will or will not do. The First Amendment does not go so far. Religious faiths, honestly held, do not free individuals from responsibility to conduct themselves obediently to laws which are either imperatively necessary to protect society as a whole from grave and pressingly imminent dangers or which, without any general prohibition, merely regulate time, place or manner of religious activity.

Instead, they focus on the oaths component of the West Virginia law, which required that the flag salute be part of the program of activities in all public schools.

Such a statutory exaction is a form of test oath, and the test oath has always been abhorrent in the United States.

Words uttered under coercion are proof of loyalty to nothing but self-interest. Love of country must spring from willing hearts and free minds, inspired by a fair administration of wise laws enacted by the people’s elected representatives within the bounds of express constitutional prohibitions.

Although the facts barely changed, how the First Amendment dealt with oaths did.


On a fairly regular basis, I will see a meme on Facebook about saluting the flag. Or another will state how “in my day,” we said the pledge every day. This opinion was one of the first I ever read with Justice Douglas’s name on it. I still believe that the Pledge of Allegiance and any set of oaths are an un-American concept.

I do not believe that anyone should have to stand for the Pledge. My willing heart and free mins loves this country and I honesty believe anyone who stands up and need to prove their loyalty needs to check themselves out. Just like those people who spend all of their time posting happy Facebook posts generally are considered sad in studies, I feel that anyone who has to wear their patriotism on their sleeve and wants to recite oaths, most likely has no idea what this country means.

Daily Briefing

  • A lawyer has a racist past and his client argues ineffective assistance of counsel. A 6-2 Supreme Court decision gave this man what he deserved – a thrown out conviction.
  • With friends like this, coal and oil must love the new administration. Scott Pruitt must not have any love of his children. His new rules and regulations will kill so many people.
  • Although this fight in the administration about transgender rights gives some hope, none exists. How anyone can pick on this minority group is inhuman? But like every fight in the Republican ranks, in the end, their hate wins. 80% of transgender K-12 students are bullied.
  • At least an appeals court understood Heller. AR-15s are not household weapons.
  • Of course this administration wants torturers in its ranks. Gina Haspel watched as people were tortured.
  • Rand Paul has never had a backbone. But the people here in Kentucky don’t care. He gives them what they want – a thin-skinned jerk. One cannot claim to be a libertarian when you want to work with an authoritarian.
  • Joe Biden continues as one of America’s greatest statesman. We sorely miss him.
  • Farhad is completely correct. One cannot escape the madness of our current President. He takes over everything. And nothing we do can stop that. And his supporters love it.
  • Believe you have a Christian heart? Or any heart at all? Read this story about the ICE roundups. If you don’t feel anything, you may want to consult a cardiologist.
  • Spring has arrived to Kentucky three weeks early. We may have our second straight year without a winter.
  • Pope Francis may allow communion for untraditional married individuals.
  • We may actually have found alien life. Can this put an end to the stupid Creationism Museum?

Daily Distraction

Ted Leo has a Kickstarter. His music got me through the tail end of the Bush administration, so I would imagine he will have a lot to say about this one. I listened to Living with the Living way too often back in 2007. Specifically, I would put C.I.A. on repeat. It’s a perfect pop song with a repeating chorus about the CIA. I have not listened to much of his work since then and have not revisited Living during the Obama years. But nonetheless, I pledged $30 for the vinyl printing and digital download.

If you do not know Ted Leo’s music, I recommend checking it out. You cannot go wrong with any of his albums.

One Sentence Story

I do not think that those two glowing lights are eyes because if they are, they are there every night in the same place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.