09/19/2014 03:04 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2014

Act Patriotically to Fix the Pledge

Shawn Gearhart via Getty Images

The Pledge of Allegiance was woven into the fabric of American culture when it was written over a century ago, and then, step-by-step, became part of daily civic life. It is now recited every day within our schools and at our government meetings. And its words are familiar to most, if not all, Americans.

While the pledge was intended to foster a sense of national unity, its message was distorted in 1954 to instead encourage discord and discrimination. The phrase "Under God" was added to the pledge in the heart of the McCarthy Era, when fear and political repression ran rampant. This addition to our loyalty oath, ironically right before the word "indivisible," alienated millions of Americans who believed in their nation but not in a deity. And since that time, countless have been asked to say the pledge and state a belief in a god. Even though there is no law requiring Americans to say the pledge and the courts have made clear that people cannot be compelled to do so, teachers and peers alike, frequently force kids to comply or face punishment.

Various organizations have attempted to return the pledge to its original form, but as of now the pledge remains in its altered state. But some are not prepared to admit defeat, and are instead relying upon an old patriotic tradition, that of protesting unjust laws or policies, in order to bring about change.

Recently, a campaign was started to convince Americans not to say the pledge until the original non-theocratic message is restored. While the Religious Right was clearly displeased by this new campaign, to many Americans it represented the chance to fight in a productive way for common sense ideas like inclusion and church-state separation that appeal to many people. Through a simple act, Americans who sat down during the recitation of the pledge were saying to their fellow citizens that patriotic exercises should be about shared values and not religious proselytization.

Not all government officials have received this campaign well. An atheist was recently kicked out of a town hall meeting for refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance, and several others, including children, have been reprimanded or punished for doing the same thing by school officials. Even US Air Force service members are being required to say a God oath in order to reenlist. Clearly, there are those who unpatriotically want to violate the spirit of Article VI of the United States Constitution and provide a religious test to people that goes against America's founding value of religious freedom. Those protesting the current subverted version of the Pledge are continuing a long and successful tradition of civic activism in the face of discrimination, a tradition of persevering regardless of the opposition. Reciting the pledge can certainly be a patriotic act, but so can fighting against religious intrusion into our government.

At the end of the day the Pledge is a collection of words meant to instill democratic ideas into the next generation of Americans. This is important, but does less to foster an engaged and democratically-minded citizenry than the idea that through nonviolent action a group of people, such as those protesting the pledge, can accomplish change in their lifetime. Sitting down during the pledge is not meant to dishonor America; rather, it is a patriotic attempt to restore important traditions that have fallen by the wayside due to partisanship and religious interference.