OH, THAT PRAYER!

by David Sisler

I met Tatyana Fabrichnaya less than two months ago when she came to Augusta as one of 2,000 participants in "Open World." While here, Mrs. Fabrichnaya (who directs the Novgorodskya Oblast Property Rights Registration Chamber and supervises more than 20 separate departments) attended the noon-time gatherings of two local Rotary Clubs. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of being in Tanya's home in Valekey Novgorod.

Sitting at her dining room table, which was, in typical Russian fashion, groaning under the weight of so much food prepared for her guests, Tanya asked, "What was that prayer which was prayed to your flag at each of the Rotary Club meetings?"

"Prayer?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. "You all stood, placed your hands over your hearts and prayed to your flag."

It took a moment, but then it clicked: "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."

Francis Bellamy is credited with writing the original pledge. Public-school children first recited the pledge as they saluted the flag during the National School Celebration held in 1892. President Benjamin Harrison had called for patriotic exercises in schools to mark the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. Congress codified the pledge in 1942, and in 1954, added the words "under God."

Bellamy's granddaughter said he would have resented this last change, as he did the change in his original wording from "my flag" to "the flag of the United States of America." Whether or not Bellamy would champion it, I applaud the idea of another change: "with liberty and justice for all, born and unborn."

It is reported that Bellamy considered placing the word, "equality," into the pledge. He decided against it because members of the pledge drafting committee opposed equality for women and blacks. Bigotry and patriotism are strange bedfellows, indeed. When bigotry and patriotism go to bed together, bigotry will end up with all of the covers.

Bellamy later wrote about some of the thoughts which went through his mind as he wrote the Pledge of Allegiance.

"The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the 'republic for which it stands.' ...And what does that vast thing, the Republic mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible."

The late comedian Red Skelton remarked often about standing in his classroom in Vincennes, Indiana, to repeat the Pledge. After the class had rambled through it one morning, like most of us still do, the teacher scolded them on their lack of discernment and appreciation for the oath they had just taken. Skelton said he made some notes which later became one of his most requested routines.

Here, in part, are Red Skelton's words, commentary on a treasured national oath.

"I (me; an individual; a committee of one) pledge (dedicate all of my worldly goods, to give without self-pity) allegiance (my love and my devotion) to the flag (our standard; Old Glory ; a symbol of courage)...

"One nation (meaning, so blessed by God) indivisible (incapable of being divided) with liberty (which is Freedom; the right of power for one to live his own life, without fears, threats, or any sort of retaliation) and justice (the principle, and qualities, of dealing fairly with others) for all.

"Since I was a small boy," Skelton concluded, "two states have been added to our country, and two words have been added to the Pledge of Allegiance: Under God. Wouldn't it be a pity if someone said that is a prayer, and that would be eliminated from schools, too?"

I smiled at Tanya's misunderstanding, until it dawned on me, she understood perfectly. The Pledge of Allegiance is indeed a national prayer (with or without those two additional words). We have several others.

From the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness... And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

From the Gettysburg Address: "That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

They are prayers we need to continue to offer with gusto and with understanding.

-30-

Published in the Augusta Chronicle 10/2/99

Copyright 1999 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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