In 1969, comic Red Skelton lamented on his weekly television show that the Pledge of Allegiance might someday be considered a “prayer” and eliminated from public schools.

The Pledge of Allegiance

Red Skelton, a veteran comic who successfully plied his trade as a sentimental clown figure in vaudeville and radio, delighted television audiences for twenty years playing characters he had perfected on radio -- Clem Kadiddlehopper, Freddie the Freeloader, and the Mean Widdle Kid -- on his weekly variety television program, “The Red Skelton Show.” On 14 January 1969, Skelton offered his television audience his reminiscence of an incident from his schoolboy days in Indiana.

Mr. Lasswell, Skelton’s teacher, felt his students had come to regard the Pledge of Allegiance as a daily drudgery to be recited by rote; they had lost any sense of the meaning of the words they were speaking. As Skelton related the story, Mr. Lasswell told his class: “I've been listening to you boys and girls recite the Pledge of Allegiance all semester and it seems as though it’s becoming monotonous to you. If I may, may I recite it and try to explain to you the meaning of each word?”

Skelton then delivered to his audience (accompanied by a background of string music) a stirring version of the explanation provided to his school class by their teacher so many years earlier (and a recitation of the pledge itself), as quoted above. Skelton's explication and rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance proved to be quite popular and widely acclaimed, and in response to public demand it was issued in print and pressed into records.

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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 freedom. Wherever she waves, there’s respect because your loyalty has given her a dignity that shouts freedom is everybody’s job.

UNITED: That means that we have all come together.

STATES: Individual communities that have united into 48 great states. Forty-eight individual communities with pride and dignity and purpose; all divided with imaginary boundaries yet united to a common purpose, and that’s love for country.

AND TO THE REPUBLIC: A state in which sovereign 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, ONE NATION: One nation, meaning “so blessed by God.”

INDIVISIBLE: Incapable of being divided.

WITH LIBERTY: Which is freedom, the right of power to live one’s own life without threats, fear, or some sort of retaliation.

AND JUSTICE: The principle or quality of dealing fairly with others.

FOR ALL: For all, which means, boys and girls, it’s as much your country as it is mine. And now, boys and girls, let me hear you recite the Pledge of Allegiance:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands: one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Since I was a small boy, 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?

But in 1969, the Supreme Court decisions that eliminated compulsory prayer and Bible reading in public schools as unconstitutional, Abington School District v. Schempp and Murray v. Curlett, were still fairly recent (having been handed down in 1963), and protests over American military involvement in Vietnam had rendered the American flag as much a symbol of divisiveness as of unity. Skelton, a soft-spoken, sentimental personality who ended every program with the invocation “Good night, and may God bless,” added a coda to Mr. Lasswell’s explanation, a lamentation of the thought that the 1954 insertion of the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance might someday cause it to be considered a “prayer” (and thereby eliminated from public schools as well), and given the recent appeals court ruling that teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools is unconstitutional, Red Skelton’s words now strike many as remarkably prescient (and perhaps more prophetic than even he imagined).

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