Even before the current presidential election race, the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag was no stranger to controversy. Campaigns against communist subversion led to changes in its wording, rival claims clouded its authorship, and two Supreme Court decisions made it a focal point of debate on religious freedom.
The juvenile magazine Youth's Companion published the original pledge in 1892 as part of a patriotic promotion that distributed American flags to schoolchildren. It read: "I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."This wording has been altered twice, both times in response to popular fear of subversive activity. In 1923, when the "Red Scare" was in full swing and new immigrants were viewed as potentially disloyal, the phrase "my flag" was changed to "the flag of the United States of America." The purpose was to eliminate any misunderstanding as to which country's flag was being honored. The second change - inserting the words "under God" after "one nation" - was legislated by Congress in 1954, when revulsion against "Godless communism" was at its peak.
The authorship controversy arose not long after the pledge gained widespread popular acceptance. Two editors of Youth's Companion, James B. Upham and Francis Bellamy, each claimed to have written it. In 1939, the U.S. Flag Association concluded that Bellamy was the author, and a 1957 report by the Library of Congress agreed.
In 1936, two children were expelled from school in Minersville, Pa., for refusing to recite the pledge. They claimed their religious convictions as Jehovah's Witnesses prevented them from doing so. A lawsuit filed by their parents prevailed in lower federal courts, but in 1940 the U.S. Supreme Court ruledthat schools could require students to salute the flag.
Three years later, the court reversed itself,holding that saluting the flag could not be made mandatory. Writing for the majority, Justice Robert H. Jackson asserted: "To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds. . . ."