“… One Nation, under God…with Liberty and Justice FOR ALL.”
Every time we pledge allegiance to the American flag we promise fidelity to our country’s founding ideals and principles, but what does America promise in return? Francis Bellamy wrote the pledge in 1892 as part of a campaign to instill the idea of American nationalism in the country’s youth and create in them an ambition to carry on with the ideals the founders expressed in the Constitution. Bellamy had initially considered using the word equality in the 15-second recitation but decided against it because there was still a strong sentiment against equality for women and Blacks at the time. Bellamy realized that equality FOR ALL really meant equality for an elite group, not women, and definitely not minorities. But did America really even promise liberty and justice FOR ALL?
This week not only do we celebrate the declaration of our independence from the British in 1776, we also celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act – arguably the most significant piece of legislation passed in the modern era. This act sought to correct the country’s reality of inequality.
When we declared independence from Great Britain in 1776 we stated America’s promise FOR ALL: “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.” Of course at the time, Blacks were still considered chattel, women could not vote, and Native peoples were being systematically dispossessed from the lands they inhabited. At the time those words could only represent a moral standard for us to strive toward. It wasn’t until the passage of the Civil Rights Act fifty years ago that our government successfully attempted to resolve the unfinished business of equality FOR ALL regardless of race, gender, sexuality, and social status.
Even after five decades, does FOR ALL really mean FOR ALL? States that do not allow same sex marriage is not equality FOR ALL. States restricting and limiting voting rights is not justice FOR ALL. This week’s Supreme Court decision which allows family-owned and privately-held companies to deny contraceptive coverage to employees is not liberty FOR ALL.
The promise of America is the promise of equality FOR ALL. Are we there yet? No. Are we closer than we were fifty years ago? Yes. Discrimination is still creating barriers to meaningful opportunity for many, especially those who find themselves disenfranchised and without equal access to quality education, safe neighborhoods, gainful employment, and the pathway to upward mobility our nation promised FOR ALL.
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