Psychology Today has an posting on the Pledge that addresses factors that I have expressed concern with for quite a while.
While many secularists have focused on the fact that it represents an unconstitutional violation of the separation of church and state, my argument is that a pledge of allegiance to a nation "under God" represents an act of praise of citizens of who believe in God and an act of condemnation of those who do not.
Specifically, it says that not supporting a nation "under God" is to be regarded the same as not supporting a nation "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It equates atheism and the like with rebellion, tyranny, and injustice.
As an act of praise for those who support a nation "under God" and condemnation of those who do not, the pledge creates in children not only a belief in God, but a desire to do so - an desire that reason alone cannot reach. It helps to generate the psychological discomfort some feel if they should start to question God, tends to give those who believe in God a sense of pride and superiority over those who do not, and tends to give those who do not a sense of shame and inferiority to those who do.
Also, as it says in the article:
Even more importantly, secular families feel that the burden of resiliency should not rest with the child, who simply comes to school expecting to be treated as an equal, but with the government, which has a duty to treat all children equally. "My child doesn't want to sit out while the rest of her class says the Pledge," argues Melissa, an Illinois mother of a junior high student. "No kid likes to be the odd one, the one who's different. She wants to participate like everyone else, but she doesn't want the government criticizing our family's religious beliefs."
It IS criticism of the parent's religious beliefs. But, more importantly as far as I am concerned, it is criticism of the child if the child should go along with the parent's religious beliefs. At the same time, it constitutes criticism of the child of religious parents who decide to question their parent's religious beliefs.
The option of participating, but secretly leaving out the words "under God" is no good either.
Most secular parents are not thrilled with such compromises, but realize that there are few better options. "By participating, even if you don't say 'under God,' you are validating the religious language, because nobody knows that you aren't saying the religious words," John says. "By standing and participating, you give the appearance of unanimity. It perpetuates the ridiculous idea that all patriotic people believe in God."
The message is still there. And those who participate, even if they leave out the words "under God" themselves, are sending a message to their classmates that they agree with the message. Their classmates see them as embracing, endorcing, and participating in the claim that all good Americans believe in God, an all Americans who do not believe in God are not good Americans.
I have argued that one of the reasons that atheists are so politically impotent in spite of their numbers is precisely because of the aversions to atheism that they learn as children, making them anxious, at best, about revealing this flaw to others. Like any blemish, they seek to cover it up - hide it as best they can - not because there is any risk of real harm (or, not solely for that reason), but just because they have learned the emotional lesson as children that atheists are lesser Americans.
Sitting through and not participating in the Pledge is no solution. It actually reinforces the message that those who do not believe in God are not good Americans, because they refuse to pledge their allegiance to the United States.
I would hope that, now that this subject has made its appearance in the public media, it will generate a more and deeper public discussion of these issues.