It was in the middle of my 6th grade year that the U.S. Congress decided, and President Eisenhower concurred, that the United States of America was not merely one nation but, importantly, one nation under God. Thus, the Constitution’s guarantee of separation of church and state be damned, all citizens, including school children, were now required to acknowledge the irrefutable reality of that religion-based truth every time they pledged allegiance to the flag. And we, of course, obeyed.
In hindsight, and given all that is being revealed these days about our history of racism and how our economy is based on its early years of free land stolen from Native Americans and free labor from slaves, it’s clear that we were not then, have not been since, and probably never were “one nation (under God or otherwise), with liberty and justice for all.”
Nevertheless, we can think of the republic for which the flag stands as more of an aspiration, an ideal to strive for, rather than the one that has manifested to date. But that’s OK, as long as we recognize and accept the truth of our reality even as we embrace and celebrate the vision and knuckle down to do the work to bring the truth closer to the aspiration. In that way, the image of “the shining light on the hill” serves as a beckoning beacon for America as well as it has, so it is said, for the rest of the world. We are, as always, a work in progress.