A prominent immigrant-rights activist launched a drive Tuesday to rewrite the American Pledge of Allegiance, saying as it stands now it’s a symbol of “rooted in nativism and white supremacy.”

Cesar Vargas, a “Dreamer” who came to the country illegally with his mother and now runs the Dream Action Coalition, says the pledge speaks to fear, while he wants to see a version imbued with “optimism.”

“The upgraded version should read: “I pledge allegiance and love to our indigenous and immigrant heritage, rooted in the United States of America, to our civil rights for which we strive, one voice, one nation, for equality and justice for all,'” Mr. Vargas wrote in a commentary piece for The Hill, a newspaper covering Congress and Washington.

He said incidents like “white teenagers harassing a Native American elder or chanting ‘build the wall’ at Mexican immigrants” cry out for a rethink of the way the country views itself.

Mr. Vargas also said the pledge should be taken with people facing each other, not just forward facing a flag at the front of a room, as a symbol of the diversity of those who make up America.

The pledge, first written in 1892, was formally recognized in federal law in 1942, and updated with the words “under God” added in 1954.

It currently reads: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America; and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Mr. Vargas didn’t say the words themselves were offensive, but took issue with the original authorship by Francis Bellamy, who Mr. Vargas said was motivated by a desire to define “true Americanism” amid a wave of immigrants from southern and eastern Europe.

“At worst, the pledge’s disturbing history excludes countless communities, including my own family. At best, reciting the pledge has become a perfunctory exercise of rote memorization,” Mr. Vargas wrote.

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