A Pledge At Odds With Liberty

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A Pledge At Odds With Liberty

#1 Post by Mary » Wed Jul 19, 2006 6:48 pm


Patrick O'Neill, Correspondent
Source of Article

GARNER - In 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8 to 1 that school districts have the right to expel students who refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Backlash against Jehovah's Witnesses (a Jehovah's Witness parent brought the original suit) was disgraceful. There were widespread outbreaks of violence against the Witnesses, who view national loyalty oaths such as the pledge as a form of idolatry, citing Matthew (4:10): "It is Jehovah your God you must worship, and it is to him alone you must render sacred service."

More than 2,000 Jehovah's Witnesses were expelled from schools, and more than 2,500 violent mob attacks on Witnesses occurred before the Supreme Court reversed itself in 1943.

A Nov. 24, 1941, Los Angeles Times editorial said: "This flag-salute business has gone to absurd lengths. It is about time the State recognized that patriotism cannot be compelled by law."

But that's exactly what the General Assembly has done in North Carolina, approving a law requiring compulsory, daily, teacher-led recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.

At a time when the actions of our government leaders may be at an all-time moral low, state politicians decide to cram a loyalty oath down our children's throats.

Jehovah's Witnesses living in Germany were jailed in the 1930s for refusing to partake of the compulsory Nazi salute, a dark irony not lost on the authors of "Jehovah's Witnesses -- Proclaimers of God's Kingdom": "After some 1,200 Witnesses had been imprisoned in Germany early in the Nazi era for refusal to give the Nazi salute and to violate their Christian neutrality, thousands were physically abused in the United States because they refrained from saluting the American flag."

• • •

As a father of eight, I have encouraged my children to sit and remain respectfully silent whenever the Pledge of Allegiance is recited in their Wake County classrooms. I oppose the pledge for many reasons, but most important, I believe a loyalty oath goes counter to basic democratic principles. A democracy should encourage critical thinking, not knee-jerk conformity.

Considering past transgressions -- the slaughter of our indigenous population, slavery, the internment of Japanese-Americans, McCarthyism and countless illegal military interventions -- this nation needs accountability, not blind loyalty. And today our government wages war without provocation, tortures "enemy combatants" in secret prisons and teeters close to becoming a police state. Many Americans advocate denying education, medical care and driver's licenses to non-citizens.

Rather than a loyalty oath to indoctrinate our children, Americans should be rising up in justifiable rage against the excesses of the Bush administration and an acquiescing Congress.

In addition, the pledge is a false measure of loyalty. True loyalty is a vigilant citizenry demanding moral accountability from government, especially now, when spineless politicians cast votes based on fear-mongering and political expediency.

The pledge is tantamount to school prayer; that's why it's warmly embraced by conservatives. Children stand, stare at the flag, place their hands over their hearts and partake of a prayer-like ritual that includes the words "One nation under God."

• • •

Legislators say there's an "opt-out" for children who don't wish to take part in the pledge, but opting out carries a high price. Classmates asked my daughter Bernadette if she was from a different country because she didn't recite the pledge. Bernadette would patiently explain her position, but students would often chastise her for being unpatriotic.

"My mom used to say to me, 'If you don't love your country, leave it,' " a substitute teacher once told Bernadette in front of the whole class after she remained seated during the pledge.

"I felt absolutely horrible when he said that," Bernadette said. "I almost cried."

Another daughter, Moira, used to hide in her classroom restroom during the pledge because she feared what her teacher might say.

Last year, my son Timothy was made to stand and recite the pledge by himself in his first-grade classroom when a teacher's assistant noticed he had stood, but not said the pledge.

Choosing nonconformity means certain ostracization and ridicule, a choice only the bravest of kids will risk. So much for freedom.

We claim to be a nation of "liberty and justice for all," but in North Carolina liberty and justice are conditioned on one's willingness to conform.

(Patrick O'Neill is co-founder of Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House, a pacifist Christian community.)

"All great truths begin as blasphemies."
George Bernard Shaw

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