My views on the Pledge of Allegiance - expressed on these pages recently because a young California girl named MaryKait Durkee refuses to recite it - won't win me any popularity contests. The letters keep pouring in. Some have been positive, but I will share with readers mostly negative ones.
First up is Robert J. Bush of Las Vegas, Nev.
"Man, do you ever have a problem. You used the ignorant and misguided position of a child to get to your real issue, that of racial issues and a socialistic mind-set with which you seem to be enamored. It seems to me that you are not concerned about the 'rights' of this child but rather getting out your slanted position on the history of our great nation (and you no doubt would reject my having referred to our nation as being 'great'), and in conjunction with the above motivation you bring your hysterical and narrow position on race."
Well, you get the idea. Bob is not a happy camper. But it's interesting that he accuses me of having a "socialistic mind-set." Actually, the man who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance - see details below - was a socialist. Did you know that, Bob? Did you? Did you? That should come as no surprise. The further left one goes on the political spectrum - and the further right, for that matter - the less respect you find for individual liberty.
No one who cherished individual liberty could ever have written the Pledge of Allegiance. No one who cherishes individual liberty would ever compel someone else to say it.
Ed Dorsett of Bel Air promised to never read this column again, after sending off this missive:
"The Pledge is about respect of the flag and country which carries on to respect for teachers and peers, the prerequisite for learning. The real purpose of this letter is to ask why a noted columnist would call the Pledge of Allegiance 'a crock' on the anniversary of D-Day when so many Americans gave their lives )) and limbs for flag and country."
Because, Ed, old pal, if the Pledge is a crock every other day of the year, it's a crock on D-Day, too. Any type of loyalty oath is antithetical to a country's claim of individual liberty as its bedrock. MaryKait Durkee has forced us to answer this question: Are we as committed to individual liberty as we say we are?
Marjorie, from somewhere out there, writes:
"The Pledge of Allegiance is a pledge to the ideals, not always the reality of life in the U.S. Don't you agree that it is a good idea for young people to hear and respect an ideal for life in our country? Without the ideals and inherent promises contained in the Pledge, over many generations, I do not think that ordinary citizens would have responded as well as they did to the rightful demands of the civil rights movement. It is important to pledge ourselves to ideals of civic life. That's how civic accomplishments are made possible."
Thanks, Marjorie, for being eminently more level-headed on this issue than my pal Bob. If I would have students recite anything, it would be the Bill of Rights, until they know it backward and forward. It's the Bill of Rights that forms the backbone of whatever liberty the powers that be grant us.
Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Arthur S. Jensen of Baltimore writes:
"The Pledge is not a statement of fact, but a goal to improve our country and its government. I As for Miss MaryKait Durkee, she needs to learn courtesy and appreciation. I learned in the Navy that courtesy of the seas requires one to render honors even to foreign flags. She does not have to say the Pledge, but she could easily have the courtesy to stand quietly and respectfully while others make their pledge."
His point is well taken, but flag courtesy on the seas is a quite different matter than being coerced into saying the Pledge in the classroom.
A special thanks to John W. Baer of Annapolis, who sent in some valuable information about the history of the Pledge of Allegiance. Baer writes:
"Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and Christian Socialist, wrote the original Pledge in August 1892. ... [Bellamy] hoped that the ritual of his Pledge flag salute would stimulate discussions in the classroom about the great ideas found in his Pledge. ... Starting in the last century, the state departments of education slowly changed patriotic education into mainly a Flag ritual. In the 1890s, states started requiring public schools to fly the Flag in front of the school and eventually required the Flag in the classroom. By the 1920s, the states usually required the daily recitation of the Pledge during its classroom flag salute ceremony. No other nation has a verbal flag salute. In 1931 the Star-Spangled Banner became the national anthem. No other nation sings a national anthem dedicated to its Flag."
Nicely observed, John. If the Pledge of Allegiance is so darned important, why didn't the Founding Fathers think of one? I suspect those gentlemen realized that coerced loyalty oaths have no place in a free society.
Pub Date: 6/13/98