Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I pledge allegiance -- for now, provided certain conditions are met

Already this month, the Pledge of Allegiance has made news headlines multiple times. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal of a Florida high school student who was punished for failing to swear loyalty to the national symbol, a federal judge declined to strip the words "under God" from the pledge in a New Hampshire school district, and a ten-year-old Arkansas boy was punished not for his principled refusal to recite the pledge, but for telling a pushy, uber-patriotic teacher to "jump off a bridge."It seems that America's own aging oath of fealty has a hankering for the spotlight. But do even the rebels at the root of the news stories understand why the Pledge of Allegiance is so troubling?

The Supreme Court case involved a Florida law that, since 1942, has required all school students to recite the pledge unless excused by their parents. In 2005, Cameron Frazier declined to participate in the patriotic chorus at Boynton Beach High School because of his objection to government policies and was booted from class for his trouble. He sued (PDF) and initially won, but a federal appeals court ruled that the First Amendment rights in the case belonged to parents, not children, so Frazier had no legal legs to stand on. The Supreme Court has decided to let matters rest there.

Unlike Frazier, the plaintiffs in the New Hampshire case didn't object to the whole pledge -- which is optional where they live -- but to the phrase "under God," which was added to the original 1892 text in 1954. As atheists and agnostics, they don't want officially sanctioned recitals to include religious material. The judge's dismissal of the case is now being appealed.

Will Phillips, the Arkansas ten-year-old, refused to say the pledge out of solidarity with gays and lesbians who, he believes, don't enjoy equal rights in the U.S. Unusually for somebody his age, he had the backbone to stand his ground -- and talk back -- when castigated by a teacher offended by his alleged disloyalty.

In both the Florida and Arkansas cases, the resisting students stood on principle to refuse to say the pledge. They objected to policies or perceived flaws in the country and decided, as a matter of conscience, that they couldn't ... well ... pledge allegiance.

But what if you like what the folks currently in power are doing, think that everything is going swell and approve of the wording of the oath in question? Is it OK to pledge allegiance then?

While we don't often consider what the Pledge of Allegiance actually means, it contains pretty strong words. The definition of "allegiance" in The Free Dictionary is:

1. Loyalty or the obligation of loyalty, as to a nation, sovereign, or cause.

2. The obligations of a vassal to a lord.

Even if we gloss over the feudal implications of definition two, the first definition is awfully absolute. "Loyalty or the obligation of loyalty."

Do free people really make open-ended promises of loyalty?

It's worth knowing that the author of the pledge was no particular fan of America's (imperfect) tradition of individual liberty. Francis Bellamy was a Christian socialist and a fan of a now quaint-seeming, but then popular movement to reorganize the country along quasi-military, top-down lines in which everybody would be drafted into industrial armies. The goal was sketched out in his cousin Edward Bellamy's once best-selling novel, Looking Backward (a work saved from a certain naive creepiness only by its age).

The pledge was Bellamy's small way of nudging the country away from individualism, toward authoritarian nationalism. His ideal people would pledge loyalty, and wouldn't be free.

After all, free people support governments, institutions and symbols only so long as those things respect their rights and have something positive to offer. Their support is purely conditional. When governments, institutions and symbols displease them, free people trade them in for something they hope will be better, like Americans did in 1776.

The founders weren't really "Pledge of Allegiance" sort of people.

Implicitly, people like Cameron Frazier and Will Phillips seem to understand that point, even if they don't explicitly reject the idea of an oath of loyalty. After all, when you stop reciting a pledge when policies change, it's clear that you've never really made a pledge at all, since your allegiance is conditional.

And that's the way it should be.

Those stubborn kids who refuse to stand to recite the pledge with the the rest of the class may not agree on the reasons for their refusal, but by hedging their bets on their political loyalty, they all prove themselves to be better advocates of liberty than the drones mouthing words they don't understand.

Labels: ,


Blogger tinny ray said...

Imagine if those kids (and others) began performing the Pledge's early American stiff-armed salute.

How tall was the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party and where did he live?

He was about this tall ( finger on upper lip ) and he lived over there ( early American salute ).

(the above joke is also delivered as: Do you know how tall Hitler was and where he lived?

You will never obtain the whole story if you use wikipedia. It is a glorified anonymous bulletin board where people deliberately post lies and delete truths.

The Pledge was the origin of the raised-arm salute adopted later by German National Socialists. Francis and Edward Bellamy influenced the National Socialist German Workers Party, its dogma, rituals and symbols (including the modern use of the swastika to represent crossed S-letters for "socialism"). See the work of Dr. Rex Curry.

October 15, 2009 6:03 AM  
Anonymous Hifi said...

Why is this national news? The same thing has happened to my daughter more than once. When it has, the sub is promptly reprimanded and my child apologized to. These days no sub get into my kid's classes without knowing the policy.

More about the pledge:

October 15, 2009 10:39 AM  
Anonymous laura phillips said...

as will's mom, i am stil waiting for an apology from the sub. yes, he back talked a teacher. but after 4 days of hassle, of course he lost his temper! i am glad people are listening to kids...
laura phillips

October 15, 2009 3:48 PM  
Blogger J.D. Tuccille said...

Will has backbone, and I'm guessing that came from home. Good for him for standing on principle, and good for you for standing by him.

October 15, 2009 6:53 PM  
Blogger akaGaGa said...

It took me many more years than these kids to realize reciting the pledge wasn't the thing to do.

October 15, 2009 8:28 PM  
Anonymous Mike Gogulski said...

This is wacky. I was a pledge rebel in Florida public school from 1989 to 1990, refusing even to stand for the bloody thing. My parents were never called. There were no lawsuits. Maybe one girl thought I was extra cute because of it.

And now... this? WTF?

October 15, 2009 9:02 PM  
Blogger Elzair said...

You do realize that you are pledging allegiance to the nation and not to the government? There is a difference. However, I still believe people should not be forced to "pledge allegiance."

October 19, 2009 12:53 PM  
Blogger liberranter said...

Someone needs to write a pledge that anyone working in any capacity for any level of government would be obligated to recite, publicly, each day before beginning work, a pledge in which they clearly affirm their obligation to uphold the rights of us, the people. In other words, let "the United States of America", as represented by the armies of tax parasites who supposedly "work for us" be the ones to pledge allegiance, NOT the other way around. (For example, teachers and school administrators would recite a pledge publicly to their students, literal obedience to which would require them to resign their positions after the first recitation.) Any behavior on their part that violates said pledge would result in immediate dismissal and possible criminal penalties.

October 19, 2009 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Jeffercat said...

Actually, Elzair, the pledge is to the flag (and to the republic for which it stands). What if someone were completely loyal and patriotic but didn't like the flag's design?

November 12, 2009 2:05 PM  
Anonymous Stacey W said...

Laura, You and your husband get a standing ovation from me! Thank you for raising your child to be his own thinker and for teaching him to care about other people. I did the same for mine, and it can be difficult at times when all they want to do is fit in and have popularity. I have 2 young adults in college that have friends and are happy, and they both will fight for the underdog when needed. Your son has a bright future. As the saying goes, it's not about might, it's about right. Kudos!

November 12, 2009 7:12 PM  
Blogger Frankystein123 said...

Good for him for thinking clearly before making a decision, why would you want to pledge allegiance to a country with no morality?

November 22, 2009 2:08 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home