Pledge Debate A Time For Reflection

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News


Few issues separate people’s core beliefs as to what defines patriotism at a visceral level than the subjects of burning an American flag, not standing for the National Anthem, or a city council deciding to drop the of Allegiance from the start of its meetings.

The St. Louis Park City Council learned this first hand in the past few weeks after considering dropping the Pledge of Allegiance from its meetings. Some citizens were outraged; others shrugged. But fueled by President Trump’s input, the outraged let loose on the council.

“The Pledge of Allegiance to our great Country, in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, is under siege. That is why I am going to win the Great State of Minnesota in the 2020 Election. People are sick and tired of this stupidity and disloyalty to our wonderful USA!” Trump Tweeted July 11. His Tweet lit up social media with vitriolic condemnation of the council, calls for a boycott of St. Louis Park, and the ouster of the council.

Monday night the council unanimously agreed to keep recitation of the pledge at the start of its meetings.

Why would the council even consider dropping the pledge?

Council Member Anne Mavity told KARE 11 that she raised the idea at a meeting in the interests of recognizing the diversity in the Twin Cities suburban community.

“Not everyone who does business with the city or has a conversation is a citizen,” she said. “They certainly don’t need to come into city council chambers and pledge their allegiance to our country in order to tell us what their input is about a sidewalk in front of their home.”

She told Minnesota Public Radio that,  “To me, saying the Pledge of Allegiance is not the barometer on patriotism.” Supporters of the pledge disagreed.

“Unfortunately, some of us feel like patriotism has been so politicized that it’s almost used as a weapon against people,” St. Louis City Council Member Tim Brausen told The Washington Post. In other places, there have been objections to saying the pledge based on religious grounds due to its “under God” line.

There is a great irony in the Trump and the political right’s outrage over St. Louis Park considering dropping the pledge in acknowledgement of the growing diversity of its community. The first irony is that Francis Bellamy, writer of the original wording of the Pledge of Allegiance, was a Christian Socialist. He believed strongly in addressing social and economic injustice. We doubt anyone with the word “socialist” attached to his cause today could get the words of the pledge adopted yet alone recited in schools and at public meetings. We certainly know that addressing social injustice is not a top priority for our president.

The second irony is that Bellamy saw the pledge as a way to help the increasing number of immigrants coming to America assimilate into our culture.

 “Bellamy and other social gospel advocates anticipated that a ‘well-organized and patriotic public education system’ would inculcate newcomers with American ideals and values,” Charles Dorn, associate dean for academic affairs and a professor of education at Bowdoin College, wrote in 2017 in a piece about Bellamy.
We know that Trump and the Republican Party are not looking at ways to help immigrants in America become one with us. Rather, their policies are aimed at building walls and deportations.

Finally, Bellamy didn’t write the pledge in 1898 out of an overdeveloped sense of patriotism. 

 “Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance partly as a marketing scheme,” Dorn writes. “The Youth’s Companion, one of the first weekly magazines in the nation to target both adults and their children, hired Bellamy to develop promotional strategies for commemorating—and profiting from—the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to America.” They would sell a bunch of flags to go along with the celebration. Bellamy’s pledge written for the Columbus Day observance was aimed at students assembled at their schools who would recite it as they saluted the flag.

Since Bellamy wrote the pledge, it has changed wording a couple times. His pledge read: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The popularity of his words soon took off with states across the country requiring students to recite them.

The words “under God” weren’t added until 1954 when the U.S. was involved in the Cold War with the “godless” communists in the Soviet Union. In 1940, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there were no religious exceptions for not saying the pledge and the states could compel students to recite it. The Jehovah’s Witnesses had argued it violated their religious beliefs in that it required worship of a graven image.

The Supreme Court’s ruling wouldn’t stand for long. Just three years later the Court ruled in the West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnett case that the “Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment protects students from being forced to salute the American flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance in public school.”

As Americans recite the pledge, Dorn writes that “we would benefit from listening to the words of Justice Robert Jackson, who delivered the opinion for the majority in the West Virginia case on Flag Day in 1943: ‘If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.’”

We fly the American flag in front of our house in the summertime. We are proud of it. We have been properly schooled to stand for the National Anthem. At Benson City Council meetings, we place our hand over our heart as we stand to recite the pledge.

We come from a privileged community, personally inexperienced with the cauldron of injustice in which others have baked. It is an ignorance that leaves us cautious in judging the protests of those who have suffered pervasive, brutal, injustices as they plead for America to live up to its pledge of “liberty and justice for all.”

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