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Letter to the Editor: Pledge of Allegiance

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I am grateful for Art Remick’s letter about the Pledge of Allegiance published in your May 15th edition of the Independent. I have been uncomfortable with the Pledge of Allegiance and the way it is used in schools for years, and Mr. Remick’s comparison to the Oath of Allegiance for Naturalized Citizens has helped me understand why.

The Naturalization Oath makes sense. Whether one agrees with it or not, it is a straightforward vow of what it is someone should do,rather than what someone should believe. It can be simply paraphrased.

First phrase: “I promise to give up any allegiance I currently hold to any other political leader or country by virtue of my having been a subject or citizen there.”

Second phrase: “I will from this point forward grant my allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, and to its Laws, defending the Constitution and the Laws from all enemies that attack them.”

Third, fourth and fifth phrases: “I will follow the law in serving in the military or providing military or non-military services.” Sixth phrase: “No one is forcing me to take this oath, I am doing so of my own free will and with no attempt at trickery.” Seventh phrase: “I ask for the help of God in fulfilling this promise.”

This stands in stark contrast to the Pledge of Allegiance. Instead of pledging allegiance to the Consitution and Lawsof the nation, a speaker of the pledge offers allegiance first to the flagand only then to the nation itself. I do not believe I am picking nits here, but I don’t think this makes sense.

You may like what a flag symbolizes, but a flag simply isn’t the kind of thing that you can have allegiance to. A flag doesn’t offer you direction on what to do or how to do it. Allegiance to a country is less muddy, but to my ears is still remarkably indistinct.

What does it actually mean to have allegiance to a country? I know what it means to have allegiance to a Constitution, or to a set of Laws — I can hold them in my hand, I can read them. I can make a discerning decision about them because they are explicit. They can, in a sense, talk to me. The nation cannot. It simply isn’t that kind of entity.

The pledge goes on to define the nation as being “Under God.” There have been volumes written about the inclusion of these two words in the pledge in the 1950s, and feelings run high about it.

I admit that I am not wholly comfortable with this phrase, for two reasons. It does seem to define the nation in a way that the framers of the Constitution did not intend, and again the meaning is muddy. What does it really mean to be a nation “Under God?”

If you believe nations are the kinds of things that can be “Under God,” and that God is the kind of entity that is interested in having nations under itself, does this phrase really differentiate the United States from any other country — are their any nations that are not “Under God,” and hence different from us?

Second reason: there is at least the possibility that the inclusion of this phrase in any kind of government-mandated oath or pledge violates the separation clause.

Finally, the pledge defines the nation as having “Liberty and Justice for All.” Perhaps I am most strongly critical here. Merely stating that our nation is one where there is liberty and justice for all doesn’t make it so. There are currently, and have been throughout our history, rampant and horrific abrogations, violations, and denials of liberty and justice.

We have notachieved, as a nation, liberty and justice for all, and we aren’t likely to do so any time soon. Please don’t take this as unpatriotic. My own regard and respect and love for this nation is firmly rooted in my belief that it strivesfor liberty and justice for all. It was foundedon principals that head firmly in that direction.

But we aren’t there. We might be closer than some other nations, but stating and re-stating and re-re-stating that we have actually achieved this goal is merely going to make us lazy about fully continuing our committed attempts to realize it.

So the pledge, mostly recited in schoolsof all places, seems in my opinion to be an opening phrase with little or no possible meaning, followed by some concepts that are not fully baked and one which may run counter to our Constitution, followed by a patent untruth. Why would we want our students to repeat this every day?

The Naturalization Oath quoted by Mr. Remick is a model of clarity and distinctness. It makes sense. And having watched a number of extremely moving naturalization ceremonies, I can report that the people who make that oath have not only thought long and hard about what they are saying, but celebrate the vow they are taking specifically because of what it means. It is like the distinct vow of a marriage.

Which brings me full circle to whether or not the pledge is a “blind oath of loyalty,” a characterization that Mr. Remick clearly objects to in strenuous terms.

Once again, if we compare the Pledge of Allegiance to the Naturalization Oath, there is an interesting distinction here. The Naturalization Oath is taken one time. It is a promise. You don’t re-promise the promise every day. That would be patronizing and, quite frankly, horrific. It would be like taking your marriage vow every day.

Asking you to re-promise your promise would undermine the value and importance of the firstpromise, as if you somehow didn’t really mean it.

The pledge, as typically used in schools, is recited regularly. It is not an individual choice to make a fundamental change in your life. It is often dictated by the people in charge who have a great deal of control over your life. So you say the words.

I have spent a fair amount of time in schools as an arts educator over the past 20 years. I have observed many classes of children of varying ages reciting the pledge. My own opinion is that in the vast majority of the cases, there is little discernment on the part of the young students about what they are actually saying.

They are in fact fulfilling a rote obligation placed on them externally. And they are, every day, together, saying something that starts with a meaningless phrase and ends with an untruth.

And, especially with the younger students, I have often been struck with the realization that they aren’t even parsing the pledge into words. They are just, by rote, repeating a sequence of sounds. When I have observed this, I have found it profoundlydisturbing.

I would not be opposed, in fact I would support, giving younger citizens, at milestones in their lives, the opportunity to make a thinking commitment to their Constitution and their Laws, as a rite of passage into adulthood.

But I cannot be a supporter of the pledge, and although he no doubt would disagree with me, I am most grateful to Mr. Remick for giving me the insight and tools to figure out why.

Stephan Golux
East Middlebury

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