Saying No to the Pledge
Maireid Sullivan | September 12, 2008 at 08:10 pmby
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Law Librarian, Prison Teacher, Curriculum developer, Progressive Leftist Humanist
He is the person who wrote the curriculum for Irish Genocide studies, related to the Irish Famine, which was the first example of Malthusian policy re. population control for the British Empire.
More of his essays are available here.
–James Mullin– September 12, 2008–
Whenever I listen to the Star-Spangled Banner, I call to mind whatever images and thoughts make up my own personal vision of America. That's what free people do in a free country. Most of us don´t need a flag as big as a football field, a uniformed color guard, or a Phantom Jet fly-over to feel patriotic. Hearing the National Anthem is enough.
I also get emotional and patriotic listening to God Bless America, America the Beautiful, My Country 'Tis of Thee, the Navy Hymn and Taps, but the Pledge of Allegiance leaves me cold - like Big Brother is watching over my shoulder. I wonder why.
Back in 1892, (I wasn´t around) when a Baptist minister named Francis Bellamy drafted the Pledge, it went like this: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." This pledge slowly gained wider acceptance and didn´t change much for 50 years.
Then, in 1940, with World War II well underway in Europe, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Minersville School District v. Gobitis that students in public schools could be compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
The case was brought by Jehovah's Witnesses whose children had dutifully (to their parents) declined to say the pledge on religious grounds - they considered the flag salute to be idolatry. Those students who refused to pledge were expelled.
With American participation in the war more and more likely, any refusal to pledge loyalty to the flag was seen as evidence of traitorous intent. Though the Jehovah's Witnesses lost the case, they were subjected to mob violence and intimidation.
In one week alone, the Justice Department received reports of hundreds of physical assaults. Jehovah's Witnesses meeting places were burned and their leaders driven out of town. Officials threatened to send nonconformist Witnesses' children to reformatories for juvenile delinquents.
In 1943, with American armies and navies fighting and dying in Europe and the Pacific, the Supreme Court overturned its 3-year-old decision in Minersville v. Gobitis - this time ruling in favor of another group of Jehovah Witnesses, though not on religious grounds.
The court´s decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (319 U.S. 624) said that any State making it compulsory for children in the public schools to salute the flag and pledge allegiance was violating the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution!
There were no protests, riots, or acts of violence after the ruling, and the decision has never been overturned. In fact, the majority opinion delivered by Justice Robert Jackson has become one of the great statements in American constitutional law and history. The following are excerpts:
"The State may require instruction and study of all in our history and in the structure and organization of our government, including the guaranties of civil liberty, which tend to inspire patriotism and love of country...
Here, however, we are dealing with a compulsion of students to declare a belief. There is no doubt that, in connection with the pledges, the flag salute is a form of utterance…
To sustain the compulsory flag salute we are required to say that a Bill of Rights which guards the individual's right to speak his own mind, left it open to public authorities to compel him to utter what is not in his mind…
That they are educating the young for citizenship is reason for scrupulous protection of Constitutional freedoms of the individual, if we are not to strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes.
The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles…
One's right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.
National unity as an end which officials may foster by persuasion and example is not in question. The problem is whether under our Constitution compulsion as here employed is a permissible means for its achievement.
Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good as well as by evil men…
Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.
the First Amendment to our Constitution was designed to avoid these ends by avoiding these beginnings. There is no mysticism in the American concept of the State or of the nature or origin of its authority. We set up government by consent of the governed, and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent. Authority here is to be controlled by public opinion, not public opinion by authority.
The case is made difficult…because the flag involved is our own. Nevertheless, we apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization.
To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.
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."
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