Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 280- liberty, and justice for all.

Dear Mr. President,

As a child I had an annoying habit of refusing to do anything that could not be justified as useful or necessary. Teachers, parents and other adults were often exasperated by my need to question their requests and refusal to follow orders I didn't see the purpose of. Though I believed in God as a child, I refused to say the pledge of allegiance. For one thing, I found the odd addition of "under God" to be a reminder of the worst aspects of American history. Additionally, reciting a pledge I'd heard so many times the words had lost their meaning seemed like a poor substitute for actual love of my country. Like compulsory displays of faith, these forced demonstrations of patriotism always rung falsely to my young ears. I wondered, don't the actions we choose mean more than the things we are compelled to?

I'd forgotten about this entirely as an adult. At 24 I'm not often required to say the pledge. I suppose as a student of public school it was only the daily reminder that stoked my objections, because I quite honestly have thought very little at all about the pledge of allegiance since graduation, at least until today. Today I saw a news story out of Mississippi, where a lawyer was held in contempt for his refusal to recite the pledge of allegiance when ordered by a judge.

When I saw this story I remembered my own days sitting or standing silently while the other students in the class said the Pledge. One devote Mormon used to say the words "under God" with more emphasis than the rest of the pledge, looking around defiantly as though waiting to challenge any of us to contradict her. I suppose I have no real objection to the idea of America being "under God", though, obviously, this is unfairly exclusive of atheist Americans; at least, I think it is important for Americans to see ourselves as under something, anything, so that we don't imagine our dominion as a superpower to be absolute. "One nation, under a regard for the rights and dignity of every human" doesn't exactly have the same ring to it, but is maybe closer to what I mean. The whole process felt close to idolatry or religious devotion; a kool-aid drinking I just didn't see as having any practical purpose. If an adult had ever explained to me why we say the pledge in a way that had made sense, I probably would have done it. Now that I'm all grown up and worried about more important things, I suppose I've reached the conclusion that the pledge is ultimately symbolic. And symbolism may have it's place, I suppose, but not when it comes at the direct expense of the rights and freedoms that make our country worth my allegiance in the first place.

Anyway, I hope that the charges against the Mississippi lawyer are dropped. His right, and my own, to refuse to say the pledge is what makes me proud of this country. I think that means ever so much more than the words themselves, which are, after all, subject to change at the whims of American foreign policy. I may not give the pledge much thought, now that I'm not asked to say it every morning, but I often think about and am grateful for the freedom of speech given to me and exercised by this lawyer. A pledge cannot have meaning when it is coerced and this man's stand against it is far more patriotic than the judge's attempt to force him to say words that ultimately mean nothing without the right to refuse to say them.

Respectfully yours,


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