With Liberty and Justice For All? by Rob Moody

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With Liberty and Justice For All?

by Rob Moody

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. ~ Samuel Johnson

I just read that Virginia state senator Warren Barry, a Republican (of course), recently introduced a bill that would require students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or face suspension. The bill allows students to remain silent during the pledge if they or their parents object on religious or philosophical grounds, but Barry originally wrote the bill to let students off the hook only with a written excuse from their "ecclesiastical officer" – an ordained or otherwise credentialed religious leader. "I personally don't believe anybody should be allowed to object on a philosophical basis," said Barry, a statement that probably would have made the father of his grand old party proud. Barry said he introduced the bill "to help nurture patriotism in today’s youth." The Virginia Senate, which probably didn’t want to look like a bunch of pinko traitors, passed the bill 27-9 last Tuesday.

As a boy, I always dutifully recited the pledge each morning at school. As the patriotic, first-born child of a conservative family in a small southern town, refusing to say the pledge was the last thing on my mind. After I graduated from high school, my mother began to teach at that level, and as the quality of the children in public schools began to decline, I started hearing about students who refused to stand for the pledge, much less recite it. I’d always laugh when my mother would tell me how she’d tell these budding anarchists, "As long as my son is serving in the military and sleeping outside during the winter in the fields of Germany so you can be free, you will stand for the pledge!"

And that’s what the pledge is all about. It never occurred to me until I heard Marshall Fritz of The Alliance for the Separation of School and State say the following, which hit me like a shot to my solar plexus: Government schools churn out men who march obediently off to war, and women who cheer them. The welfare-warfare state always needs an ample supply of willing cannon fodder, and boy was I ever willing.

It’s ironic that conservatives like the pledge so much, considering its origin. The Pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Christian Socialist and Baptist minister. In his pledge, he expressed the ideas of his cousin Edward Bellamy, author of the socialist utopian novels Looking Backward and Equality. As Dr. John W. Baer wrote in The Pledge of Allegiance, A Centennial History, 1892-1992:

Francis Bellamy in his sermons and lectures and Edward Bellamy in his novels and articles described in detail how the middle class could create a planned economy with political, social and economic equality for all. The government would run a peacetime economy similar to our present military industrial complex.

The Pledge was published in The Youth’s Companion, the leading family magazine…of its day. Its owner and editor, Daniel Ford, had hired Francis as his assistant when Francis was pressured into leaving his church in Boston because of his socialist sermons. [I doubt that would happen today! RM] As a member of his congregation, Ford had enjoyed Francis’s sermons. Ford later founded the liberal and often controversial Ford Hall Forum….

…Francis Bellamy was also a chairman of a committee of state superintendents of education in the National Education Association. As its chairman, he prepared the program for the public schools’ quadricentennial celebration for Columbus Day in 1892. [This was before celebrating Columbus Day became a hate crime. RM] He structured this public school program around a flag raising ceremony and a flag salute – his "Pledge of Allegiance."

What follows is Bellamy’s own account of some of the thoughts that went through his mind as he picked the words of his Pledge:

The true reason for allegiance to the Flag is the "republic for which it stands." ...And what does that vast thing, the Republic mean? It is the concise political word for the Nation – the One Nation which the Civil War was fought to prove. To make that One Nation idea clear, we must specify that it is indivisible, as Webster and Lincoln used to repeat in their great speeches.

So there you have it. How many times have you shown your fellow citizens what a loyal and patriotic American you are by dutifully reciting the pledge, without ever stopping to think about what it was that you were doing?

One day the young son of a friend of mine told him that he doesn’t say the pledge at school anymore. When his father asked him why, the boy said, "Because we don’t have liberty and justice for all anymore." I wish I had been that perceptive and courageous when I was a boy. But now we have people like Sen. Barry, who want to force children like my friend’s son to pledge their allegiance to a republic that frankly no longer deserves it.

Virginia Sen. Janet Howell, a Democrat, argued against Sen. Barry’s bill, saying, "Insecure governments usually impose symbols of patriotism on their youth. Totalitarian governments always impose symbols of patriotism on their youth. My fear is we’re moving in that direction." Sen. Barry countered, "There isn’t anything in here that says you’re going to be lined up against the wall and shot or anything." No, Sen. Barry, there isn’t. That’s because the government is the only entity that has the right to legally use force-including murder if necessary-to accomplish its goals, and a threat to use that force can be found in virtually every piece of legislation.

No, students won’t be lined up against a wall and shot-as long as they comply with the law. But what if a student who was suspended for refusing to say the pledge showed up at school the next day with his parents and refused to leave? The school’s administrators would deal with the problem in the only way that government knows how, by sending in the men with the guns. If the child and his parents still refused to leave and resisted arrest, then they might very well be shot to death, all because the child refused to say the words that Sen. Barry wanted him to say. As Michel Eyquem de Montaigne wrote, "After all, it is setting a high value upon our opinions to roast men and women alive on account of them."

Sen. Barry, if you want children to be loyal citizens, give them a republic that’s worthy of their allegiance.

February 3, 2001

-- Anonymous, January 20, 2002

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