I used to get quite a few of those loopy mass emails that traffic in mass misinformation.
You know the kind I mean, the ones with the president allegedly refusing to salute the flag or shaking hands with Joseph Stalin as a tyke or some other such foolish fabrication.
Instead of giving myself an ulcer ignoring such things (I don’t suffer fools gladly), I’ve been hitting the “reply all” button and countering these misleading missives with actual facts.
So I’ve been getting fewer and fewer epistles of ignorance as I get dropped from mailing lists. The purveyors of foolish fabrications don’t seem to like actual facts.
But the other day, I received an email entitled “A Very Powerful Cartoon — Please keep it going,” so, OK, I will. At least in this column.
The cartoon depicts a classroom in which the students are standing, hands over their hearts, about to say the Pledge of Allegiance. All except one oafish lout in the front row with his arms crossed and his feet up on his desk.
“Kevin, it’s your right not to stand for the pledge,” the teacher is saying. “But let me introduce to you someone who can’t stand because he was defending that right.”
Next to the teacher is a man in military uniform, and in case anyone misses his sergeant’s stripes, the words “Semper Fi” are written the back of his wheelchair.
OK, I respect and honor the service of soldiers, many of whom have been killed or wounded in defense of American liberties,
including the right not to say the Pledge of Allegiance. But it also bugs me that the Right has appropriated the pledge as some sort of patriotic shibboleth, allegedly under fire in this country, when in fact the flag salute is alive and well in schools across the nation.What really provoked me to respond, though, was the comment the emailer added below the cartoon:
“Isn’t life strange? I never met one Veteran who enlisted to fight for socialism!”
I’m not sure where the writer was sitting, or standing, in history class, but in fact the Pledge of Allegiance was in fact written by a socialist. Look it up for yourself if you don’t believe me.
Francis Bellamy was a Baptist preacher who believed that the equal distribution of economic resource – in other words, socialism – was inherent in the teachings of Jesus. In 1892, he wrote the pledge as part of a national celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus Day to be recited in schools nationwide.
The pledge, he believed, would function as an important lesson for immigrants and even native-born Americans who might lack sufficient patriotism in the decades after the Civil War. That’s why the pledge is to “one nation, indivisible.” The words “under God” weren’t added until 1954 as an antidote to secular communism.
Those added words were also important to the emailer of the cartoon, who went on to complain that Muslims are allowed to celebrate their religion in public, but that Christians are forbidden the same right.
“It is said that 86 percent of Americans believe in God,” the emailer continues. “Tell me, again, whose country is this? Ours or the Muslims?”
Well, the pledge says “liberty … for all” which I suspect would include Muslims who indeed have the same rights to erect religious displays on private property as do Christians.
Actually, I doubt that the modern secular socialists the emailer refers to and fundamentalist Muslims get along so well, and I suspect that the 86 percent who believe in God includes Muslims. It also includes the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who challenged the Pledge of Allegiance in federal court nearly 75 years ago because they opposed saluting any secular flag on religious grounds.
The case, West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, came to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1943 in the middle of World War II. The Nazis we were fighting at the time were executing Jehovah’s Witnesses for their refusal to salute the swastika, an irony not lost on Justice Robert Jackson, who wrote the court’s opinion.
“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,” Jackson wrote. “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”
Jackson went on to say that, “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.”
That is equally true, I believe, of religious ceremonies. It seems to me, in fact, antithetical to genuine faith, or patriotism, to be bullied into reciting dogma we might not understand or believe in.
Me, I like the Pledge of Allegiance, and always recite it with genuine feeling when asked to do so. That’s because I live in a country where you don’t have to recite the pledge. That’s the liberty the pledge talks about and for which my flag really stands.
You’re also free, of course, to send me cranky, closed-minded emails.
Just don’t blame me if I prefer to fight back with facts.
Marc Charisse is editor of The Evening Sun. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @esmcharisse