Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Flag Day Reflections

In addition to being primary election day in Virginia this year, June 14 is Flag Day, commemorating the adoption by the Continental Congress of what became the Stars and Stripes so familiar to Americans.

Timed for the occasion, the Washington Post ran a review of a new book on the history of the American flag on Sunday, June 12. Historian Richard Ellis reviewed Marc Leepson's Flag: An American Biography. In his Book World review, Ellis wrote:

The many different meanings Americans have attached to their flag are conscientiously explored in Marc Leepson's new "biography" of the American flag. In the early years of the republic, Leepson reminds us, the flag carried little of the emotional freight that it bears today. The Star-Spangled Banner waved over military forts, naval ships and commercial vessels, but ordinary Americans back then would not have dreamed of flying it themselves. Gradually the flag became a more important symbol in American life, but not until the fall of Fort Sumter in 1861 did it become the preeminent patriotic symbol that it has remained to this day.

Leepson's narrative of the development of Americans' flag fetish includes a number of tales well worth telling, especially the late-19th-century fabrication of the myth that a seamstress by the name of Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. But the story sags at times under the weight of dates and facts, as well as occasionally lifeless prose. In describing an 1865 Civil War victory parade, for instance, Leepson notes that Washington, D.C., "still mourning President Lincoln's assassination, did not go all out during those two days in the flag-display department however."

* * *

Leepson concludes that the "simple fact is that -- despite its changing meaning over the years -- since 1777 the American flag has symbolized the values and ideals upon which this nation was built." He is perhaps guilty of overstating his case here -- it is difficult to reconcile this "simple fact" with his own earlier observation that "in the post-Revolutionary War era, the flag, as a symbol of the nation, played a minor role" -- but he is surely correct that throughout most of American history the flag has represented not only a nation but a set of ideals.
About a year and a half ago, I weighed in on a controversy regarding the American flag: the proper place of the Pledge of Allegiance. This article was published in the Metro Herald on October 17, 2003:

MESSAGE TO SUPREME COURT: PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE TO WHOM?

To the surprise of many, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider an appeal of a ruling last year by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that said the presence of the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance creates an unconstitutional mixing of government and religion. The Ninth Circuit's decision in the case of Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow was met with ridicule and disdain when it was issued, and observers of the judicial scene thought the Supreme Court would want to avoid getting involved in this rather emotional argument, better known for its heat than its light.

Needless to say, conservative groups and their spokesmen weighed in fast with their views. When the appeals court ruled, some called for the impeachment of the judges who voted against the phrase "under God." Others welcomed the Supreme Court's taking on of the case as a sign that an obstacle has been raised to those who would destroy our common culture.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission told the Baptist Press: "The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling that the pledge is unconstitutional is outrageous even for the looniest of all the federal appeals courts in the land." Jay Sekulow, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice, added: "The Pledge is part of an American tapestry of time-honored and historically significant traditions that has come under attack."

These conservatives might not be so eager in their remarks if they knew the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and its intended purpose. While most of us today view it as benign or sentimentally patriotic, a look at its origins illustrates the sinister -- one could say "un-American" -- features underlying the Pledge.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "allegiance" as "the obligations of a vassal to a lord." Similarly, Black's Law Dictionary defines it as "obligation of fidelity and obedience to government in consideration for protection that government gives."

Writing in the May 2001 issue of the journal The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty, published by the Foundation for Economic Education -- one of the oldest pro-freedom think tanks in the United States -- author and activist Jim Peron reports that the author of the Pledge of Allegiance was Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and socialist agitator who was the cousin of Edward Bellamy, author of the socialist utopian novel, Looking Backward (1888).

Francis Bellamy composed the Pledge for a magazine called The Youth's Companion, which first published it on September 8, 1892, and promoted it vigorously. As Peron relates the story, "Bellamy, like his cousin, wanted to use government schools to help promote a socialist agenda. He felt that one way of encouraging this agenda would be the teaching of state loyalty. To this end he wrote a pledge, which students across the country were asked to take. With a few minor changes this pledge is what is now called the Pledge of Allegiance."

Peron goes on to note that "Bellamy attempted to accomplish several goals with his Pledge of Allegiance. He saw it as a means of inculcating support for a centralized national government over the federalist system of the Founding Fathers." Moreover, Peron writes, Bellamy "originally toyed with the idea of making the Pledge more openly socialistic, but decided that if he did so it would never be accepted."

Why not? Because the American republic was founded on constitutional principles that are antithetical to socialism and its parallel, feudalism, in which the citizen is a mere vassal to a superior lord. The Pledge of Allegiance stands on its head the American commitment to universal but individual rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (as Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration of Independence). In its place it puts fealty to the will of the state and the subjugation of the individual to an amorphous "society."

Whether or not reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in government schools is unconstitutional will be decided soon by the U.S. Supreme Court. But conservatives who view the Pledge as sacrosanct should not be too quick to condemn an "adverse" ruling without first thinking about the implications of the history and the text of the Pledge itself. If they do, they might realize that they are supporting something quite at odds with what they hold dear about America.

While the Supreme Court hears this case and decides how to rule, we citizens have an opportunity to reflect on the Pledge's implications, as well. The unsettling conclusions we draw should lead to deeper wisdom and a better appreciation of individual liberty as promised by the Constitution.

Richard Sincere is author of Sowing the Seeds of Free Enterprise and The Politics of Sentiment, among other works.
We know now that the U.S. Supreme Court decided, precisely a year ago (on June 14, 2004) that it is still permissible for schoolchildren to say the Pledge of Allegiance despite the presence of the phrase "under God." The Court did not rule on the merits of the case, however, noting merely that Michael Newdow, who brought the original lawsuit, lacked standing to do so. Speaking for the Court, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote:
In our view, it is improper for the federal courts to entertain a claim by a plaintiff whose standing to sue is founded on family law rights that are in dispute when prosecution of the lawsuit may have an adverse effect on the person who is the source of the plaintiff’s claimed standing. When hard questions of domestic relations are sure to affect the outcome, the prudent course is for the federal court to stay its hand rather than reach out to resolve a weighty question of federal constitutional law. There is a vast difference between Newdow’s right to communicate with his child–which both California law and the First Amendment recognize–and his claimed right to shield his daughter from influences to which she is exposed in school despite the terms of the custody order. We conclude that, having been deprived under California law of the right to sue as next friend, Newdow lacks prudential standing to bring this suit in federal court.
The issue has gone away -- for the moment. I only wish the conservatives who are the most vociferous proponents of the Pledge would realize how anti-American "pledging allegiance" is.

Because it is a social ritual, I still participate in Pledge ceremonies as a matter of courtesy. This is simply a matter of respect for the people I am with, much the same as bowing one's head when a dinner party host says grace (even if you are a non-believer) or standing for the singing of "O Canada" before a game at which an American baseball team is playing the Montreal Expos -- er, that is, the Toronto Blue Jays. (I guess they don't still sing "O Canada" at RFK Stadium for Washington Nationals games.)

But being polite does not necessarily suggest approbration as much as it does mild toleration and considered resignation.

3 comments:

rexcurrydotnet said...

Schools should not teach kids to verbally fellate flags, nor flag fetishism.

Below is a letter sent to newspapers, teachers, students, school boards and schools all over the USA asking that the national flag be removed from schools on Flag Day (June 14th). Please pass it on and feel free to use it as a letter to the editor.

Dear teachers, schools, and School Boards:

Flag Day (6-14) is a good day to remove the flag from schools. Please help, and also educate students about these new historical discoveries:

1. The original Pledge of Allegiance to the USA's flag used a straight-armed salute and it was the source of the salute of the monstrous National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis). The gesture was not an ancient Roman salute.

2. The Pledge began with a military salute that then extended outward toward the flag. Due to the way that Francis Bellamy (the Pledge's creator) used the gestures, the military salute led to the Nazi salute.

3. Bellamy was a self-proclaimed socialist in the nationalism movement and his dogma influenced socialists in Germany, and his pledge was the origin of their salute. Many people forget that "Nazi" means "National Socialist German Workers' Party." A mnemonic device is the swastika (Hakenkreuz in German). Although the swastika was an ancient symbol, it was also used sometimes to represent "S" letters joined for "socialism" under the German National Socialists.

How the discoveries were made is a fascinating story in itself. I made the discoveries by accident during legal research involving litigation about the pledge. As a libertarian lawyer, and the USA’s favorite flagologist, I do pro bono work educating students and others about the right to reject the ritualism.

Fight the flag hags and their flag fetish. Government's schools should not teach kids to verbally fellate flags each morning. It is like a brainwashed cult of the omnipotent state. For adults it is childish. Remove the pledge from the flag, remove flags from schools, remove schools from government.

The Bellamy dogma was the same dogma that led to the "Wholecaust" (of which the Holocaust was a part): 62 million killed under the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; 35 million under the Peoples' Republic of China; 21 million under the National Socialist German Workers' Party. It was so bad that Holocaust Museums could quadruple in size with Wholecaust Museums to document the entire slaughter.

In the USA, government took over education and imposed segregation by law and taught racism as official policy. The USA's behavior was an example for three decades before the Nazis. As under Nazism, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and blacks and the Jewish and others in the USA attended government schools that dictated segregation, taught racism, and persecuted children who refused to perform the straight-arm salute and robotically chant the pledge. Some kids were expelled from government schools and had to use the many better alternatives. There were acts of violence. When Jesse Owens competed in the 1936 Olympics in Germany, his neighbors attended segregated government schools where they saluted the flag with the Nazi salute. The U.S. practice of official racism even outlasted the horrid party. And the schools and the Pledge still exist. The Pledge is still the most visible sign of the USA's growing police state.

Some schools in the USA are still named after Francis Bellamy. The Bellamy schools should be re-named because they send the wrong message to children and the community. It causes emotional distress to children who attend schools named after a man who popularized the Nazi salute and who helped the government institutionalize racism and segregation. I, and my supporters, will also assist in any legal means to defray the cost of re-naming Bellamy schools.

Listen to a new talk-show appearance by RexCurry.net about the flag and the pledge http://rexcurry.net/rexcurry4.mp3

A more detailed version of the article above is at http://rexcurry.net/flag-day.html

OdellnDC said...

This is what Gene Weingarten said in 2002: "Like you, I applaud the recent federal appeals court decision declaring the Pledge of Allegiance a vomitaceous monstrosity on the grounds that it compels a child to robotically parrot an incomprehensible promise he is both cognitively and legally incompetent to make, and is therefore a Maoist-style indoctrination insulting to the very concept of a free society."

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