Pledge legislation misses the mark

Guest Editorial
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

How ironic is it that state lawmakers want to mandate the recitation of a pledge that speaks to the glories of universal liberty?

But that’s the tactic now pursued by House Republicans who apparently believe now is as good a time as any to put a patriotic mask on what is a cynical stunt. House Republicans watered down their original wording that would mandate a daily pledge in all classrooms. Now they vaguely say all that should be required is the opportunity to say the pledge. Republicans also want an American flag in every classroom.

Why not? Politically, there is no down side to supporting something as apple pie as the American flag. Anyone who suggests otherwise risks wearing the brand of an unpatriotic scoundrel. Support a mandatory pledge among schoolchildren and let others bear the burden of bringing up troublesome details, such as liberty and religious freedom.

It’s likely already common for many classrooms to recite the pledge, although that practice certainly diminishes in upper grade levels. So why bring the issue up now? Republicans say they are worried that the pledge isn’t being said as much, which means that the nation’s youth — particularly immigrants — aren’t properly learning the nation’s heritage.

That sounds nice, except there is absolutely no data to back up the claim. Rogers, for instance, said he has heard “rumors” that recitation of the pledge is declining. That’s hardly a sound basis for passing new laws.

Further, there is no evidence that a mandatory, perhaps mumbling, daily recitation of the pledge will have any impact on the level of understanding that Americans have about their heritage, their nation’s origins and their Constitution.

There are scads of other problems. Courts — responding to challengers as diverse as Jehovah’s Witnesses and atheists — have ruled against mandatory pledges. Republicans like to talk about the evils of intrusive government and the bliss of local control. But this violates both tenets. Schools decide now how and when to use the pledge. If this legislation passes, does that mean the state will need to hire “flag police” to see that the stars and stripes are in every classroom, and that every student has the “opportunity” to say the pledge?

Should students learn the pledge? Absolutely. And at age-appropriate levels, they should study the great promise of the pledge and how that promise has been met — and missed — over the nation’s history. This is a great country, but it hasn’t been a perfect one.

Consider that when the pledge was written in 1892 — by a Baptist minister who considered himself to be a socialist Christian — women were not allowed to vote. As the 19th century evolved, Southern blacks found that public lynchings and church burnings too often awaited those who dared to exercise the freedoms won during the Civil War. In the early 1940s, students who dutifully said the pledge in their classroom found themselves and their families whisked away to relocation camps because, even though they were American citizens, they were of Japanese descent.

Liberty and justice for all? A worthy goal, but still a difficult one to achieve. And the patriotism that is worthy of this great nation can’t be achieved with a mandatory pledge.