#039;Pledge#039; issue shouldn#039;t distract us

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 8, 2002

What a shame that the innocent matter of the Pledge of Allegiance should become burdened and even sullied by political infighting. First it was the objection to its recitation being required in schools and, more recently, inclusion of the phrase "under God." We find ourselves in perilous times, and we need to learn national allegiance and use the pledge to encourage it.

The pledge offers sweet sentiment and beautiful thoughts. Opposing it would seem rather much like an attack upon the Golden Rule -- or Mother and her apple pies. Can anyone deny every citizen of any nation is obliged to exercise allegiance to his nation? Being so, what can be wrong about saying so even in a formal pledge?

The problem is not so much pledging or even the pledge's content, but the political context into which it has been forced. Whereas political negotiations are theoretically aimed at win-win accommodations, in practice they are often win-lose conflicts. Consequently, some political correctness seeks to win so that American tradition loses. When this happens, everyone loses.

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Some reason, with a good deal of validity, that conformity can be forced from without but that allegiance must come from within. If a person is legally required to mouth the pledge, does this ensure actual allegiance? Routine recitation of any creed or motto certainly has limited accomplishments, but this is not to deny all value. We require those appearing in court to be sworn in as we do those entering the armed forces and those assuming public office. While no guarantees can be given for any of this, the rites do remind and encourage. So does the Pledge of Allegiance.

It seems both natural and logical for schools, which teach American history and civics, to exercise this in class recitation of the pledge. The issue worth discussing is not whether the pledge

should be recited in schools or even that it should be required, but how wisely any legislative body can be in mandating most educational matters. The danger in legislative action is over-kill, e.g., killing flies with artillery. I am strongly in favor of schools teaching civics by using the pledge to a reasonable extent, but I am less sure of the appropriateness of a legal requirement. As with many things, being coerced into doing the right thing not only robs the right thing of its joy but may even destroy the right within it. The more we recite the pledge voluntarily, the less attractive will be laws that require it.

Perhaps the most outrageous thing to have been said about this matter is the claim that the phrase "under God" constitutes the establishment of religion. One has to be out of his mind so to argue, and this seems to be the social pathology of that California fellow who brought the matter to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The poor fellow has a track record of reactionary obsessions, but one would think the two federal judges would be of sound mind. What the constitution's establishment clause disallows is one church being made the official state church, and this is universes away from that.

Moreover, the word "God" is undefined and admits to a democratically wide range of senses, from the personal God of the Bible and Koran to a generic impersonal influence. Only a mentally unreasonable and emotionally troubled person can descent from this.

In these days when our nation and other free societies are under active terrorist attacks, we need to focus on national allegiance and international responsibility. Let's not allow this squabble to distract us.

-- Dr. Wallace Alcorn’s column appears on Mondays.