Jim Parsons recently asked if we, as Christians, should pledge allegiance to anything but Christ (see “Pledge of Allegiance – Right or Wrong?”.
When I last taught high school (during the 2001 – 2002 academic year), we were literally ordered to begin the school day by reciting the “Pledge of Allegiance”. Growing up as I did, I had no problems with reciting the pledge, though getting the proper phrasing (remember that “under God” was added to the original phrase and is separated by commas) was always a problem. But the order and it was an order to say the pledge came after September 11, 2001 and was done as way, I believe, to encourage patriotism. But patriotism cannot come through forced means.
Now we read in the April 8, 2008 issue of Christian Century reprinted an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education that reported on the firing of a California State University mathematics instructor and a Quaker was fired because she refused to sign an unaltered state loyalty oath.
The instructor was willing to sign the loyalty oath provided it was modified to conform to her Quaker beliefs. The article notes that the university did not care about the quality of her instruction or whether she actually believed in what she was signing but only that she signed an unaltered oath.
I have twice been forced to sign loyalty oaths (once in 1995 and once in 2005) and was told that if I did not sign them I would not receive a paycheck.
Loyalty oaths were, I believe, a product of the McCarthy era of the 1950’s and were designed to “protect” society from those who would seek its destruction. There is an episode in M*A*S*H where it was discovered that Sidney Freedman, the psychiatrist, had not signed his loyalty oath and thus could be kicked out of the Army. Dr. Freedman pointed out that if he were a Communist, the first thing he would have done is signed the loyalty oath. In the meantime, Hawkeye compliments Sidney on how smart he was for finding a way to get out of the army.
Are requiring that people say the “Pledge of Allegiance” or signing a loyalty oath a true measure of someone’s patriotism or commitment to one’s country? How many people put up flags following 9/11 that have since become torn and tattered and faded in the sunlight? Is patriotism something than can be expressed through forced means or is it found in the hearts and souls of the people?
Each Sunday we say a creed that defines what we believe. Hopefully we believe what we say and we say it, not from memory, but from our heart. I think the same is true about pledges and loyalty oaths; they have no meaning if they are forced.