Tuesday, April 30, 2013

“Of course,
forcing a child
to rescind [his] religious beliefs
for the sake of nationalism
is a blatant violation of religious freedom” /

ο εξαναγκασμός ενός παιδιού
να αναιρέσει τις θρησκευτικές πεποιθήσεις [του]
για χάρη του εθνικισμού
αποτελεί κατάφωρη παραβίαση της θρησκευτικής ελευθερίας»

Students pledging allegiance to the American flag
with the Bellamy salute

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a socialist as part of a program for the National Public School celebration of Columbus Day. Bellamy's original text for the Pledge was as follows:
"I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

That September, it was published in The Youth's Companion, and gained steam from there. By 1905, 19 states had passed school flag laws involving the Pledge. By 1923, the words "my Flag" had been changed to "the flag of the United States", apparently to avoid confusion. One year later, the National Flag Conference added the words "Of America.”

In 1940, the landmark Minersville v Gobitis case was filed, after two children were expelled for refusing to recite the pledge. Their rationale for doing so was their faith, as they were from a family of Jehovah's Witnesses, who refuse to swear to any power besides God. The Pledge was adopted nationally as part of the Flag Code in 1942, the same year that the Supreme Court decided the Gobitis case was decided. In Gobitis, the court ruled that the Gobitis children did not have the right to abstain from saying the Pledge. Justice Frankfurter wrote the opinion of the court.
"The wisdom of training children in patriotic impulses by those compulsions which necessarily pervade so much of the educational process is not for our independent judgment. Even were we convinced of the folly of such a measure, such belief would be no proof of its unconstitutionality... What the school authorities are really asserting is the right to awaken in the child's mind considerations as to the significance of the flag contrary to those implanted by the parent. In such an attempt the state is normally at a disadvantage in competing with the parent's authority, so long-and this is the vital aspect of religious toleration-as parents are unmolested in their right to counteract by their own persuasiveness the wisdom and rightness of those loyalties which the state's educational system is seeking to promote."

Frankfurter's opinion clearly stated that the state has the right to teach children views counter to those of their parents. In this case, that view is that the flag and nation are entities worthy of praise, counter to what the Jehovah's witness doctrines would say. It also states that the schools are at a disadvantage to the parents, when it comes to education. Of course, forcing a child to rescind their religious beliefs for the sake of nationalism is a blatant violation of religious freedom. The refusal to say the pledge made many perceive Jehovah's Witnesses as being unpatriotic. This led to a string of hate crimes against Jehovah's Witnesses.

In an act of common sense, the court overturned the Gobitis decision one year later in Barnette, where the court ruled that students have the right to not speak, and abstain from the pledge. It also ruled unconstitutional any punishment for a student abstaining from the pledge. Justice Jackson wrote the opinion of the court.
"[I]f there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

* Kyle T. Morrison,
"God Loves Flags, But I Don't:
Why the Pledge of Allegiance is an American Travesty
The Ohio State University,April 2013, pp. 6, 7.
[English/Αγγλικά, PDF]

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