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Oh Say Can You See...

By Andy Wallace

I got this message the other day, one of those e-mails that gets sent around and around. It was from a friend of mine (though I have since started getting it from other places). I know that my friend just sent it to me to express himself, because some of the thoughts in the e-mail are very attractive right now.

I don't think he read it this way, but by sending this to me, he basically suggested that I leave the country.

Now, I've known him for a long time, and I know that he doesn't really want me to leave the country. At least I hope he doesn't. But in the rush to agree with the sentiment of the message, I like to believe that he didn't really think about it.

The message, which you probably have gotten by now as well, starts off this way:

Broken Arrow, Oklahoma School officials remove "God Bless America" signs from schools in fear that someone might be offended.

ABC News orders flags removed from the newsroom and red, white, and blue ribbons removed from the lapels of reporters. Why? Management did not want to appear biased and felt that our nation's flag might give the appearance that "they lean one way or another".

Reuters News will not use the term terrorist to describe the perpetrators of the 9-11 horror for the same reason.

Berkeley, California bans U.S. Flags from being displayed on city fire trucks because they didn't want to offend anyone in the community.

In an "act of tolerance" the head of the public library at Florida Gulf Coast University ordered all "Proud to be an American" signs removed so as to not offend international students.

Doing some digging, I found some references to the Broken Arrow school incident, but the facts are a little different than portrayed. A particular elementary school principal in Broken Arrow put such a banner in front of the school. The district got a few complaints, and so asked for advice. From Education Week (

The district consulted with the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, which advised that officials would be on stronger legal ground if they included the slogan as part of a larger patriotic display, with such symbols as "a flag, a picture of the Liberty Bell, a patriotic quote, or some other patriotic symbol."
After word mistakenly spread that the school boards' association had advised the Broken Arrow district to avoid the slogan, the group sent a letter to all schools in the state stressing that "we have not advised any school to avoid use of the expression 'God Bless America,' nor have we advised any school to take it down."

I couldn't find anything about most of the other incidents, but would guess that they are similarly colored. The Berkeley incident was a rather strange issue of the City Manager requesting the band in order to protect firemen from attacks by peace activists during a planned anti-war demonstration. The request was rescinded in a day or two as silly... I leave it to someone else to explain the strange mindset in Berkeley that would try to protect someone from attacks by peace activists. I can't do it. Berkeley has baffled me since I moved here to Silicon Valley.

But it's the rest of the message that makes me pause.

I, for one, am quite disturbed by these actions of so-called American citizens; and I am tired of this nation worrying about whether or not we are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, we have experienced a surge in patriotism by the majority of Americans. However, the dust from the attacks had barely settled in New York and Washington D.C. when the "politically correct" crowd began complaining about the possibility that our patriotism was offending others.
I am not against immigration, nor do I hold a grudge against anyone who is seeking a better life by coming to America. In fact, our country's population is almost entirely comprised of descendants of immigrants; however, there are a few things that those who have recently come to our country, and apparently some native Americans, need to understand.
First of all, it is not our responsibility to continually try not to offend you in any way. This idea of America being a multi-cultural community has served only to dilute our sovereignty and our national identity. As Americans, we have our own culture, our own society, our own language, and our own lifestyle. This culture, called the "American Way" has been developed over centuries of struggles, trials, and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom. Our forefathers fought, bled, and died at places such as Bunker Hill, Antietam, San Juan, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Korea, Vietnam. We speak English, not Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society, learn our language!

There is a barely-disguised smack at recent immigrants - basically telling them that using their native language is wrong and un-American, among other things. When, in reality, immigrant groups have always used their native tongues in this land. My great-grandmother never spoke much English at all, preferring her native Italian. I never understood a word she said, I had to have my grandmother translate. I later learned that she did speak at least some English, she just preferred not to. There have been Italian, German, and Russian neighborhoods in this country for many years.

Now, I agree that citizens of this country should learn English, I don't think that we should expect that to happen overnight, just by arriving on these shores. It also seems very silly to expect two people to converse with each other in a language that is foreign to them both if they have another option.

And does anyone else find it stretching a point to use the term "for centuries" when we are talking two?

The message continues:

"In God We Trust" is our national motto. This is not some off-the-wall, Christian, Right Wing, political slogan - it is our national motto. It is engraved in stone in the House of Representatives in our Capitol and it is printed on our currency. We adopted this motto because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation; and this is clearly documented throughout our history. If it is appropriate for our motto to be inscribed in the halls of our highest level of Government, then it is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools.
God is in our pledge, our National Anthem, nearly every patriotic song, and in our founding documents. We honor His birth, death, and resurrection as holidays, and we turn to Him in prayer in times of crisis. If God offends you, then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because God is part of our culture and we are proud to have Him.

This is the part of the message that seems to point most strongly at me. It basically says, if you don't like our God, then get out, we don't want you. Now, many religious scholars (Christian, Jewish and Islamic alike) are pretty convinced that all of these religions, and their various sub-groups, all worship the same God. Many of the adherents of those religions would argue that fact, but there is something there. In any case, the founding tenets of this country, religious origins of our Founding Fathers aside, include the freedom from religious persecution and the separation of Church and State. This was largely put in place because the founders of the USA left the countries of their birth to escape religious persecution by their home governments. Basically, the people who founded our country were told "Believe in OUR God, OUR way, or you'll be in serious shit", and they thought that was a BAD idea.

I believe that this is important to remember. This country was originally founded to give folks a safe place to practice the religion that they preferred. As opposed to the one that the government espoused. And specifically, that the government would not espouse a particular religion.

" in our pledge..." I have personally always been uncomfortable with the term "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Putting it there seems to go against the doctrine of Separation of Church and State. How did it get there? It actually wasn't originally there. Congress inserted those words into the pledge in 1954 after a campaign by the Knights of Columbus. The original author of the Pledge was a Baptist minister, and when he wrote it in 1892, he didn't think that a reference to God belonged there. Interestingly enough, he was a Christian Socialist who advocated a planned economy, a peacetime economy run by the government. Probably not a popular notion with the folks who wrote and propagated the e-mail I received.

Being uncomfortable with those words, I have been leaving them out when I recite the pledge... does that mean I need to pack my bags? (There is a good short history of the Pledge of Allegiance at

The message also says that God is in the national anthem, giving that fact some importance. And it's true that God is mentioned in the Star-Spangled Banner. It's in the next to last line of the 4th verse. How many Americans even know that there ARE 4 verses, much less know them? I doubt that there are many who could quote that last verse, so tossing out that God is mentioned in the song is rather strange - most folks wouldn't be able to say yes or no without looking up the lyrics:

O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand
Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust!"
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Why is it important to note that? I find it a very arrogant notion to inject God into every bit of our national being, as if God favors us because we are American. Seems much more important to let our actions and deeds recommend us to God, rather than random chance of birth (or immigration). Remember, the terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center are pretty sure that God is on their side.

Religious fundamentalism is a scary thing - if you actually compare the words, Jerry Fallwell sounds an awful lot like Osama bin Laden:

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

America is a secular nation - there are too many of us to stick into a single box labeled "Christian".

We are proud of our heritage and those who have so honorably defended our freedoms. We celebrate Independence Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Flag Day. We have parades, picnics, and barbecues where we proudly wave our flag. As an American, I have the right to wave my flag, sing my national anthem, quote my national motto, and cite my pledge whenever and wherever I choose. If the Stars and Stripes offend you, or you don't like Uncle Sam,then you should seriously consider a move to another part of this planet.

The American culture is our way of life, our heritage, and we are proud of it. We are happy with our culture and have no desire to change, and we really don't care how you did things where you came from. We are Americans, like it or not, this is our country, our land, and our lifestyle.

Our First Amendment gives every citizen the right to express his opinion about our government, culture, or society, and we will allow you every opportunity to do so. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about our flag, our pledge, our national motto, or our way of life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great American freedom, the right to leave.

This is the end of the message. Some of the thoughts raised here are pretty hard to argue with - I mean, who can dispute the goodness of waving our flag in celebration and remembrance? Independence Day, Memorial Day... patriotic holidays are an important part of our country. And EVERYONE has the right to celebrate their patriotism. At the same time, we have the right, hard-fought in the same wars that are celebrated on those holidays, specified in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, to bitch, moan and complain about facets of our government. We have a Constitution-given right to point out that the Emperor has no clothes, to tell folks when government officials are lying, to talk about things that we want our government to do better, do more, do less of. Anyone who says "America, if you don't like it, leave" is ignoring that. We must be able to point out problems, not just blindly accept the status quo. Many of the folks that forward this message on also sent me diatribes about our former president. Following their own "love it or leave it" logic, they should have left the country when Bill Clinton was elected president. We must always be allowed to criticize our government, how else will it change?

If we are not allowed to do that, then we might as well be living in Afghanistan.