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.
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 (http://www.edweek.org/ew/newstory.cfm?slug=06speech.h21):
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."
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 The request was rescinded in a day or two as silly...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.
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.
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.
"...is 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 http://www.vineyard.net/vineyard/history/pledge.htm).
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,
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.
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.