It isn’t just the selfishness of the conservatives in Oklahoma that rubs. Their oppressive approach to dominating politics and culture with a willful disregard for the concerns of others and smug endorsement of “might makes right” as a political theory particularly grates. Add to this the incredible civic ignorance of the populous, and you have the barrel of monkeys that is Oklahoma.
Recently, Representative Lewis Moore (Republican) — a member of the Oklahoma state legislature — proposed legislation making it mandatory for students to recite the pledge of allegiance in school. It isn’t enough that students can say the pledge if they choose to do so; it must be forced on all to comply. There is no consideration here of the religious or civic beliefs of an individual who may choose not to recite the pledge. Moore doesn’t care. He wants to make you do it anyway. And, since he can’t mandate that adults do it every morning in their places of business, he foists the requirement on a place the government can control: public schools. Thus, little children become the pawns in a game of Culture War I: Patriotism Ascendant.
Conservatives posting notes on the local news websites are thrilled with the bill. What this country needs, they say, is a return to old fashioned values. Kids need to pray and pledge allegiance to the flag in school again. This is the way to instill values in them that will make our country a better place. Why would you not want to pledge allegiance, they demand to know. You ungrateful pig; you should honor our flag or get out of our country. The fact that they’re promoting fascism rather than the democratic values our country is supposed to propone is completely lost on them.
The problem with their position — aside from the oppressive patriotism issue — is that their actions spring from a font of total civic and historical ignorance. If they had any historical knowledge on the issue, they would know that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that it is unconstitutional to compel individuals to salute the flag (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette). As it violates the religious tenets of some faiths, compulsion runs counter to the individual’s right to freedom of religion. Citizens may choose to say the pledge, but they cannot be forced to do so. This decision, by the way, was handed down prior to the addition of the words “under God” to the oath. It couldn’t pass constitutional muster even without that phrase. In recent years, a man in California challenged the pledge on principle — he claimed that his daughter’s rights were infringed in having to say the pledge with those words in it. They should be dropped from the pledge altogether, he argued. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, opining that the phrase promoted monotheism (belief in one god) and the government was not allowed to promote any religion over others. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court (Elk Grove United School District v. Newdow, 2004), which threw it out on the grounds that the man suing did not have standing to bring the matter to court (since he was not the custodial parent of his daughter, on whose behalf he sued — the parents had divorced and the child lived with her mother). The case was refiled (after the man gained shared parental custody) and is pending before the Ninth Circuit Court again. The expectation is that the court will reaffirm its previous ruling, and the conservatives here in Oklahoma are mad at the federal court there in Califiornia — over which they have no control — so they are taking it out on the citizens of our state. If they were familiar with the legal history, however, they would see they are on the losing end and quit trying to pass laws that will be ultimately struck down (after costly legal proceedings).
Compounding the historical ignorance on the subject is a glaring civic imbecility. Of all persons, legislators should have an understanding of the way our government works. Clearly, Moore does not — and neither do the conservative posters online. They suffer under the delusion that the Oklahoma state legislature can over-rule U.S. Supreme Court decisions. See, they are still playing under “state’s rights” rules — only everyone else has been playing “federalism” and they’ve been doing it since, oh, the Civil War ended. While their quixotic jousts with windmills may be romantic, they forget that Don Quixote did what he did because he was insane and that he foolishly attempted to apply simple rules of chivalry to complicated modern problems (which is what makes him a comic figure). In any case, a course in Civics 101 should be enough to teach the fascisti that they do not have the authority to go against the rulings of the federal courts. You would think, being the patriots they are, that they would have a better understanding of the workings of the government they allegedly support.
By the way, I do not think it entirely coincidental that the original way to salute the flag was to extend your arm with your palm facing up. Because of the horrifying similarity to the Nazi salute, President Roosevelt suggested during World War II a change to putting your hand over your heart. This became the accepted standard that remains to today. Also, it is interesting to note that the founding fathers never said the pledge of allegiance. It was not adopted until the 1890’s, and, anyway, their flag was different than ours. I don’t know if that means you should question their patriotism or not, but if they did alright without it, I don’t see why the rest of us have to be compelled to take the oath.