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2002-06-28 - 8:18 a.m.

THE END OF COWARDICE

I’ve been a coward. Over the past year in particular, my cowardice has made me uncomfortable but not uncomfortable enough for truth. Others in my family are stronger and braver. I’ve not been surprised Kat is braver. The actress in her doesn’t mind occasionally being the center of attention, even negative attention, and she sees the world in more black and white than I. Day-Hay, too, has been braver. Her persistence and strength of feeling have stood her in good stead. Mr. Philately, of course, has been braver. But his principles often are clearer to him and his sense of people rarely gets in the way of them (although he has backed off of hounding me on a few things where we have agreed to disagree.)

Kat, Day-Hay, and Mr. Philately never say the Pledge of Allegiance. Kat and Mr. Philately, despite their very strong allegiance to this country and especially to its ideals, refuse to pledge allegiance to a symbol or to a piece of cloth. Day-Hay’s objections include a refusal to say “under God” during a time of her life that she is in religious turmoil and not certain about God. None of them are disruptive when other people say it and none of them tries to convince others to their point of view but they hate the situation. They stand quietly and respectfully but they utter not a word. They will explain their position but only if asked.

I too do not believe in pledging allegiance to a flag, a mere piece of cloth albeit a symbolic one. I have no personal theoretical problem saying that we are a nation “under God” because, in my book, all nations are “under God,” even the ones with odious leaders. I also do not believe those words, added in 1954, belong there. They were requested by a religious group originally, the Knights of Columbus, and agreed to for religious reasons and to separate us from the “godless communists.” Personally, I’d just as soon be separated from all communists, godless or not, but the way to make that separation is through belief and insisting on professions of belief in specific dogma does not strike me as an inherently non-communist act. They were intended as a profession of religion and this government, with its early history of settlement by separatists ought not to be in the business of insisting on professions of religious belief.

So why have I sometimes said the Pledge and sometimes not? It has depended on the setting. If I feel unobtrusive, I have followed my heart and head and not said the Pledge. If I’ve been up near the front of the room or felt on display, I’ve mouthed the words. I’ve done it by telling myself that it is a little thing, a nothing, and that the ritual doesn’t really matter. Apparently, a lot of people, when yelling and screaming about the man who challenged it and the court who agreed with his analysis, have been saying that it is such a little thing that they don’t understand why some think it should stop.

But it’s not a little thing and that has become clear to me over the past few days. I should have remembered that symbols are never little things. They are intended to be insidious, sometimes in the nicest way, but insidious nonetheless. They are intended to remind us over and over of something. Worse, people being who and what they are, the symbols often become more important than the ideals or the principles they are intended to represent.

Those people who now are denying that there is anything coercive about schools saying the Pledge regularly must be thinking of people like my husband and children. The children are occasionally questioned—by other children and by adults—but they stand fast. They are occasionally insulted but they do not believe in some of those words, they cannot say some of those words, and they won’t do it just to please a crowd. Those people who now are denying that there is anything coercive certainly are not thinking of people like the person I was before all this broke out. I felt the pressure to conform.

But all that has changed. Paradoxically, the very vehemence of the outcry, while more threatening, has strengthened me. It is not mere ritual. It does matter—and I won’t be saying the Pledge ever again. I won’t be saying it not because I do not believe in this country and its principles but because I do and I am now strong enough to fight for them. Today is the end of cowardice.

Note: For another perspective on this issue, you may want to read One Nation Under God–Maybe by Bev.

Second note: I posted an entry last night that Kat and Day-Hay would like you to see.

LAST YEAR: The State of the Office

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