Pledges, Promises, and Prescriptions
A 10 year old boy, Will Phillips, is getting attention because he has made a principled stand not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance because America does not provide “liberty and justice” for homosexuals.
(See: Arkansas Times A Boy and His Flag)
Technically, this involves a misunderstanding of the Pledge of Allegiance. The Pledge is not a mere description of America that happens to be false. The Pledge is a prescription – a statement on what the pledge taker will try to bring about. A person who refuses to say the Pledge is a person who refuses to promise to support liberty and justice for all.
This does not imply that Phillips was wrong. A part of the purpose of a protest is to generate publicity for a message – and Phillips has certainly accomplished that. Furthermore, Phillips’ protest is a statement of moral condemnation of those who treat homosexuals unjustly. It is quite refreshing to see such a widely publicized statement of moral condemnation of a group of hate-mongering bigots coming from a 5th grader.
In this sense, the statements that follow may be seen as pedantic, but they have important implications.
The Pledge of Allegiance is not a values-free description of what America happens to be as a matter of fact. It is prescriptive. It is meant to set forth an ideal – to make a statement of what America should be. It should be one nation, with liberty and justice for all. To the degree to which we fail to provide liberty and justice for all, to that degree we have fallen short of our goal, and the Pledge is a promise to work harder to obtain that goal.
All of this applies to the phrase, "One nation, under God" as well. This, too, is meant to set forth an ideal – to make a statement of what America should be. It should be one nation under God. To the degree that we fall short of this objective, the Pledge is a promise to work that much harder towards that goal.
Of course, we can never be a nation 'under God' because there is no God to be under. People who demand that we be a nation 'under God' typically see themselves as God's self-appointed magistrates on Earth. So, the promise to be ‘under God’ is a promise to be ruled by those who claim the authority to speak for God, which means being 'under' a religious institution of some sort.
As long-time readers of this blog will note, I hold the Pledge (as written) and the Motto in particularly high contempt – as I do anybody who supports these bigoted hate-mongering prescriptions.
Pledge of Allegiance is a promise on the part of those who take it to fight against the four great anti-Americanisms; atheism, secession, tyranny, and injustice.
It is unconscionable, particularly in a nation that pledges religious freedom, to have children promising to devote their lives to fighting atheism, or for the government to call decent citizens un-American simply because those citizens do not believe in a God.
I count this as hate-mongering, or the selling of hate for profit, because those who sell this particular brand of hate profit by establishing a filter that is 99.9% effective at keeping atheists out of public office – or, at least, keeping out atheists who will admit to being atheists.
And the Motto is pure tribal divisiveness. Its purpose is to divide the population into two tribes. It declares that the primary requirement for being a member of the favored 'us' tribe is to trust in God. If you do not trust in God, you cannot be one of 'us'. You must, then, by the process of elimination (and I use the term in its fullest sense) be one of 'them' – beneath 'us', unworthy of membership, unworthy of respect, worthy only of contempt.
It is precisely because the Pledge of Allegiance and the Motto are prescriptive that they are so contemptible. It is because they prescribe bigotry. Furthermore, their most important function is to teach bigotry to young children, where its lessons are planted at a deep and emotional level that they will find difficult to shake even as rational adults. It is one of the major contributors to the fact that atheist adults, though substantial in numbers, are so politically impotent – because of the shame that makes them admitting what they are even to themselves, let alone to others.
Just as anti-black bigotry was successful even at turning blacks against other blacks, and anti-gay bigotry is successful at turning gays against themselves (leading to high suicide rates among teenage homosexuals and other forms of self-destructive behavior), we see atheists hiding meekly in the closet ashamed to show themselves in public, turning on each other, and, in many cases, ashamed to admit their atheism even to themselves.
In this sense, it does not matter whether the law or social pressure requires people to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance. The law, at one time, required blacks to sit at the back of the bus, to attend black public schools, to eat only in the 'colored' section of restaurants, to use only those bathrooms set aside for 'colored' people, and prohibited from buying houses in neighborhoods that had racial covenants.
When it comes to unjust laws and social customs – when it comes to laws and social customs that are built on a foundation of hate-mongering bigotry and whose primary aim is to turn the next generation into bigots as well – when the law can be broken without violence and without harm to any person or institution other than the institution of bigotry from which it sprang – then there are times when a good person would not obey a particular law or custom. These are times when a good person, in fact, identifies himself as such by his decision to refuse to obey a law or custom.
Even if the law required American citizens to promise to become bigots (or at least act as bigots act), we can still ask the question of whether good people would obey such a law. And even if legislators insist on posting signs in public buildings that declare, "Those who do not trust in God do not belong amongst us," this does not obligate any citizen to show that message any respect.
I once answered the question, "Why don't you stand for the Pledge of Allegiance," with the question, "Why do you stand? Are you such a fan of bigotry that you are willing to make a promise to the state and to your fellow citizens to support it. Because the Pledge of Allegiance is a promise to treat one who does not believe in God the way one would treat secessionists, tyrants, and the unjust."
A person with good desires - a person with a proper aversion to hate-mongering bigotry - just would not be willing to stand for that type of behavior.