Tom Brann and William Shakespeare of Hampden are to be commended for choosing not to join their fellow town councilors in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
It is surprising the way the pledge and its object of reverence, the flag, have taken root in the mass psyche rather than other, more fundamental writings from this country’s earlier days, such as the Declaration of Independence or Lincoln’s words from the Gettysburg Address referring to the equality of all people. (The U.S. and the Philippines are the only two countries that have such a pledge.)
Nowhere in the Constitution is it written that “Thou shalt forthrightly and joyously recite the Pledge of Allegiance at all public social gatherings.”
Rather, it should be remembered that the pledge was concocted in 1892 by a socialist Baptist minister at the behest of two businessmen eager to sell flags to public schools in commemoration of Columbus’ voyage 400 years earlier.
One of the businessmen asked the young minister to write words for the flag salute for that day’s celebration in 1892.
The pledge was spoken while giving a stiff, uplifted right-hand salute, a gesture that seems to have fallen out of favor during modern recitals.
The Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech. A powerful corollary to this is the right not to speak (specifically, not to salute the flag, as decided in 1943 by the Supreme Court in Board of Education v. Barnette).
All people should be afforded the support of others in their communities to follow their conscience regarding participation in group recitals.
The issue of free speech is hastily forgotten as many people succumb to an attitude of aggressive nationalism – certainly not the behavior of broad-minded citizens.