Psychotic ‘patriots’

Evidently it doesn’t take much any more to start throwing around death threats. Locally, the mischaracterization of a recent decision by the Sioux Falls School District has led to school board members receiving a variety of menacing calls and emails, some threatening death. And it’s all because of “patriotism.”

See, the School Board recently amended a policy so as to include middle schools in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or performing some other “patriotic activity” daily. High schools are required to say the Pledge, present colors or perform a patriotic activity at any assembly of the entire student body. By the time the story reached Fox News, however, it was that the School Board voted unanimously to no longer require high school students to say the Pledge. Suddenly, cries of anti-Americanism and lack of patriotism exploded — despite the fact the District actually expanded the reach of the policy. In my mind, all the hubbub reflects phony patriotism and how many crackpots we have (although it’s reported the threats come largely from out of state).

Granted, it was 40 yeas ago but I don’t recall whether we had to recite the Pledge in high school. Either way, I know it played no role in my patriotism or generating respect for the country or its symbols. What might be more telling is that, if we did recite it daily, it left no impression. You don’t create patriotism by forcing someone to repeat certain words. As U.S. Supreme Court Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas said in a concurring opinion in a case looking at whether students could be required to recite the Pledge, “Love of country must spring from willing hearts and free minds.” And that case (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette) was decided in 1943 — that’s right, in the midst of War II, when the country basked in patriotism.

Do you think a terrorist would have any problem joining in reciting the Pledge or singing the national anthem at some public function just to fit in? And I’m guessing the heads of those condemning the school board might explode if they knew the Pledge was written by a socialist. Seems the red, white and blue in it might actually be a little pink.

Now we have state legislators wanting to pass a law requiring all South Dakota school children to recite the Pledge each day they are in class. Perhaps someone should point out the Barnette case. It held that the First Amendment meant students couldn’t be forced to salute the flag and say the Pledge in school. (I suspect the School District policy isn’t invalidated because it doesn’t require students to say the Pledge, only that it or some other patriotic activity “be performed each day in elementary and middle school classrooms.”)

Now which is more patriotic — threatening to kill fellow Americans because you disagree with them or recognizing and applying the U.S. Constitution?

Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

West Virginia State Bd. of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

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