(Notes: Unc, Coldy, this really isn’t Pit-worthy, but if you think it belongs there, by all means move it. The article that prompted it can be viewed online here.)
Senator Warren E. Barry
General Assembly Building
910 Capitol Street, Room 301
Richmond, Virginia 23219
Del. Robert F. McDonell
General Assembly Building
P.O. Box 406
Richmond, Virginia 23218
Dear Sen. Barry and Del. McDonnell:
I read this morning in the Washington Post that the two of you support an initiative, and in fact Sen. Barry is sponsoring a Senate bill, which will require Virginia schoolchildren to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance each morning, with an exemption to be granted to objectors only upon receipt of a note from clergy. I must say that, as a citizen of Virginia and the United States, I am appalled by your support and some of the statements attributed to you in the Post.
I will ignore the First Amendment implications of allowing religious children an exemption from a school activity which nonreligious children are not able to use; and of requiring nonreligious students to pledge allegiance to a nation “under God.” The problems with this initiative go much deeper than that.
Del. McDonnell is quoted as saying, “Anything we can do to have a resurgence of patriotism and fidelity to values is a good thing.” I would question whether he really means “anything,” of course; even politicians have their limits. But more importantly, he misses an important facet of his own argument. It is remarkably easy to create patriots under threat of penalty and force of law; indeed, the Spanish Inquisition found it a facile way to gain converts. Such patriotism is, of course, without meaning. It is induced, not given freely, and as such is disposable and equally likely to cause resentment as it is fidelity.
What is not so easy – what is, in fact, a masterstroke of political ingenuity – is to on the one hand force children at metaphorical gunpoint to recite political oaths which they may not even understand, let alone agree with; while on the other hand to educate them as to the great freedoms in the United States. Even more ironic is to bully children into reciting an oath which extols “liberty . . . for all.”
Of course, as expected, the two of you fall back on the timeworn and sickening “love it or leave it” argument, telling the schoolchildren of this state that if they do not want to recite the Pledge, that they “belong elsewhere” (Sen. Barry) or “probably ought to move” (Del. McDonnell). Keep in mind, we’re talking about children here.
I would hope that, rather than attempt to force children to be patriots, we would want our children to be good citizens. Rather than require them to take political oaths, we should guide them towards being good neighbors, teaching that they have a moral responsibility to all others regardless of nationality or origin.
It is commonplace these days that politicians prefer style over substance, empty promises over accomplishment, and appearance over integrity. That makes it no less disappointing that, rather than make sure we educate our children to be the best and the brightest, the two of you would rather ensure that they receive the proper political guidance, forcing them to take loyalty oaths before they are legally permitted to vote or sign contracts.
I find it hard to believe that the two of you served in our nation’s armed forces, only to gain political office and use it to engage in exactly the kind of forced political indoctrination we fought against all over the world. I find it ven more amazing that two members of the Republican Party, which stands for less government control over the lives of individuals, would support a measure to force citizens to engage in political speech under threat of punishment. Sen. Barry especially should be ashamed; he has already succeeded in his attempt to slide mandatory school prayer through the back door with a state-mandated moment of silence each morning, and I have no doubt he will support the recent House measure requiring schools to display the motto “In God We Trust,” should it reach the Senate. Perhaps, Sen. Barry, you can eventually eliminate math, science, history and English from the curriculum in favor of a full day of political indoctrination.
I intend to write my representatives in the Virginia statehouse, Del. David Albo and Sen. Patricia Ticer, and urge them to vote against any initiative to require children to recite the Pledge, and I intend to urge all my fellow Virginia citizens to do the same.