Pledging Allegiance and Freedom of Conscience

I have heard a lot lately from social conservatives who strongly support “conscience exemptions” for health care professionals who do not want to provide abortions or dispense contraceptives or even refer a woman needing an abortion or contraception to where she can obtain those services. It seems to be an article of faith (pun intended) on the religious right that it’s perfectly legitimate to be a pharmacist and confiscate a legal prescription because it’s for a product that offends your personal religious doctrine, or to work in a government-subsidized health care facility and refuse to provide health care because your church says it’s immoral.

It appears, however, that conscience only matters to the extent that it adheres to neoconservative and right-wing Republican orthodoxy. The voice of conscience can be safely ignored when it speaks to concerns like capital punishment, or torture, or war, or pledging allegiance to the flag.

The last of those is the one I want to focus on here, because a new Rasmussen poll reveals that 77% of Americans think that children should say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school. Eighty-two percent believe the words “under God” (added to the Pledge in 1954, at the height of the McCarthy Communist witch hunts) should remain.

Among Republicans, these percentages are even higher: Ninety-one percent say that children should recite the Pledge every day, and 93% favor retaining the words “under God.”

As far as I am concerned, the Pledge of Allegiance is a loyalty oath, and loyalty oaths are un-American, if not unconstitutional (the latter being a subject for another post). Adding the words “under God” just makes it worse, because now you’re requiring children (in this instance, but it applies to adults as well) to assert a religious belief they may not feel or even understand. That’s a clear violation of the First Amendment.

Obviously, the ideal solution would be to stop declaring fealty to the nation-state every morning. Next best would be removing the phrase “under God.” But if we’re going to insist that American schoolchildren from kindergarten through high school recite “I pledge allegiance to the flag and the United States of America…” each day, the least we can do is include an opt-out provision to accommodate the consciences of students or parents (or both) who believe that this practice is inherently coercive, disrespectful to Americans’ individual religious beliefs (or lack thereof), and offensive to the spirit of individualism and personal liberty that lies at the heart of the American experience.

Of course, local school districts still retain the right to have a non-Pledge recitation policy, or to allow students whose consciences are offended by the Pledge to not say it — and many districts do have such policies. But here we come to arguably the most appalling finding of the Rasmussen poll:

Voters are closely divided over whether students should be able to opt out of saying the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Forty-four percent (44%) say they should be allowed to do so, but 47% disagree. Nine percent (9%) are not sure.

[…]

… Half of Democrats (50%) say children should be able to opt out of saying the Pledge, but 58% of GOP voters say they should not be able to do so. Unaffiliateds oppose opting out by a six-point margin.

What happened to freedom of conscience? How does one explain people who think that schoolchildren should not be allowed to remain silent during classroom recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance and parents should not be permitted to authorize their children not to say it — but doctors should have the right to refuse to provide or refer women to abortions or family planning services and that pharmacists should be free to decide which prescription they will fill and which they will not fill, or even crumple up and throw away in front of the customer’s eyes?

4 Responses to “Pledging Allegiance and Freedom of Conscience”

  1. Chief says:

    I can remember say “The Pledge” in school before the words “under god” were added. I couldn’t see the purpose then and now it is obvious it is a form of “control.”

    I do like your idea of it being a Loyalty Oath. I hadn’t viewed it that way.

  2. Dana says:

    Except, of course, we don’t require, as in under penalty of law, anyone to recite the pledge. That’s quite different than, say, requiring a pharmacist to fill a prescription to which he has a moral objection, under pain of fine or forfeiture of his license. (I would agree, however, that if he refuses to fill a particular prescription, he should be required to return it to the person who owns the prescription, the patient.)

    And while people may have disagreements about the proper role of the public schools in socialization of children, when I read statements like:

    It appears, however, that conscience only matters to the extent that it adheres to neoconservative and right-wing Republican orthodoxy. The voice of conscience can be safely ignored when it speaks to concerns like capital punishment, or torture, or war, or pledging allegiance to the flag,

    I think about all of the conservative sites which allow commenter dissent, I reflect about the cries of our friends on the left that the Patriot Act was tantamount to fascism yet no one was ever arrested under it for speaking his mind, and I recognize that for all of the claims that we evil conservatives want to have a fascist dictatorship in this country, we just had a perfectly free election in which the party in power, the party which was accused of being fascist, lost, and that the President accused of being a dictator will peacefully hand over power to his duly elected successor on January 20th.

  3. Kathy says:

    Except, of course, we don’t require, as in under penalty of law, anyone to recite the pledge.

    One of the points in my post, though, was that, in this poll I wrote about, a majority of Republican respondents as well as half of Democratic respondents, thought that schoolchildren from grades kindergarten through high school *should* be required to say it. Obviously, they would not be jailed for refusing to say it, but neither would pharmacists be jailed for refusing to fill a prescription. The point in both cases is that people are being forced to be bound by the personal political and/or religious beliefs of others.

  4. Kathy, I think you just have a problem with the United States and religion. I base this on your statement that “ledge of Allegiance is a loyalty oath, and loyalty oaths are un-American.” You therefore have no loyalty to the United States, and the most likely reason for this is that you just don’t like your country.

    Note that the pledge does not require you to agree with any particular government policy, but rather to basic staples of our system, like “one nation, undivided” and “liberty and justice for all.” Forget the God-part if that troubles you so much.

    You complain “What happened to freedom of conscience?” The answer is nothing. No one is impinging on your conscience. You are free to say or not say the pledge. Stop being so whiny.

    You also wrote that “The voice of conscience can be safely ignored when it speaks to concerns like capital punishment, or torture, or war, or pledging allegiance to the flag.” Really? So you’ve never heard of CNN, MSNBC, The Washigton Post, or The New York Times? They haven’t addressed these issues? Come on, stop feeling so put on.

    So if you don’t want to say the pledge then fine, don’t say it. But do grow a backbone and get tough.

    Now have a nice day.

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