There’s nothing super-sacrosanct about the Pledge of Allegiance. As a formal oath, it’s 166 years younger than the country, having been codified in 1942. Since the familiar form of the text emerged in 1892, the language has been tweaked four times. Recitation isn’t compulsory and shouldn’t be. There’s no general requirement that the words be intoned before public meetings, and often they aren’t.
So it was fine that the St. Louis Park City Council voted this month to end (though will now reconsider) a nearly 40-year practice of routinely saying the pledge. Council’s prerogative. Yet something was off-kilter about the stated rationale.
“I want to make sure that we are welcoming to everyone in our community,” said Council Member Anne Mavity, who sponsored the measure, approved 5-0 with the mayor and one member absent.
If only the ideal of “liberty and justice for all” were less threatening.
These days, explained Council Member Tim Brausen, “some of us feel like patriotism has been so politicized that it’s almost used as a weapon against people, and we worry about that.”
If only democracy weren’t so messy.
It’s true, in our imperfect society, that hearing a loyalty oath spill from certain mouths in unison could make certain other people uneasy, but conflict and discomfort are baked into the perpetual plan. Some athletes kneel in protest during the national anthem over the marginalization of fellow Americans, and the anthem continues to be played. Some atheists dislike the words “In God We Trust” on currency, and money continues to be exchanged. Accommodations are made. Improvements occur, not always easily.
Faced with a public recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, people have options. They can proudly join in. Or silently observe. Within reason, they can signal protest. These are acts of conscience. A final choice, ambivalence, is the one that isn’t admirable.
All in this country in any capacity should cherish living in a place where differences of opinion and passion freely exist, albeit tensely. Given the emotional scenes at naturalization ceremonies, we’d bet that new and prospective citizens, especially, understand what’s at stake.