Sunday, February 13, 2011

On Integrity. Part Two: I pledge allegiance to the flag... er, flags

I love my job when the legislature is in session. I especially love the part at the beginning of each day when we all pledge allegiance and pray. Really, I do.

Every day, it's pretty much the same. First, the Lieutenant Governor will say it's time for our morning devotion, and he'll tell the doorkeepers to lock the doors no nobody can leave. Then he'll introduce a senator, who will lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance and introduce the pastor of the day. The pastor will give a little mini-sermon about how tough it is to be a senator these days, but never fear, because God is there to help. He (it's usually a "he") will lead us all in a prayer for wisdom and strength, so the legislators can righteously do the people's business. We all say "amen," and they unlock the doors. Then there's a 10-minute wait while all of the senators stand in line to shake the preacher's hand. That's when I get back to work on my computer.

Sometimes the prayers are inspiring and sometimes they're not; mostly, at the very least, they reflect sincerity and earnestness on the part of the chosen speaker.  And I suspect the majority of the senators are sincere in their faith and intentions as well, even though the majority are Republicans.

But the daily prayer isn't what's giving me trouble these days. My problem is with the Pledge of Allegiance. I don't have a problem with saying it (although I confess the first couple times I had a little trouble remembering it). I really do pledge allegiance. I'm an American, and I'm proud of it.

Beginning this year, though, both the House and Senate now also pledge allegiance to the Georgia flag. That, I have a problem with. Because, you see, I feel no such allegiance. My Georgia residency is just not on the same plane as my American citizenship. If I'm ever required to choose between between Georgia and the United States, I'm floating my boat northward to Yankee territory right quick.

Still, it's a harmless enough little pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the Georgia Flag and to the principles for which it stands: Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation.

Honestly, there's not much to object to, is there? Okay, so I'm a complete fail when it comes to the moderation thing, but the thought is nice, right? And it doesn't even actually say I'm pledging my allegiance to Georgia; just its flag. 

So logic tells me I should remain standing, put my hand over my heart, turn to face the Georgia flag, and say the Pledge along with everybody else. And as a lobbyist, whose job it is to build relationships with various Important People, this makes sense. I want to keep the focus on the issues, and it helps a lot if people like me.

And yet, I don't say the Georgia pledge. I just can't. 

I can't, because the Georgia pledge was resurrected amidst virulent opposition to federal authority over issues like taxes and immigration and health care. I can't, because two years ago a resolution setting the stage for secession and constitutional nullification passed the Georgia Senate by an astounding vote of 43 to 1. I can't, because there are people today who believe allegiance to State and Country are becoming mutually exclusive; and some of those people are in my state legislature.

Pledges are not just words. They are statements of faith. They are promises of action. They are, in a way, IOUs. They are so important, so significant, that people have been willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to exercise the right not to say them.  In fact, they've done it twice, because they lost the first time they tried. From Wikipedia:
In 1940 the Supreme Court, in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, ruled that students in public schools, including the defendants in that case who were Jehovah's Witnesses, could be compelled to swear the Pledge. A rash of mob violence and intimidation against Jehovah's Witnesses followed the ruling. In 1943 the Supreme Court reversed its decision, ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that public school students are not required to say the Pledge, concluding that "compulsory unification of opinion" violates the First Amendment.[10] In a later opinion, the Court held that students are also not required to stand for the Pledge.[11]  
The easy thing to do, the convenient thing, the people-pleasing thing, would be to just say the damned pledge. Blend in. Play along. That's what the senators are doing, after all.  

But if I pledge allegiance to the Georgia flag when, in fact, I bear no such allegiance, then my pledge to the American flag means absolutely nothing. If a pledge is something more than mere words, as I believe it is, then I cannot say a pledge I do not mean.

So, no, I do not pledge allegiance to the Georgia flag.  I remain standing and I turn to face the Georgia flag out of respect for the people who are pledging. But my arm is at my side, and I remain silent.

Is it a stupid battle to pick? Probably. Do I feel weird not joining in with everyone else? Damn right I do. But for me, it's the right thing if I want to develop that elusive thing called integrity. Because for me, integrity has to be an action word. 


  1. I have trouble with the pledge of allegiance to the US flag. First, because I can't figure out what allegiance to a flag means (I understand allegiance to a country), but even more important are those two little words that were added since I went to school: "under God" I firmly believe God and country ought to be kept separate, always.

  2. I agree, Ruthe. Actually, I don't say the words "under God" when I recite the Pledge (I was going to put that in the post but I didn't want to muddythe waters). It wasn't in there when it was written and it doesn't belong in there now.

  3. ...One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all...