Just stay quiet: Poster hoax about the Pledge of Allegiance

September 15, 2013

Anybody send this to you on Facebook (100 times, maybe?)

Hoax claims about the Pledge of Allegiance, found on Facebook and innumerable e-mails

Hoax claims about the Pledge of Allegiance, found on Facebook and innumerable e-mails

Clever, eh?  It repeats the McCarthy-era editing of the Pledge of Allegiance, and then comes up with this whopper:

. . . My generation grew up reciting this every morning in school, with my hand on my heart.  They no longer do that for fear of offending someone!

Let’s see how many Americans will re-post and not care about offending someone!

Not quite so long-lived as the Millard Fillmore Bathtub Hoax — which started in 1917 — but a lot more common these days.

Just as false.  Maybe more perniciously so.

Consider:

  1. Actually, 45 of our 50 states require the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools.  The five exceptions:  Iowa, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Vermont and Wyoming.  See any pattern there?
  2. None of the five states previously required the Pledge, and then stopped.
  3. None of the five states claim to not require the pledge in order to avoid offending anyone.  Oklahoma would be happy to offend people on such issues, most of the time.
  4. Reposting historically inaccurate claims, without fear of offending anyone, is no virtue.  It’s just silly.

The creator of that poster is probably well under the age of 50, and may have grown up with the hand-over-heart salute used after World War II.  That was not the original salute, and I’d imagine the author is wholly ignorant of the original and why it was changed.

Students pledging to the flag, 1899, 8th Division, Washington, D.C. Part of the Frances Benjamin Johnston 1890 - 1900 Washington, D.C., school survey.

Wikipedia image and caption: Students pledging to the flag, 1899, 8th Division, Washington, D.C. Part of the Frances Benjamin Johnston 1890 – 1900 Washington, D.C., school survey.

Wikipedia gives a concise history of the salute:

Swearing of the Pledge is accompanied by a salute. An early version of the salute, adopted in 1892, was known as the Bellamy salute. It started with the hand outstretched toward the flag, palm down, and ended with the palm up. Because of the similarity between the Bellamy salute and the Nazi salute, developed later, the United States Congress instituted the hand-over-the-heart gesture as the salute to be rendered by civilians during the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem in the United States, instead of the Bellamy salute. Removal of the Bellamy salute occurred on December 22, 1942, when Congress amended the Flag Code language first passed into law on June 22, 1942.

Students in an unnamed school in 1941, offering the Bellamy Salute for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Students in an unnamed school in 1941, offering the Bellamy Salute for the Pledge of Allegiance. Wikipedia image.

One might understand why the Bellamy Salute was changed, during war with Nazi Germany.

Arrogance and ignorance combine to form many different kinds of prejudices, all of them ugly.  The arrogant assumption that only “our generation” learned patriotism and that whatever goes on in schools today is not as good as it was “in our day,” regardless how many decades it’s been since the speaker was in a public school, compounds the ignorance of the fact that since 1980, forced patriotic exercises in schools have increased, not decreased.

Like much about our nation’s troubles, assumptions based on ignorance often are incorrect assumptions.  Consequently, they give rise to what is today clinically known as the Dunning Kruger Effect (or syndrome), so elegantly summed by by Bertrand Russell in the 1930s:

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Humorously summed up by “Kin” Hubbard:

It isn’t what we don’t know that gives us trouble, it’s what we know that ain’t so.

Ignorance is a terrible disease, but one easily cured, by reading.  We can hope.

More:


That flag you flew yesterday — want to burn it today?

July 5, 2011

Some of the more astute students in our high school classes ask questions about everything.  For example, they ask:  “What does the Pledge of Allegiance mean, when it says, ‘ . . . and to the Republic for which it stands?'”

Is the Pledge all that important?  Is the flag all that important?

Maybe.  How would you answer that question, really?

Penn and Teller offer a demonstration:

What do you think?  Did they burn a flag?  Should that sort of performance be legal?

What if Penn and Teller burned a flag in the White House?

An exercise in ambiguity:  A fictional drama about a sleight of hand, illusionary performance.  (Best line:  The answer to the question, “Did you go to law school?”  For the record, yes, I did go to law school.  I’m an amateur clown.)

Did you fly your  flag yesterday?


Brave 10-year-old Arkansas boy refuses to say the Pledge of Allegiance, on principle

November 17, 2009

Adults worry about peer pressure.  Kids can goad other kids into doing stupid things, dangerous things, illegal things, and immoral things.

Pressure from adults on kids might be just as strong.

What about a 10-year-old kid who stands up to peer pressure, and stands for principle against adults who use all sorts of inducements to get him to do something he believes is wrong?

I offer a salute to Will Phillips of  West Fork School District, in Washington County, Arkansas.

Will believes homosexuals in America are not beneficiaries of  liberty and justice for all.  Will now refuses to stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance for that reason.

It’s probably not what I’d advise the young man to do to protest, but he has every right.  He’s thought it through, which may not be said for the substitute teacher and the school administrator who tried to pressure him into giving up on his principles.

In the Arkansas Times, David Koon writes the story:

A boy and his flag

Why Will won’t pledge.

David Koon
Updated: 11/5/2009

WILL PHILLIPS: Freedom lover.

Will Phillips, freedom lover, in Arkansas (Arkansas Times photo)

Will Phillips isn’t like other boys his age.

For one thing, he’s smart. Scary smart. A student in the West Fork School District in Washington County, he skipped a grade this year, going directly from the third to the fifth. When his family goes for a drive, discussions are much more apt to be about Teddy Roosevelt and terraforming Mars than they are about Spongebob Squarepants and what’s playing on Radio Disney.

It was during one of those drives that the discussion turned to the pledge of allegiance and what it means. Laura Phillips is Will’s mother. “Yes, my son is 10,” she said. “But he’s probably more aware of the meaning of the pledge than a lot of adults. He’s not just doing it rote recitation. We raised him to be aware of what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s fair.”

Will’s family has a number of gay friends. In recent years, Laura Phillips said, they’ve been trying to be a straight ally to the gay community, going to the pride parades and standing up for the rights of their gay and lesbian neighbors. They’ve been especially dismayed by the effort to take away the rights of homosexuals – the right to marry, and the right to adopt. Given that, Will immediately saw a problem with the pledge of allegiance.

“I’ve always tried to analyze things because I want to be lawyer,” Will said. “I really don’t feel that there’s currently liberty and justice for all.”

After asking his parents whether it was against the law not to stand for the pledge, Will decided to do something. On Monday, Oct. 5, when the other kids in his class stood up to recite the pledge of allegiance, he remained sitting down. The class had a substitute teacher that week, a retired educator from the district, who knew Will’s mother and grandmother. Though the substitute tried to make him stand up, he respectfully refused. He did it again the next day, and the next day. Each day, the substitute got a little more cross with him. On Thursday, it finally came to a head. The teacher, Will said, told him that she knew his mother and grandmother, and they would want him to stand and say the pledge.

“She got a lot more angry and raised her voice and brought my mom and my grandma up,” Will said. “I was fuming and was too furious to really pay attention to what she was saying. After a few minutes, I said, ‘With all due respect, ma’am, you can go jump off a bridge.’ ”

Will was sent to the office, where he was given an assignment to look up information about the flag and what it represents. Meanwhile, the principal called his mother.

“She said we have to talk about Will, because he told a sub to jump off a bridge,” Laura Phillips said. “My first response was: Why? He’s not just going to say this because he doesn’t want to do his math work.”

Eventually, Phillips said, the principal told her that the altercation was over Will’s refusal to stand for the pledge of allegiance, and admitted that it was Will’s right not to stand. Given that, Laura Phillips asked the principal when they could expect an apology from the teacher. “She said, ‘Well I don’t think that’s necessary at this point,’ ” Phillips said.

After Phillips put a post on the instant-blogging site twitter.com about the incident, several of her friends got angry and alerted the news media. Meanwhile, Will Phillips still refuses to stand during the pledge of allegiance. Though many of his friends at school have told him they support his decision, those who don’t have been unkind, and louder.

“They [the kids who don't support him] are much more crazy, and out of control and vocal about it than supporters are.”

Given that his protest is over the rights of gays and lesbians, the taunts have taken a predictable bent. “In the lunchroom and in the hallway, they’ve been making comments and doing pranks, and calling me gay,” he said. “It’s always the same people, walking up and calling me a gaywad.”

Even so, Will said that he can’t foresee anything in the near future that will make him stand for the pledge. To help him deal with the peer pressure, his parents have printed off posts in his support on blogs and websites. “We’ve told him that people here might not support you, but we’ve shown him there are people all over that support you,” Phillips said. “It’s really frustrating to him that people are being so immature.”

At the end of our interview, I ask young Will a question that might be a civics test nightmare for your average 10-year-old. Will’s answer, though, is good enough — simple enough, true enough — to give me a little rush of goose pimples.  What does being an American mean?

“Freedom of speech,” Will says, without even stopping to think. “The freedom to disagree. That’s what I think pretty much being an American represents.”

Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson smiles.


1943 – What the First Amendment means when saluting the flag conflicts with religion

June 14, 2009

Historic irony: On Flag Day in 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of West Virginia vs. Barnette.

Billy Gobitis explained why he would not salute the U.S. flag, November 5, 1935 - Library of Congress collection

Image 1 - Billy Gobitas explained why he would not salute the U.S. flag, November 5, 1935 - Library of Congress collection

The case started earlier, in 1935, when a 10-year-old student in West Virginia, sticking to his Jehovah’s Witness principles, refused to salute the U.S. flag in a state-required pledge of allegiance.  From the Library of Congress:

“I do not salute the flag because I have promised to do the will of God,” wrote ten-year-old Billy Gobitas (1925-1989) to the Minersville, Pennsylvania, school board in 1935. His refusal, and that of his sister Lillian (age twelve), touched off one of several constitutional legal cases delineating the tension between the state’s authority to require respect for national symbols and an individual’s right to freedom of speech and religion.

The Gobitas children attended a public school which, as did most public schools at that time, required all students to salute and pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States. The Gobitas children were members of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a church that in 1935 believed that the ceremonial saluting of a national flag was a form of idolatry, a violation of the commandment in Exodus 20:4-6 that “thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor bow down to them. . . .” and forbidden as well by John 5:21 and Matthew 22:21. On 22 October 1935, Billy Gobitas acted on this belief and refused to participate in the daily flag and pledge ceremony. The next day Lillian Gobitas did the same. In this letter Billy Gobitas in his own hand explained his reasons to the school board, but on 6 November 1935, the directors of the Minersville School District voted to expel the two children for insubordination.

The Watch Tower Society of the Jehovah’s Witnesses sued on behalf of the children. The decisions of both the United States district court and court of appeals was in favor of the right of the children to refuse to salute. But in 1940 the United States Supreme Court by an eight-to-one vote reversed these lower court decisions and ruled that the government had the authority to compel respect for the flag as a key symbol of national unity. Minersville v. Gobitis [a printer's error has enshrined a misspelling of the Gobitas name in legal records] was not, however, the last legal word on the subject. In 1943 the Supreme Court by a six-to-three vote in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, another case involving the Jehovah’s Witnesses, reconsidered its decision in Gobitis and held that the right of free speech guaranteed in the First Amendment to the Constitution denies the government the authority to compel the saluting of the American flag or the recitation of the pledge of allegiance.

There had been strong public reaction against the Gobitis decision, which had been written by Justice Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965). In the court term immediately following the decision, Frankfurter noted in his scrapbook that Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980) told him that Justice Hugo LaFayette Black (1886-1971) had changed his mind about the Gobitis case. Frankfurter asked, “Has Hugo been re-reading the Constitution during the summer?” Douglas replied, “No–he has been reading the papers.”1 The Library’s William Gobitas Papers showcase the perspective of a litigant, whereas the abstract legal considerations raised by Gobitis and other cases are represented in the papers of numerous Supreme Court justices held by the Manuscript Division.

1. Quoted in H. N. Hirsch, The Enigma of Felix Frankfurter (New York: Basic Books, 1981), 152.

John E. Haynes and David Wigdor, Manuscript Division

Second page, Billy Gobitiss explanation of why he will not salute the U.S. flag - Library of Congress

Second page, Billy Gobitas's explanation of why he will not salute the U.S. flag: "I do not salute the flag not because I do not love my country but I love my country and I love God more and I must obey His commandments." - Library of Congress

Supreme Court justices do not often get a chance to reconsider their decisions.  For example, overturning Plessy vs. Ferguson from 1896 took until 1954 in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. In the flag salute/pledge of allegiance cases Justice Hugo Black had a change of mind, and when a similar case from West Virginia fell on the Court’s doorstep in 1943, the earlier Gobitis decision was reversed.

Writing for the majority, Justice Robert H. Jackson said:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, and all other Americans, thereby have the right to refuse to say what they and their faith consider to be a vain oath.

And that, boys and girls, is what the First Amendment means.

Resources:


Sore, suckered loser

February 5, 2009

One of the sites suckered in by the Obama/Las Vegas/Pledge hoax keeps insisting he’s really taking the high road when he spreads calumny against the president, against teachers, and against the flag.

So when it became clear that there is no corroboration for the wild claims against teachers and the schools of Clark County School District (Nevada), the site’s ruling masked man, Ronin (see his avatar) claimed the story was really about “idol worship” of Obama gone awry.

I called him to task, he went all Dembski and Uncommon Descent on us.  No, that’s not fair — he’s worse than Dembski.  In a hoax, he has put my name on his own profane remarks, replacing what I actually said that he cannot respond to.  Do we need any further evidence that these guys are trying to perpetrate hoaxes against Obama and teachers?

Obama’s opponents lack all honor, it appears.


New pledge hoax slams Obama, teachers and public schools

January 29, 2009

With this blog’s occasional focus on flag etiquette and my concern for faux patriotism, I’ve been getting barbs all day on a story out of Clark County, Nevada (home of Las Vegas).

It’s a threefer of hatred, slamming President Obama, teachers, and public schools, all at once.  Plus it is rather disrespectful of the U.S. flag.

The Clark County School District calls the story “bogus!!” with the exclamation points clear.  Spokesmen for the district complain they’ve been fielding calls all day, none with details.  Their check of the district’s schools turns up nothing.

The claim is that an elementary school student wants to drop out of school after being “forced” to say the Pledge of Allegiance to a picture of President Barack Obama backed by several U.S. flags.

Bloggers fume.  “The gall!”

Press spokesmen for the district say they encourage parents to call any principal of any school in the district with any complaint.  A survey of principals finds none who knew of such a complaint.

None of the bloggers bothered to check the facts, it appears.  The story so far checks out to be a hoax.  No one can name the school, no one can name the kid, no one can corroborate the story.  

U.S.. Nevada and Clark County flags fly at Moapa Valley High School in the Clark County School District, Nevada. Wikipedia image

U.S.. Nevada and Clark County flags fly at Moapa Valley High School in the Clark County School District, Nevada. Wikipedia image

Students in Clark County schools say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning as a usual practice.  School officials were unsure whether this is done by state law, district ordinance, or tradition.  Through much of the 20th century, it was common for schools to have a picture of the sitting president in every classroom.   That tradition fell to budget cuts years ago.

What motivates people to invent such stories?  What motivates bloggers to spread stories without bothering to make the simplest check to see whether the story is accurate?  One of the things that screams “Hoax!” in this story is the complete inaction of the student and parent.  Were they worked up about it, why didn’t they bother to complain?

Here’s the wall of shame, bloggers who got suckered and repeated the story without bothering to check it out (isn’t it odd that they all seem to know exactly what photo of Obama was used, and they show it on their blogs, but they don’t know where it was used?  Isn’t it odd that they use a color photo while saying it was projected on an overhead projector, which would turn that photo into gray and white mush?):

I’ll wager that’s just the tip of a very mean-spirited iceberg of calumny.

Update, January 30 – More hate-filled spreading of the story:

Still the gullible fall, on February 1:

Nearly responsible skepticism:

I spoke again with David Roddy at the Clark County School District offices.  He confirmed that as of late this afternoon (January 30) no one had stepped forward to identify the school where the event is alleged to have occurred, nor the name of anyone involved, nor any other fact that could be corroborated to vouch for the accuracy of the story.

See “7 Signs of Bogus History.”  Notice any of these characteristics in this story’s allegations?

Update, September 5, 2009: No evidence of this event has ever been produced outside of the original two anonymous blog posts.  My investigation found no such incident in any school in or around Las Vegas, nor anywhere else.  Pure hoax.

Don’t let others be misled; spread the word:

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Obama leads the Pledge of Allegiance

August 8, 2008

Got another e-mail today, alleging that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama refuses to salute the U.S. flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I was surprised to discover that the U.S. Senate has added the pledge to their opening exercises — new from when I staffed the Senate. But, what that means, with C-SPAN televising the proceedings, is that there is video evidence of Sen. Obama leading the pledge, if he does, when he substitutes for the presiding officer (the Vice President) in the Senate.

On June 21, 2007, for example, Obama presided over the Senate. See for yourself.


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