Guest opinion: The flag can symbolize that we are indivisible
April 11, 2017
I have been thinking about the flag, what it stands for and when it came to be a divisive rather than unifying symbol for me.
When I was in grade school, Thursdays were assembly days. The girls were required to wear navy blue skirts, white blouses and red bow ties. The boys wore navy slacks, but if they were chosen, they could be part of the color guard. The guard was dressed all in white, with a red tie, and they carried the American flag to the front of the assembly hall.
We all rose, put our hands over our hearts and recited the pledge. I loved how it ended: "One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It echoed family values ("Justice, justice you shall pursue.") I think back to the fifth grade and how we all stumbled trying to insert the words "Under God" right in the middle, and dividing the words "One nation, indivisible."
I was a child. It was the 1950s and I was unaware of the many ways our country was divided. I had not yet seen the water fountains — one side for "colored," the other for "white."
In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation in honor of Columbus Day with ceremonies to be held in schools and other public places. "Let the national flag float over every schoolhouse in the country, and the exercises of such as shall impress upon our youth the patriotic duties of American citizenship."
The National Education Association, representing teachers, endorsed a flag project and named Francis Bellamy, a minister with a Christian socialist theology, as its chairman. Bellamy wrote the original pledge. "I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
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In 1924, the Flag Code was written, offering guidance about the handling of the flag, and the words of the pledge were changed. It was a time of great immigration to our country, and the original words "to my flag" were changed and recited "to the flag of the United States of America," a move to encourage immigrants to distinguish their newly adopted country from their homelands. In the early years, the pledge was recited by coming to attention, snapping your heels together and raising your right arm, palm up. In 1942, President Roosevelt signed a joint congressional resolution — we would put our hands over our hearts; the hand raising looked too much like the Nazi "Sieg Heil."
In 1954, reacting to the "Red Scare," a movement grew to affirm a national relationship with a higher power. The pledge was changed again, dividing the words, "one nation" and "indivisible." Now we added the words "under God." The change has withstood court challenges.
It seems to me that we all view patriotism through the lens of our childhood and personal experiences. I suspect that military families do not see parades and community demonstrations of nationalism through the same lens as immigrant families, for whom government is suspect and marching nationalistic parades are a reminder of atrocities and a precursor to harm. Many parents raise their children to respect and be loyal to their government. I was taught to question my government, to not follow blindly and that it's safe to express views that differed from the government's.
Symbols matter. The Statue of Liberty symbolizes our love for freedom. The flag and the history of our pledge to it continue to be divisive. Desecrating the American flag has been a form of anti-government protest that many Americans find extremely objectionable. President Trump tweeted, "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!"
However, like the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, desecrating the flag has withstood court challenges and is protected by the First Amendment as form of free speech. Justice Scalia understood. In a 1989 speech, he said, "If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag. But I am not king." In a Supreme Court decision, Texas v. Johnson, 1989, Justice Kennedy wrote, "Though symbols often are what we ourselves make of them, the flag is constant in expressing beliefs Americans share, beliefs in law and peace and that freedom which sustains the human spirit."
There is a short section on the Rio Grande Trail between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale where small American flags adorn a fence on both sides of the trail. When I ride by, I do not let myself think about the divisiveness of this symbol. I say to myself, "One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
I would love to see American flags adorning the entire trail — a testament of our valley's devotion to these values. I would love to see American flags flying in front of all our houses, a demonstration of our hope that we are united by those ideals. If you agree that we ought to become "one nation, indivisible," fly our flag in front of your home regardless of your political views.
Niki Delson, a resident of the Roaring Fork Valley, retired from making a living and is now living and loving the life she made.
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