A Response to a Comment…

Dear Friends,

The interactive nature of a blog is sometimes a fascinatingly time delayed thing.  I recently received a comment on my post Musings on Flag Day, Religio Americana, and the Power of Words from the 2009 International Pagan Values Blogging event, that has spurred a lot of thought and this particular post…

Pan wrote

“I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws”.

I have found what you said to be horrifying! In Germany, during the 1930’s and 40’s, a law required all Germans to report the whereabouts of any Jewish acquaintances, friends, or neighbors so they could be taken off to death camps and killed. Failure to do so meant violating a law.
Do you actually think that people should obey all laws on the books? Please comment on this.


Well, first off Pan, thanks again for your comment!

Next off, I feel the need to ask if you really feel that there is a law on the books here in the United States that honestly compares to those of Nazi Germany?

The most obvious and, admittedly knee-jerk, response I have is to grumble that we aren’t in Nazi Germany of the 30’s and 40’s for Goddess sake!   We are in the F***ing U.S. of A, as Joe Biden might say…

You are making an excellent point though, and it deserves a well thought out response.

To start, please indulge me in a recap of the relevant part of my former post, both for the other readers and to frame out some thoughts I’d like to develop in my response….

I was attempting to compare and advocate for the use of America’s Creed, written by William Tyler Page in 1917 in response to a patriotic writing contest, and adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives on April 3rd 1918, as among other things, a useful liturgical piece for Pagan observances of U.S. Civic Holidays…

America’s Creed

“I believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.

I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.”

~William Tyler Page

I think that the Creed is preferable to the Pledge of Allegiance, authored by Francis Bellamy in 1892 and modified over the years.  As currently recited by U.S. school-children daily, by Tradition not by legal requirement, the Pledge goes…

The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

As I wrote at the time…

Actually though I am a little dis-satisfied with the Pledge, and not for it’s outright monotheism, although that does rankle a bit!

It seems to me that as an oath or statement it binds me to the Flag and the Republic, but not to my nations core values.  Now the Pledge does discuss the ideas of Liberty and Justice, but only as presumed and inherent qualities of the nation, not as the ideals or goals of the nation.  The Pledge assumes that the Republic is always enacting Liberty and Justice for all, which while it is our goal, well, we have not always succeeded.  We can look at the history of the United States and through lenses like the Civil War, and the Trail of Tears, and even the Iron Jawed Angels, we can see that our Nation continues to struggle towards perfecting the union. The pledge seems to ignore our continuing stuggle  in favor of a jingoistic “My Nation Right or Wrong” attitude that to me seems at its heart terribly un-American.

(to delve into the patriotic post-Bicentennial patios of my youth…)

Side Note:  I rather love the observation I have heard that “My Country Right or Wrong!”, is rather like saying “My Mother Sober or Drunk!”: one simply has some deep and natural preferences in the matter!

I think that the Creed is a preferable oath/statement to the Pledge because it discusses the nature of our Nation in depth, its structure, the ideal of the U.S. as a participatory government, it invokes the potentially sacred aspects of our Nation and its ideals having been objects of sacrifice, the ideal of being truly representative of the governed; and the Creed invokes the National ideals of justice and equality, and freedom and humanity

This last one, humanity, is important.  Humanity as in humane, being marked by compassion and sympathy and consideration for others; AND characterized by or tending towards a humanistic culture.  With the word “humanistic” we are getting into some meaty and philosophical and historical territory so I will quote the Merriam Webster dot Com entry for it…

1 a : devotion to the humanities : literary culture b : the revival of classical letters, individualistic and critical spirit, and emphasis on secular concerns characteristic of the Renaissance
2 : humanitarianism
3 : a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values; especially : a philosophy that usually rejects supernaturalism and stresses an individual’s dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason

If you are a student of history, even an amateur one such as myself, you will notice that despite being first coined in the 1830’s many of the Renaissance and Enlightenment ideas that were swirling around our Nations founding are packed into that little word.

That is the core of my response, Pan, because in your comment you are taking the last line out of the context of the rest of the Creed.  You can’t do that with oaths, or with history, or with patriotism.  You can’t take the obedience to the law out of context of the fact that our goals and ideals as a Nation are to create laws that are Just, that are Humane, that encourage Equality and uphold the ideal of Freedom.

In my short response to your post I said,

“Depends on the law, is it Just? Is it Fair? Is it Reasonable? Does it mesh with the ideals of our Nation?”

I don’t think we automatically have a right to ignore or disobey a law we do not agree with despite that the experience of driving on U.S. Interstate Highway’s might lead us to believe that many of our fellow citizens and drivers believe otherwise!   In the United States we have the right to stand up in protest and Free Speech.  We have the right to work for the change of laws we consider truly unjust.

If a law is truly unjust, we can work to change it.  If the system is broken We The People can work together to fix it.



One thought on “A Response to a Comment…

  1. I think we do run into hinky laws – there is still no excuse for the Jim Crow laws still on the books in many states – but that does not fall under the Constitution, exactly, except under the tenth amendment that allows states to form their own series of laws and governance.

    I don’t think of the Constitution as something you obey – I see it as something you uphold. I do believe that if we stick to the Constitution, it works. All of it. 1st AND 2nd amendment. But I don’t think it’s that easy. I also don’t think it’s a matter of being able to obey/disobey – as a single individual, I can not acknowledge the validity of a house and a senate, but it’s not like I can do anything about their existence, either (yes, I know, voting – but one person can’t tumble the system through force of denial alone.)

    I do have a personal ethos that if a rule is stupid, break it. However, I also don’t care to do things that will land me in jail or end up running up a tax bill. That’s where pure, legal, creative subversiveness comes in. I’ve found the most subersive thing I can do in situations where the law abuses instead of protects is to simply make it easily and understandably public. It’s amazing how many things those who would use the law for their own ends will suddenly drop if you shine a spotlight on the genuinely harmful and tyrannical behavior – it’s a regular “pull up the pants and apologize” process.

    That said, I have no explanation for Michelle Bachmann. I’m living in Minnesota, and the people in her own district can’t figure out how the hell she kept her seat.

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