The Corner

PC Culture

Is the Pledge of Allegiance Not ‘Inclusive’?

New citizens stand during the Pledge of Allegiance at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) naturalization ceremony at the New York Historical Society Museum and Library in Manhattan, April 10, 2017. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

Every few years I return to a truly remarkable paper that Mona Charen wrote for the Center of the American Experiment a long time ago now: “Morality in a Pluralistic Society.” She presented it at an event 23 years ago this month as part of a year-long series on religious expression in public squares. I had asked her to come to the Twin Cities after she wrote a superb syndicated column on the topic, not just about the (obvious) importance of tolerance and sensitivity on the part of religious majorities towards religious minorities, but also the reverse. What about, she asked, the (less frequently acknowledged) importance of tolerance and sensitivity on the part of religious minorities when it comes to public expressions of spiritual belief by those of the majority?

The most immediate reason for rereading Mona’s brilliant essay the other day is that it spoke to the current controversy in St. Louis Park over whether city-council meetings should open with the Pledge of Allegiance.  Council members and others who oppose the practice argue it’s insufficiently inclusive in a city with an increasing minority population.  

Whatever one thinks of this argument — and I’m not a fan — I’m happy to grant it’s largely driven by a wish to be respectful of those who might feel, at the very least, uncomfortable if just about everyone nearby rose to recite the pledge and they preferred not to.  Please keep this framing in mind as you read the following excerpts from Mona’s paper:

We know that under our constitutional and moral system, the majority has an obligation to respect the conscience and the inherent rights of minorities.  What do minorities owe majorities? . . .

I am Jewish and can well recall being a little discomforted by being asked to sing Christmas carols in school. On the one hand, I loved Christmas carols. I still do. And I still sing along with all of them when I’m in a department store at Christmas time — though I’m sure I get a lot of the words wrong.  But while I really enjoyed Christmas carols, I was an earnest little kid, and very attached to my identity as Jewish, so when it came to lyrics in certain carols like “Christ is the Lord,” I squirmed.

But believe it or not, I didn’t sue the school district! I simply didn’t sing those words. In a choir of 30 or 40 kids, one voice falling silent for a few second is not noticeable. I felt true to my beliefs, and a constitutional crisis was averted. . . .

Minorities owe themselves and the majority a sense of proportion. It is certainly reasonable to ask the majority to be respectful of minority viewpoints. It is unreasonable to demand that the majority stop being what they are. I think that’s what these holiday [ACLU-type] cases amount to — a demand that Christian stop acting Christian because they might offend Jews, atheists, Buddhists, or whatever. It is fair to say, “make room”; it’s not fair to say, “make yourselves over.”

Back to St. Louis Park and the rest of Minnesota and the nation.  

We have a societal obligation to be welcoming and alert to ever-increasing diversity in various situations and quarters. But that’s not to say we have an obligation to make ourselves over as a people. If standing and reciting the pledge at council meetings is who and what St. Louis Park residents have been, they should continue doing so if their elected representatives respectfully so choose.

Mitch Pearlstein is the founder and senior fellow at Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis.

Most Popular

White House

The Damning Inspector General’s Report

It is hard to believe that the run-up to the presidential-election year has plumbed such a depth of farcical degradation. It must be that Trump’s influence has contributed to unserious responses, but he can’t be blamed for the unutterable nonsense of his opponents and the straight men of the political class ... Read More
White House

The Damning Inspector General’s Report

It is hard to believe that the run-up to the presidential-election year has plumbed such a depth of farcical degradation. It must be that Trump’s influence has contributed to unserious responses, but he can’t be blamed for the unutterable nonsense of his opponents and the straight men of the political class ... Read More
Elections

Diversity Panic Hits the Democratic Field

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An Asian guy, two black guys, three white women (one of whom spent much of her life claiming to be Native American), a Pacific Islander woman, a gay guy, a Hispanic guy, two elderly Caucasian Jews (one a billionaire, the other a socialist), a self-styled Irishman, and a ... Read More
Elections

Diversity Panic Hits the Democratic Field

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. An Asian guy, two black guys, three white women (one of whom spent much of her life claiming to be Native American), a Pacific Islander woman, a gay guy, a Hispanic guy, two elderly Caucasian Jews (one a billionaire, the other a socialist), a self-styled Irishman, and a ... Read More
World

Present at the Demolition

Economists at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund must feel pretty lucky these days. They work for just about the only institutions set up in the aftermath of World War II that aren't in the middle of an identity crisis. From Turtle Bay to Brussels, from Washington to Vienna, the decay of the economic ... Read More
World

Present at the Demolition

Economists at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund must feel pretty lucky these days. They work for just about the only institutions set up in the aftermath of World War II that aren't in the middle of an identity crisis. From Turtle Bay to Brussels, from Washington to Vienna, the decay of the economic ... Read More
World

Well . . . .

So much for my prophecies of doom. Britain's Conservatives won, and they won with a very healthy parliamentary majority, breaking through Labour’s “red wall” across the industrial (and post-industrial) Midlands and the North. The BBC: Leave-voting former mining towns like Workington, which was seen as ... Read More
World

Well . . . .

So much for my prophecies of doom. Britain's Conservatives won, and they won with a very healthy parliamentary majority, breaking through Labour’s “red wall” across the industrial (and post-industrial) Midlands and the North. The BBC: Leave-voting former mining towns like Workington, which was seen as ... Read More
White House

The Costs of Trivializing Impeachment

Resorting to a vague “abuse of power” theory, the House Judiciary Committee Friday morning referred two articles of impeachment to the full House on the inevitable party-line vote. The full House will impeach the president next week, perhaps Wednesday, also on the inevitable party-line vote. The scarlet ... Read More
White House

The Costs of Trivializing Impeachment

Resorting to a vague “abuse of power” theory, the House Judiciary Committee Friday morning referred two articles of impeachment to the full House on the inevitable party-line vote. The full House will impeach the president next week, perhaps Wednesday, also on the inevitable party-line vote. The scarlet ... Read More
World

The U.K. Elections Were the Real Second Referendum

In the end, it wasn’t close at all. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party met a fate to which it has been accustomed for most of the last half-century. Once again, the British roundly rejected socialism. Boris Johnson and his conservatives will form the next British government. This was no slight rejection. Labour ... Read More
World

The U.K. Elections Were the Real Second Referendum

In the end, it wasn’t close at all. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party met a fate to which it has been accustomed for most of the last half-century. Once again, the British roundly rejected socialism. Boris Johnson and his conservatives will form the next British government. This was no slight rejection. Labour ... Read More