Liberty, justice for all pledge not reality

June 03, 1998|By GREGORY KANE

It's tempting to dismiss MaryKait Durkee as just another wacky Californian, but the truth is the lass may be on to something.

Durkee is the Fallbrook Union High School girl who refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The American Civil Liberties Union has hopped into the fray, filing a lawsuit that would compel officials at the school some 50 miles from San Diego to let Durkee sit quietly while other students recite the pledge.

Apparently leaving the girl alone in the first place never occurred to school officials. They don't see Durkee as a student. She had the gall to cut through the bat guano surrounding the Pledge of Allegiance and get right to the issue: What the hell am I saying, and what does it mean? And by the way, don't pledges of allegiance smack of something totalitarian states require of their citizens?

It was at that point that Durkee went from student to threat. There will be no thinking in America's schools. Students will recite a pledge of allegiance that says there is "liberty and justice for all" in the land. But woe betide them if they dare exercise the liberty of not saying the pledge. Woe betide anyone who seeks to exercise the freedoms our illustrious leaders and historians tell us we have always held so dear.

In 1964, a young man named Cassius Clay won the heavyweight boxing championship of the world. He announced within days that he had exercised his constitutionally guaranteed right to join a religious sect known as the Nation of Islam. He changed his name to Muhammad Ali. How did most Americans react to this then-22-year-old man exercising his freedom of religion? We went nuts.

Later Ali refused induction into the armed services. He was against the war in Vietnam. Americans called him a traitor. But once again he was exercising his freedom of religion. The Nation of Islam had a clearly stated public position that its members would not participate in any war unless it was blessed by Allah. But we scoffed at Ali's religious devotion. He was banned from boxing for 3 1/2 years and not allowed to leave the country. "Liberty and justice" had to wait awhile in Ali's case.

It was a classic case of our rhetoric being terribly disparate from our reality. At the relatively innocent age of 15, MaryKait Durkee already knows this. According to an Associated Press story that ran in this paper Sunday, Durkee said she refused to say the pledge because "she doesn't believe in God, thinks the U.S. government is corrupt and that American society is too violent."

You can disagree with her reasons, but at least Durkee has challenged us to take a look at those things we hold most dear and re-evaluate them. Does the Pledge of Allegiance contain lamentable drivel? It certainly does. A more accurate pledge might go like this:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands. One nation, of many religions, striving for unity, where whether you get liberty and justice depends on individual or group economic and political power."

That's what matters in America: power. It's time we started teaching our students that, instead of filling their minds with hogwash. Without political power, economic power or a combination of the two, the Bill of Rights and the other amendments don't mean diddly squat.

So let's dispense with teaching our students that World War II was fought to protect freedom and democracy. World War II was fought to see which power bloc - the Axis block of Germany, Italy and Japan or the Allied block of America, Britain, France, China and the Soviet Union - would rule the world. That's why after the war America went back to its policy of suppressing blacks in the South, Britain returned to its policy of colonialism, France launched a war to re-colonize Indochina and the Soviets just returned to suppression, period.

Just three years after World War II ended, two brothers with the last name of Evers - along with three friends - tried to register to vote in Mississippi. They found the path to the courthouse doors blocked by an armed white mob ready to lynch them, if necessary, to prevent them from voting. Voting rights for blacks throughout the South came only after they acquired, through sacrifice and bloodshed, political power.

Here's something else we can teach our students to ponder, although the suspicion is that MaryKait Durkee already knows this, too: Were the freedoms and rights enumerated by the Founding Fathers meant for only rich, white males while the rest of us - poor whites, women and minorities - have to constantly fight for them?

Pub Date: 6/03/98

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