Friday, June 3, 2011

Pledging allegiance

In public schools across the country, kids start their day by standing, putting their hands over their hearts and beginning to recite, "I pledge allegiance to the flag ... ."

These words are not contained in our national documents. They were written in 1892 by Francis Julius Bellamy, an American Baptist minister and Christian socialist, but the words and ritual have taken on a greater impact as they are used to instill in our children a sense of obligation to and love of country.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence also pledged, only it was their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, to the cause of freedom. This pledge brought most of them individual ruin, but brought our nation into existence.

Elected federal officeholders pledge that they, with the help of God, will support, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. This pledge and these words are so important that when the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court stumbled over the prescribed words during the inaugural ceremony in 2009, he and Barack Obama later went inside the White House and re-did the oath of office so the constitutional words were said correctly.

For many in Congress now, however, there is another pledge that trumps their oath of office. It is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, and it was made not to the American people who elected them, but to Grover Norquist, a single individual who founded the organization HYPERLINK ""Americans for Tax Reform.

Norquist has not been elected to anything, but pursues a dream of a government so small that "we can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." This is a memorable phrase for a no-government attitude that means no federal government help after tornadoes, none after earthquakes, none in the face of hurricanes or floods or forest fires.

Former Republican Sen. George Voinovich declared, "A lot of my colleagues have taken the pledge, and what they have to understand is that that pledge is inconsistent with the oath of office that they took when they became members of the United States Senate."

It is time for each member of Congress to decide which pledge he or she will honor—which will carry the most weight as they make the choices that are the essence of representative democracy.

Will they honor the pledge they recited as school children? Will they honor the oath created by our founding fathers? Or not?

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