In My Opinion
Reciting the Pledge, standing for America is never “uncomfortable.”
Has anyone not had a moment of impatience when having to recite the Pledge of Allegiance again or sing the National Anthem at yet another weekly club meeting, high school football game, or government meeting?
Even in a church or at a community fundraising breakfast where attendees are often asked to join in a prayer or a message, visitors may feel some discomfort in at least standing in respect to an organization’s traditions – especially if it’s a group whose beliefs they may not necessarily share.
We all may now have to carefully evaluate the value of these traditions and other symbols of respect, though, because it looks as if they may be beginning to erode.
At a recent city council meeting in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park, members voted to stop reciting the Pledge of Allegiance before meetings, citing their wish to create a “more welcoming environment” for those who attend. Council member Tim Brausen said members might recite the pledge at future meetings if there’s an appropriate reason, like if the Boy Scouts came to the meeting and wanted to recite the pledge.
This isn’t the only incident where citizens have taken a dim view of some of our country’s traditions. Across the country, governmental bodies, schools and clubs have decided that reciting our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance isn’t necessary, even though it’s a tradition we accept as citizens of this great nation.
Yes, for many of us who’ve not thought about it, honoring our flag and our country are becoming customs that have lost their meaning. By rote, by habit, we mumble our way through the words while thinking about what’s to come when the ball’s kicked off or the meeting is gaveled to order. But reciting the pledge to the flag confirms a feeling of patriotism as it reminds us of the freedoms we have as Americans. In fact, the United States is one of the few nations in the world that even has a pledge to its flag -- a flag that represents freedom, dignity and a strong sense of patriotism.
As I was reading the story from St. Louis Park, I thought of our local American Legion members who just celebrated their post’s 100th anniversary this past weekend. Would they support a city council, or any governmental body, club or school that decided that taking a few minutes to recite the pledge wasn’t necessary or “comfortable?” Not on your life! Because these men and women were willing to fight for what our flag and pledge represent.
As we prepare to celebrate the achievements of the American worker on Labor Day, we must remember that it’s the people who go to work every day who’ve also helped build the strength, prosperity, and overall well-being of our country.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction,” said former President Ronald Reagan. “We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States when we were free.”
Rather than worrying about offending visitors who may not share our beliefs or passion, we should consider instead the sense of pride they witness when we stand to recite the pledge or reconfirm our love for country. What we should be worried about is that so many of our traditions have become politicized and that we tolerate politicians who lack the vision and fortitude to see what’s right and act honorably.
Standing up for traditions isn’t easy, but throughout our nation’s history thousands were willing to die to protect the freedoms we have. The values and traditions we hold tell the story of our great nation - a story that we shouldn’t feel concerned that it might make people “uncomfortable” in its telling. But decisions like the one made in St. Louis Park undermine and fuel the disdain that a growing number of Americans hold for elected officials at all levels of government.
As we head into another presidential election season, there’s reason for concern about all of the Americans who hold a cynical view of government, politics and the ability of our elected leaders to deal with issues that top our list of priorities. A recent Pew Report titled “Beyond Distrust: How Americans View their Government” found that a mere 19 percent of Americans said they can trust their officials most of the time and only 20 percent felt that government programs were being run very well. The report went on to state that 74 percent felt most elected officials put their own interests ahead of the country’s and more than 55 percent said ordinary people could do a better job solving some of the problems we “talk about” but do very little to solve.
These are troubling statistics confirm a growing frustration that is taking place at all levels of government, including locally.
For example, here we are with students heading back to a new school year and local school districts across Michigan still don’t have firm numbers from the state on the level of funding to expect, even though the state mandates that local districts must submit final budgets by June 30 and the state budget’s deadline is Oct. 1. For the first time in eight years, the state still doesn’t have a budget in place. Yet school districts across the state are expected to deal with the problem and finalize a budget on this timeline.
Two weeks ago, the Barry County Board of Commissioners turned down a request for office space for a new program called Blue Zones – a public health initiative that wouldn't cost the county one cent, other than the donation of a requested space to work in the Barry Eaton District Health Department building on Woodlawn Avenue. Local pledges for over $1.4 million from private-sector philanthropists were offered to cover operational costs. The project is the outcome of an intensive public health initiative study that could potentially transform the health of Barry County’s citizens and would be the first of its kind in Michigan.
The pledges for the $1.4 million cost to operate the program for the next three years came from seven community partners. Yet county commissioners turned it down on a 4-3 vote due to some concerns over what they said were IT issues and the timing of a facilities master plan to determine use of space in county buildings. I think this senseless decision had more to do with the longtime quarrel between a few commissioners who continue to harbor displeasure with the combined Barry Eaton Health Department. Commissioners Ben Geiger, Dan Parker, and David Jackson -- who represent the county on the joint, health department board -- supported the motion while Heather Wing, Vivian Conner, Jon Smelker and Howard Gibson voted no.
The project’s proposed funding came from a special collaboration of three foundations, a private philanthropist and three organizations in the community. The group wasn’t asking commissioners to step up with funding; it was merely looking for an in-kind donation of a desk and a phone to support an effort that could impact the health of citizens throughout the county. Shame on them.
Then, at the same meeting, commissioners showed their true self-interest by providing unanimous support to pay for Wing and Geiger to travel to Washington, D.C., for a tour of the capital and some politicking. Let’s see what kind of deals they come home with after costing county taxpayers $2,260 to shake hands, dine extravagantly, and feign roles as local power brokers.
Recently, this column also highlighted the mumbling and stumbling going on in Yankee Springs among township officials whose constant bickering is only shining the spotlight even brighter on their inability to work together. For months, the board had been divided in what appears to be a 3-2 power struggle to diminish the power of township Supervisor Mark Englerth.
In every case, it’s the taxpayers who suffer from the feckless leadership of elected officials. As former President Barack Obama reminded us, “We, the people, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together, that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.”
Standing up for our nation by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and flying the flag should always be welcoming and never uncomfortable. Standing up to self-centered, grudge-holding elected officials and insisting that they act on our behalf and in our best interests, should also be a responsibility we accept – and with which we are never uncomfortable.
Fred Jacobs, CEO
J-Ad Graphics, Inc.