Allegiance n. 1. loyalty (to a person or a cause, etc.). 2. the duty of a subject to his or her government.
-Oxford American Desk Dictionary
To whom or what do we claim or owe allegiance? Under the first definition, we might list some of the following: God, family, country, social, ethnic, community or even employment group. But the second definition suggests something different, carving out a specific niche for national allegiance.
First of all, it dares to use the word “duty,” which, in the context of the definition, ties allegiance to citizenship—“subject of his or her government.” It suggests that we’re part of something greater than our own agenda. For U.S. citizens, by birth or legal immigration, it’s a tacit agreement to belong to a community based on physical boundaries and democratic ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence. When we pledge allegiance to our flag, we pledge allegiance, not to political parties or particular policies, but to our country and the defense and expression of loftier ideals of human dignity, freedom and equality of opportunity.
In recent years, courts have heard challenges to the Pledge of Allegiance said in public schools. The impetus behind such challenges runs counter to the spirit of national unity and our commonly-held sense of being American. Have you noticed the power of speaking something out loud? In a court of law, witnesses are asked to swear, out loud, to speak the truth. When a public official, federal employee or military member is sworn into their position, they speak an oath of allegiance to the U.S. Constitution. Many faiths repeat creeds regularly, reinforcing beliefs in those doctrines. Speaking words that commit you to something is powerful, indeed. It sets you on a course of action. It reinforces and realigns priorities. In the case of the Pledge of Allegiance, it reminds us that being an American comes with duties and responsibilities. Said every day Congress is in Session, it reminds elected officials where our priorities must lie. It reminds us that policies we enact must withstand rigorous tests of national unity, liberty and justice—for all. Rather than discouraging independent thought, pledging 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,” calls the speaker to stand for justice and fight for liberty. Standing for justice and fighting for liberty leaves no room for complacency. It focuses the speaker on the greater goals of government by the people and for the people—exactly what our founding fathers intended over two centuries ago.
We grouse about this leader or that policy; usually over time, policies and leaders change. Through it all and because of it all, our nation continues its distinctive role in human history, defending human dignity and freedom. Allegiance to this country isn’t compromised by expressing discontent with policies or leaders; rather, engaging in healthy debate ensures liberty and justice for all, and the ultimate longevity of our nation.
On Flag Day 2008, we should think about where our allegiances lie. We should consider our freedoms, and the associated duties and responsibilities when we are standing with our right hand over our heart, facing the Stars and Stripes. As we pledge our allegiance to the United States of America out loud, we can be immensely proud to be Americans.
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