A Utah Senate committee recently passed SB 190, which would require all public school classrooms to display the U.S. flag and Constitution, and each school prominently display the national motto (“In God We Trust”).
I very much agree with the stated intent of the bill, as listed in section 1.
The Legislature recognizes that a proper understanding of American history and government is essential to good citizenship, and that the public schools are the primary public institutions charged with responsibility for assisting children and youth in gaining that understanding.
I think that the means described in sections 3-5 by which it is hoped that the bill will help develop that proper understanding are very sensible—if perhaps a bit intrusive on the local school boards. I strongly encourage people to explore the documents by which our nation is governed, the principles upon which the nation was founded, and the words and lives of the men who were essential in establishing those documents and that nation.
But then the Senate committee got to what seems to have been the primary thrust of the bill, with sections 6 and 7 requiring the display of the flag and Constitution.
What, do the Senators believe that the students will absorb patriotism by osmosis? “The latest physics research indicates that the convection and radiation of citizenship from patriotactive materials will increase patriotactivity of all citizens within a forty-foot radius (though it may cause patriotactive poisoning in illegal immigrants).”
I suppose it is a fairly small thing—aside perhaps from the “unfunded mandate” issue (the inability of conservatives like Senator Christensen to distinguish between legitimate dissent over an unjust war perpetrated on false pretenses and a lack of patriotism is another issue altogether). It certainly doesn’t hurt to hang the flag in a classroom. Yet it is indicative of a larger issue among conservatives.
Items like flags are nothing more than symbols. Symbols are very important in the way humans process abstract information. But problems arise when people turn the symbol into a fetish. The Right seems to struggle with this tendency, as indicated by Orrin Hatch’s flag burning amendment, Chris Buttars’ attempt to dictate recitation of the pledge, the email-forward tizzy over Obama’s decision not to cover his heart during the national anthem (as addressed several months back by The Life that I’m Living), and this bill. These conservatives seem to forget that a symbol is only representative of an abstract concept, not an actual manifestation or avatar of that concept. The concept is in no way harmed by neglect of a symbol, or even outright desecration. Symbols are not voodoo dolls.
In fact, principles and concepts aren’t necessarily nurtured by the strict observance and veneration of their symbols. The pharisees very proudly maintained the symbols of their faith/culture/nation, strictly observing the outward rituals associated with those symbols—yet Jesus denounced them as vipers and hypocrites.
I would suggest that many in our history have tarnished the principles of this nation while wearing flag pins, waving the flag, saluting the anthem, and otherwise performing outward rituals of respect. Conservatives must learn that pride is not patriotism. Similarly, many who decline superficial observances have done much to buttress those important principles. External trappings really mean very little.
Hopefully the Utah Legislature as a whole will display a less shallow understanding of patriotism and citizenship, and will look at more meaningful methods by which to promote these virtues.