Franklin Countys First News

From the Bulldog’s Desk: A lesson on patriotism from a 9-year-old boy

A lot of digital ink has been used up over the past few days by folks discussing the Pledge of Allegiance and its place in our daily lives. To be sure, most of us, like gawkers who can’t look away as they pass a roadside accident, have been merely spectators in this discussion. Whatever role any of us may have played, maybe this is a good time to think about what we might learn about freedom from a 9-year-old boy.

Carlton Nichols was in the third grade in 1935, and he lived with his family in Lynn, Mass. He was 9 years old and a Jehovah’s Witness. Across the ocean, Adolph Hitler was in power in Germany and in the process of arresting nearly 10,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses and placing them in concentration camps for refusing to salute the Nazi flag. In a show of solidarity, American Jehovah’s Witness leaders proposed that followers in this country similarly refuse to take part in the daily flag salutes that had become compulsory in many American schools.

Carlton Nichols’s conscience told him that he should honor this idea, and his father went with him to school and peacefully refused to stand with his son when everyone else stood to salute the flag.

Carlton was expelled and his father was actually arrested, and my guess is that most people in their community applauded both actions.

Two children in Minersville, Penn. read about Carlton Nichols’s brave act. They were also Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they followed his example and were expelled from their school in a similar way. A brother and sister in the fifth and seventh grades, they appealed their case all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where, in 1940, the court held that the impending war created an interest of “national security” that apparently the two middle school students were compromising by their actions.

Within weeks of the court’s decision attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses throughout the country became common, some of them very violent and extreme. Close to home, a Jehovah’s Witness house of worship in Kennebunk was burned. With this violence as a backdrop, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear another compulsory flag saluting case just three years after it originally decided the issue.

The second case was Barnette v. West Virgnia, and the facts of that case were identical to those in the earlier one. But in Barnette the court ruled differently. The court ruled that a young child with strong religious beliefs (or even one without them) could not be forced by a group of grown-ups to do something which violated her conscience. The majority Barnette decision was written by Justice Robert Jackson, who ended it with these words:

"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

I don’t know what kind of courage it must have taken a nine-year-old boy to sit while everyone else in his school was standing, or to watch his father be arrested for supporting him, but for my money, Carlton Nichols knew as much about what it means to be an American as nearly anyone in history I have come across. And when you think of him, how can you not also think of all the other children who may have believed as he did, but felt too embarrassed or coerced to do anything but stand with the masses?

I don’t think you need to repeat some kind of pledge every morning to prove you’re a good American. And maybe if you’re spending your time making sure other people are saying it, there is a lot about what makes our country great that you still don’t understand.

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24 Responses »

  1. Well said.

  2. My support of the Pledge of Allegiance is not a blind support. I'm not saying everyone has to stand and say it, I'm only saying don't take it away from those of us who do want to recite the Pledge. So often people lobby for laws that will prevent people from being able to disagree with them. Disagreements are not resolved by restrictions, they are only suppressed. To resolve a disagreement, the reason behind a person's belief should be examined. Understanding is the key to resolution, and may reveal that the two sides are not so far apart.

    Teach responsibility not restriction. Lead by example, don't rule through fear. Meet opposition with curiosity, not cursing. Stand up for your beliefs and allow others to stand up for theirs.

  3. I recall a story where a young student, one of Jehovah's Witnesses was taken to the principle's office after the morning pledge and the student had once again failed to join the group. The principal had a flag on his/her desk and instructed the student to spit on the flag. The student refused and they asked the student why when they had just refused to salute the flag, obviously the student must have had no respect for the flag because of the failure to pledge to it. The student stated they respected the flag for what it represented and would not disrespect in by spitting on it, saluting the flag is a form of worship which only God deserves.

    It should be noted that several other students were brought into the principals office and asked to spit on the flag as well, they had no compulsion to not to, they did what they were told and spit on the flag.

    I've heard this story several times over the years, is it true? I can't personally verify it; I did not know any of the individuals involved. Let’s say for the sake of argument it’s not true as I’m sure many reading this will not want to believe such a thing could be. Isn’t it the principles behind what the flag stands for that we should appreciate, not a piece of clothe? As a veteran, I can say without a doubt when I served in the military, I was putting my life on the line not for an inanimate object; it was for my family, friends and I suppose for the rest of you gu, I was 18 at the time and didn’t think beyond my core group at the time. The flag is suppose to represent the best in us but it seems this discussion brings out the worst in some, “Go move to another country” is a favorite phrase to spout. Sorry, but one of the things service men and women fought for and died for was the freedom of speech. If you don’t like what they are saying, go move... no I won’t say that...

    It seems to me that many people have no concept of what showing respect for the flag even means, in a literal sense that many that fly flags that should have been properly disposed of long ago, they are well beyond their presentable display condition. Many don’t follow the proper rules for displaying the flag. Many trespass on private property in the wanting to be the town with the most display of patriotism.

    Many spit on the flag with their failure to pay their fair share of taxes, which if the news reports are accurate, they’re a lot of those. By the news articles I’ve read, local, state and federal governments would not be struggling financially if not for such wanton disregard for paying of taxes. Not just personal taxes but small business and most obvious is corporations with their oversea hiding caches.

    Want about the lack of respect shown by our Politian’s for what the flag stands for; they do not represent it or the American people, with their constant bickering and partisan politics. If the vitriol display shown by those that get up in arms by what they perceive as disrespect by someone failing to stand for the national anthem or saluting the flag was directed at those supposedly public officials, would we be seeing such disregard towards us by those elected to office? I think not, but then again this has all been my opinion nothing else, I have the right to state it, just as you have the right to comment or ignore it. Just try showing some respect for the principles behind the meaning of our flag please and try not to focus on an object that while is a reflecting what a great nation should be, it is after all just a piece of cloth, a representation of the values we should be striving for.

  4. The original story was not about forcing the Pledge of Allegiance on anyone. It was about not giving the opportunity for anyone who wanted to recite the Pledge to do so.

  5. I vaguely recall the Barnette case

    It was an interesting thread for sure and the comments made may well have said more about those making them than anything

    From time to time there are news stories, often front page, that celebrate the swearing in of new United States citizens, they tend to be a very diverse group of former foreign nationals, most smiling and all holding a small United States flag and a copy of our oath of allegiance

    I would hazard the guess that if there were any citizens that might start their days by privately reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, they might be members of a “new citizens” group as described.

  6. Woody, thank you for speaking up on this issue. I especially appreciated your making the point that it takes a lot of courage for a kid to abstain from what everyone else in their group is doing. In previous rounds some people have taken the view that there is no problem so long as individual students are free to refrain from reciting the pledge; they are leaving out of account what life is like for kids in school.

    Rooms full of people simply should not be asked to recite a pledge. When this is asked, most school students will recite it--but not because the words necessarily reflect their own beliefs or their own intended behavior. They will recite it simply because doing what one is told is the line of least resistance in school. What we are teaching our young people when we put them through this is that it doesn't matter what the words mean that one is speaking, or whether they are true--all that matters is saying what one is told to say (and do we not meet, in nearly every shop and office, adults who have internalized this lesson all too well?!)! The pledge teaches kids to disvalue language and truthfulness.

  7. I remember having to recite the pledge. It always made me feel vaguely uncomfortable. The teacher would look at us, to make sure we didn't mumble. You felt sort of compelled to try and prove you were patriotic enough, without really understanding what that meant. The phrase "Under God" always seemed wrong somehow. First of all, it didn't flow. I wondered why someone didn't come up with a better pledge. It also seemed to be at odds with the idea of separation of church and state. I knew about that, because I also had to pray everyday in school as well, until the third grade, when suddenly, we were told that was unconstitutional. It was a relief to no longer have to pray. I wasn't raised in a religious family; we didn't pray at home, I had no knowledge of it and so I felt cast out, a stranger among my classmates.
    many years later, my sister who is 12 years older than I, told me the under God phrase was added in while she was in school. It came about through McCarthyism, out of a fear of communism, since it was assumed that communists were also Godless.
    in parallel with this debate, is the debate over gun control. The NRA says those of us who favor gun control are anti- American, and are weakening the 2nd amendment.
    When did anyone in the NRA, or any other Americans, ever raise up arms to oppose the usurpation of constitutional rights other than what they perceive to be their own rights in the 2nd amendment?
    As the article above demonstrates, there have been times that our government has been in the wrong. The way to right those wrongs is through the laws of our country, not through violence. Our country's strength lies in it's citizens standing up for justice and to do that, we don't need guns we need courage.

  8. As a Jehovah's Witness I would like to thank you for posting this. A lot of people don't realize what we've gone and still go through for not saluting the flag. We don't because we pledge our allegiance to God, and don't view any nation as being above another. It is not an act of disrespect at all.

    It may have been hard to sit when everyone else was standing when I was younger, and my kindergarden teacher once put me in time out for not looking at the flag. But it was all worth it, and I hope I too made an impression on the people who witnessed me standing up for my beliefs.

    You should be able to salute the flag if you want, but you shouldn't be forced...or expected to.

  9. Agree 200% with snowball and Michaela. Patriotism, faith, compassion - - and humanity - - are shown by daily deeds and not by words or grand proclamations.

    Elected officials and citizens alike would do well to remember - - and employ - - this reason.

  10. Big difference between these examples and NOW..
    NOW,,they dont have to participate.
    It seems like this article is fighting a cause that won a long time ago..
    NO ONE is forced to pledge NOW,,,

    It seems like the "thinking" behind whoever wrote this article is the same old,,,"we're wrong" mentailty.
    Even though the US did the right thing and allowed people NOT to participate,,,the author of this article cant seem to acknowledge that we did the right thing by not forcing anyone.

    We're better than that.
    Love My Country,,,

  11. I, too, am a Jehovah's Witness and wish to thank you for publishing this article. I remember very well, even before I became a baptized Witness, how uncomfortable I felt saluting the flag, as though coerced to do something because the repercussions if you didn't were ridicule and ostracism. This didn't encourage any feeling of respect for the flag or what it represented. I only came to appreciate after studying the Bible that it was important to be a good citizen in deed, by being honest, paying your taxes, and above all, helping others come to know the One to whom all worship belongs. These things show true honor to God, man and country.

  12. 2013, I think you missed the point, and the reasons why the authors felt compelled to speak out.

    Freedoms may be granted in law, but still repressed through societies misintention.
    It's one thing to know you have the right to be the only person in a group to not stand and recite a pledge, quit another, to actually do it while other's eyes look reprovingly upon you.

  13. To Snowball,,
    I noticed that the only solution that fits YOUR criteria is to outright BAN THE PLEDGE.
    How convenient.

    I'm thinking it is you who has misssed the point completely.
    I know I know,,that cant be

  14. "Freedom's what it's all about. Oh yeah, that's right. That's what it's all about. But talking about it and being it. that's two different things. lt's real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. Don't tell anybody that they're not free because they'll get busy killing and maiming to prove to you that they are. They're going to talk to you and talk to you about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's going to scare them. Well, it don't make them running scared. lt makes them dangerous." George Hansen.

  15. Thank you Mr Hanstein!

    Your discussion of some of the case law supports the belief that we may not always be correct in the way we first interpret peoples actions and the law, but we can come around to respecting the individuals, and building respect for the way the law can be reviewed and changed if needed.

    One of the postings by a previous writer had linked to a Red Skelton skit, with Red saying the Pledge, and explaining it his own way. I think this skit and explanation of the Pledge would have been a great discussion piece, since Red's point was to get people to actually think about what the Pledge could mean, rather than the mere recitation.

    I encourage everyone to watch the clip in the attached link and to think about it. We may not agree with all that Red has to say, but what a way to explain a bit of prose by an individual that lived through those turbulent times.

    Some of our humorists are are best teachers!

  16. Some of the folks here have a problem with authority,,,
    When we have sports,,,dont keep score (ugh!).
    Nothing new there.
    They are the ones who think we should not even have a country,,,,one world where everyone is equal.
    OK,,,if we get rid of human nature,,we might achieve that.
    In the meantime we're human which means things like competitiveness,,drive and ambition are real.
    Watch little kids when they aren't being Hyperparented by mambypamby,,,it's natural (and perfectly ok).
    Some of you that are so against anyone pledging to "anything with authority" are certainly displaying a willingness to coax your own will upon those that disagree with you,,
    Hmmmm,what's "that" behavor called,,,(the "H" word).
    Congratulations,,proof that you have a human component.

    Everybody (in all walks of life) gets their chance to resepctfully stand by while others honor their "choice".
    It's a valueable learning expereience about Respecting Others.
    Reciprocity is a wonderful thing,,,win win.

    You guys promoting taking the pledge away now is as unfair as the folks who used to force it on people.
    Dont see much in the way of freedom in what you are promoting.

    Glad the school see the value of keeping it available for those that want it.
    They are teaching the students a valueable lesson by offering it,,,(to anyone with an open mind that is).
    Thanks,,MBHS and the principal.

  17. To April, Michaela, and anyone else who shares their story, I'm sorry you were made to feel that being different was a bad thing. It's a shame that your teachers didn't take the opportunity to discuss diversity with the class to allow you to be proud of who you are. No doubt the experience was traumatic but it sounds like you both have grown into rational, intelligent, thoughtful and compassionate women. All experiences, good and bad, make us who we are. What you described isn't right, and other children should not be forced to feel the same. But are we, as a society, making kids soft because we want to "save" them from our hardships?

  18. Don't Keep Score,
    Why should it be the school's responsibility to enforce a "rule" to recite a pledge? Why not at home? What's wrong with Mom and Dad lining the children up in the living room,all face the flag and recite the pledge?
    Patriotism should begin at home. As should religion. They can all say a prayer together too, and it gives the flexibility of doing it according to their particular faith, rather then something universal.
    Let the school teach civics; have the children learn about our country, our laws, our constitution and what it means to be an American, but have the indoctrination done in the home.

  19. The interpretation that one pledges allegiance to a piece of cloth is shallow. There is another clause - and to the republic for which it stands. When I was old enough to understand what I was saying, it was obvious to me that I was swearing allegiance to my country, not its symbol. It was also obvious that one could pledge allegiance to God and country, without conflict of interest. One nation, under God. At least it was obvious to a boy in the late 1950s. I pledged freely and sincerely because of what I was also learning about how our country was put together. I fear that the important parts are being so bastardized that soon they will be unrecognizable.

    1. Anyone may freely exercise his religion - unless, of course, it's Christianity. Anyone may say whatever he wants, including criticizing a religion - unless, of course, it's Islam.

    2. Most people dismiss the clause "being necessary to the security of a free State" as antiquated 18th century paranoia. Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest. - Mahatma Gandhi

    3. More 18th century stuff. Unless, of course, you ever had property taken by eminent domain.

    4. While we argue about #1 and #2, this one has been shredded. In the infamous 2700 pages, the government now has the authority to know our slightest details. But, boy, will we be healthy!

    5. Most especially, no person in the Cabinet shall be held to answer for anything.

    6, 7, 8. Noble sentiments. Unless, of course, you're the victim of a crime.

    9, 10. These have been turned completely around. Those rights not enumerated are retained by the government - as in the EU and just about every other political entity on the planet.

    In case you haven't figured out what the numbers are, see this.

  20. One of the commenters here mentioned why this matter should even come up again since this matter happened along while ago. Why does anything that in history come up though? To remember, like the Holocaust, so that the errors commited won't happen again. Like good reminders, we review good things that have happened beforehand. We're imperfect and need reminders so as not to repeat mistakes that can hurt others unnecessarilly again. While some respect the "principles" behind the flag, Jehovah's Witnesses respect first and foremost the principles of the Universal Sovereign, Jehovah God. The Creator and Lifegiver. Should not his laws be considered superior to any mans, for who has done for any of us, what God has done for us each and everyday?

  21. ""Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -George Santayana

    I think the point is not to try to ban anything. Jehovah's Witnesses are not seeking a ban on flag-saluting or anything else. You will not find the Witnesses ever in the public forum taking political stances on any social or national issue. You don't see us mobilizing against abortion, gay marriage or anything else. We don't try to disrupt or interfere with anyone exercising their rights to live the way they choose. The point, in my eyes seems to be that people often DO forget the past and it would not be a stretch to imagine patriotic fervor once again being whipped up to the point of reverting back to those days described in the article. I remember after 9/11 how much emotion was generated by the horrific attacks. We have spiritual brothers and sisters in every nation on earth and many are being oppressed by their governments because of their refusal to pledge allegiance to various flags, align themselves with political parties, take up arms against their fellow man or because they do not practice the popular religion of that region. It CAN happen here, it DID happen here. Even though much blood was spilled by people who did not want to live under tyranny in the infancy stages of this country, it did not take long before many were deciding how other people should live, think and worship. The Quakers, Mormons, Jews, Catholics and others were all persecuted at one time or another in this country. We are not in favor of banning the pledge of allegiance. That is the individual right of each one to decide for themselves. We are NOT in favor of seeing it become a mandatory exercise again because we do not want ourselves or our children or ANYONE to have to go through those things ever again.

  22. The 9 year old didn't die a horrible death in WWII as many Americans did liberating his people and preserving his right to not show respect where it is due. Many people feel they're entitled to do (or not do) whatever they want. Just for a quick moment try to remember why you're able to feel that way.

    And once again, Frostproof is the smartest man in the room.

  23. Snowball says, " Let the school teach civics; have the children learn about our country, our laws, our constitution and what it means to be an American, but have the indoctrination done in the home."
    ...........simple right????

    What "exactly" does it mean to be an American?

    I'm sure we have the right to disagree on the definition of this.
    The fact that we do makes me a Proud American who will Salute and Pledge Alleigiance to our flag.
    I will teach my children and grandchildren by example.
    They get to choose.
    If you call this indoctrination,,you're just splitting hairs to win an argument.
    From all your "wordy opinions here I'm betting you do the same "indoctrination" (as u call it).

    The schools cant make us all happy.
    It makes me happy that they offer the pledge of allegiance to our flag.

    Aint it a great country.