I believe in free speech with all my heart
On Saturdays when most children my age were eating breakfast cereals and staring like wide-eyed lemurs into morning cartoons, I was exercising my first amendment rights of free speech. Saturdays for me involved knocking on tall wooden doors and delivering a short presentation about the Kingdom of God. Speaking of this Kingdom was my pledge of allegiance.
I believe in the words of the Bible, that “thou shall not kill.” At a young age I learned that I have spiritual brothers and sisters in every corner of the earth, and if I pledge allegiance to my country and my county declares war against another, I would then have to “kill or be killed,” by my brothers and sisters and that would be fratricide. I preferred the law of God rather than the law of the jungle.
Therefore, I could not salute the star spangled red, white and blue banner of the United States of America-not as a Jehovah’s Witness youth.
During the morning pledge of allegiance at school I stood silently with my hands firmly at my side. For me complete allegiance to God prevented me from placing my hand on my rapidly beating heart and giving allegiance to country, despite the taunts and jeers of my peers and even the pressure of my school teachers. I remember standing silently and holding back the dam of words and tears as my fourth grade teacher told me in front of my classmates that I would probably go to hell for not saluting the flag-a hell that I didn’t believe in anyway, not in the sense of an evil, red, horn-bearing, “people farmer” with a pitchfork.
If I could let go the dam of words and tears to express myself behind my emotions that I contained more than 20 years ago I would tell my teacher of the 23 separate Supreme Court rulings between 1938 and 1946 that guaranteed her free speech rights. I would tell them that Jehovah’s Witnesses fought for free speech more than any other group of people. I would tell her of the thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses confined in concentration camps for not saying “heil Hitler” and saluting the flag of Nazi Germany. I would repeat the words of Justice Robert Jackson in his ruling of West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnett on Flag Day of 1943 that: “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…”
If I could let go the dam of words and tears I would have told my teacher that because of my stand she has the free speech right to tell me to go to hell, but that in my figurative state of cardiac arrest, I had the right to remain silent.
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