The last school board meeting presented a reminder that the consequences of a terrorist attack 12 years ago are still changing things. I would have hoped no worthy human-being needed a nation, an oath, or a god to act against the horrible murder on September 11th. But some thought we did.
12 years ago, Minnesota politicians decided we ought to demonstrate our distinction from a fundamentalist, nationalist enemy by mandating our children recite a religious, nationalistic oath. Like the animals in George Orwell's Animal Farm, it might seem one-time revolutionaries took a step toward the rituals of those want-to-be oppressors.
Last week, the school board themselves institutionalized the same oath, "Let's stand and face the flag" the chairman announced, belatedly followed by an awkward qualifier, "...for those of you who are... uh... so inclined to do so."
When formulating the 2002 bill, Minnesota legislators ran into obstacles. For one, the Constitution forbids government from coercing citizens into taking such oaths. But the same politicians that often espouse the Constitution seemed comfortable ignoring it. Cannon Falls instituted the oath by meeting the minimum requirement of the law - tucking a sentence into the student handbook. Each student (assuming they are aware) can dissent... though they must do so repeatedly, publicly, and conspicuously. They must dissent in front of their peers and the teacher who assigns their grade. Again, I couldn't help but think of Animal Farm... scenes of sheep bleating oaths while the pigs scanned the other animals with interest.
One might consider my reaction to have just learned, at the same meeting, that my own children had been coerced in a similar manner. When I questioned what I considered the deceptive and objectionable nature of this, I encountered the defensive argument (yet rather indefensible) about how this is a privilege... and how everybody does it. The latter (wide participation) is admittedly true, though not a valid defense. The former (that such oaths are privileges or good) is not consensus, nor is it relevant. These arguments do not override a citizen's right to freedom of conscience.