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Saluting Flags

Journalist Rob Boston writes in his 2003 book, Why the Religious Right is Wrong About Separation of Church and State:

"Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe in earthly allegiances. Their only duty, they say, is to God. They do not participate in secular government. They will not hold office or vote in elections. Also, they steadfastly refuse to recite oaths of any kind -- including the Pledge of Allegiance -- or salute the flag.

"Saluting flags, they say, is a form of idolatry.

"In 1940 the United States was on the brink of entering World War II, and a heightened sense of patriotism ran the the population. Many states had laws mandating the reciation of the Pledge of Allegiance and flag salute every day in public schools. Children of Jehovah's Witnesses, who refused to participate in the exercises, weree frequently expelled from school or otherwise punished.

"Although their timing could not have been worse, the Witnesses took the pledge matter into federal court in the late 1930s. In 1940 the Supreme Court issued one of its wrst church-state opinions ever and held by an 8-1 vote that a Pennsylvania law requiring recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools was constitutional...

"The High Court's ruling..was followed by an outbreak of violence against Jehovah's Witnessess across the country...What followed is one of the darkest and most disgraceful periods in American church-state history.

"In Richwood, Virginia, the chief of police rounded up a group of Jehovah's Witnesses, forced them to drink castor oil and paraded them through the streets before running them out of town. In Jackson,, Mississippi, members of a local veteran's organization attacked a trailer park where many Witnesses were known to live and drove several from their homes.

"The list gets worse: A Witness in Nebraska was lured away from his house and castrated by a mob. In Rockville, Maryland, local police assisted a marauding crowd that attacked a Witness church (called a Kingdom Hall) to break up a church meeting. In Kennebunk, Maine, an unruly mob charged the local Kingdom Hall and set it on fire, burning it to the ground...

"By 1943 the Supreme Court had realized its mistake...The High Court accepted a new case dealing with mandatory flag salutes in public schools...and issued a decision stronly upholding relgious freedom...

"Sadly, many Americans apparently do not agree with that reasoning. During the 1988 presidential race, George Bush attacked Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis because Dukakis, as governor of Massachusetts, had in 1977 vetoed a bill requiring recitation of the Pledge in the state's public schools. Dukakis, pointing to the Barnette ruling, noted that the measure was clearly unconstitutional.

"In the resulting furor, Bush accused Dukakis of being opposed to the Pledge, and one opinion poll showed a majority of Americans favoring mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, even if some religious groups or individuals object.

"Similarly, a number of states passed or tried to pass laws mandating recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance after the horrific terrorist attack of September11, 2001. In Minnesota, Govenor Jesse Ventura was criticized for vetoing one of those bills. Defending his action, Ventura pointed out that the law was clearly unconstitutional."

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