|By G. Michael Dobbs|
Are you aware of the western Massachusetts connection to the Pledge of Allegiance? The Reverend Francis Bellamy, a cousin of famed Chicopee author Edward Bellamy (Looking Backward) wrote the Pledge in 1892 for the popular magazine, The Youth's Companion. His intent was to write an affirmation for key American values.
Despite being a minister, Bellamy did not put the phrase "under God" in his original Pledge. In fact, Congress added the ending phrase in 1954 at the height of the Cold War.
At the age of 51, I am of the generation that actually prayed in school. I remember my first and second grade teachers in Springfield leading the class in the Lord's Prayer and reading from the Bible.
Of course, all of that changed, although throughout school I recall many teachers insisting on a "moment of silence" to start the day. We all knew that was time for us to pray.
I found last week's news from the Legislature to be quite interesting. In the midst of all of the significant issues facing the General Court, many members believed that supporting a bill asserting the Commonwealth's support of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge was the most important use of their time.
At a time when key issues such as health insurance, retaining and creating jobs, the proper funding of mass transit systems, to name three deserve the attention of the Legislature, we have something geared to attract national headlines after the California decision about the phrase.
After the cross-country drubbing Massachusetts took for its Supreme Judicial Court decision allowing gay marriage, this bill struck me as being a sort of damage control "Hey, we really do have traditional values up here!"
The phrases "Christian country" and "Christian state" have been heard on local radio to describe this nation and Massachusetts and to justify why the phrase should be supported.
It's our heritage. Really?
Our heritage includes the early persecution of Roger William, the minister who encouraged the concept of freedom of worship and fled the Puritans in Boston before he could be deported to England. His colony, which grew into the state of Rhode Island, was a haven to those of different faiths.
Our heritage also includes much prejudice against Roman Catholics during the 19th century.
You see, in Massachusetts, it was not important if you were Christian, you had to be the right kind of Christian. Considering the history of how Christian denominations treated each other, I wonder what they truly believed. It couldn't have been the teachings of Jesus, could it?
And what are we to do today with the non-Christians who live in the state? How do they figure into our "Christian heritage?"
Unless you are a religious person those words of "under God," don't mean much at all. And the recitation of the Pledge is not likely to create a religious moment in the life of a school kid.
Say it if you believe it. Don't say if you don't. Practice your faith in a free and open society, just don't thrust your beliefs on others in the name of "heritage" or politics.
These are my opinions alone. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA, 01028.