Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Flag Folding Ceremony in Public Schools

Yesterday we rehearsed an all-school Veterans Day assembly, which will include among many other things the ceremony of folding the U.S. flag.

It is a lovely ceremony in concept, in which the flag of our country is folded with meticulous attention to detail, and each fold has a dedication that is said aloud. The origins of this ceremony and its text come from the armed forces, and must date after 1954 since there is a quote from the pledge of allegiance that includes the reference to God added during the Eisenhower Adminstration.

I had not witnessed the ceremony or heard its text, and I began to feel uncomfortable with the specific religious content.

The fourth fold represents our weaker nature, for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for His divine guidance.

This a theological teaching belonging to one religious tradition. But there is more than this, with references to "the eternal life" and to "the one who entered in to the valley of the shadow of death." With the final two folds, it is implied that this is a country for the Hebrew or the Christian citizen:

The eleventh fold, in the eyes of a Hebrew citizen, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon, and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

The twelfth fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.

The rest of us, I suppose, are just visitors? A different class of citizen? The language belongs to the school of thought that the United States is primarily a Christian nation that tolerates citizens who are different.

Something should be said. Our children are impressionable, and this kind of messaging is precisely why the teaching of religion in public schools is not permitted. We are not here to teach children that in order to feel like they really belong to this country, they have to believe in the God of the Old Testament or any God. The flag folding ceremony is a sly way to get in some religious instruction. I should say something yet I do not feel comfortable, to be frank. For fear over my job I might well keep silent and thus fail, myself, to uphold our Constitution.


Debby said...

I have never heard the whole flag folding ceremony, with words, although, I've folded the flag many a time. I was a little bit shocked. Algernon. I live in Podunk PA, and it is a very red, white, and blue place, very homogenous, very conservative, a die hard Republican corner of the world. I have to tell you, this service would not have happened in our school district. It would not have been permitted. I'm actually surprised that it was allowed in yours. We are a diverse country, and we must respect one another.

Nathan said...

After 9/11, I was working in a public school and felt the same conflict when we began mandatory teaching and reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. Even as a 3rd grader, I felt something off when I had to recite it, and as an adult teaching 3rd graders, it really felt off. I never said anything, but partly because I was laid off during the budget cuts that came the same year.

My guess is that it will never feel comfortable to go in and question the ceremony, but it still might be necessary. Definitely a tough place; I wish you all the best in working with this situation.

Brian said...

I did some research, and that version of the Flag Code was deemed unconstitutional under the First Amendment Establishment Clause. While still in use in some groups like the American Legion, it is not in use by the US Armed Forces.

According to a California State Supreme Court ruling, the mandatory recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance was deemed also unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause. Likewise for this iteration of the Flag Code.

- Elmak