Respect, Disrespect, and Conscience

I have seen a number of posts suggesting that those who won’t recite or stand for the pledge of allegiance are disrespectful, or perhaps just badly behaved. Good people, by implication, will say these words and join in the group.

My view of this is formed by my upbringing. I am a United States Air Force veteran. I was not wounded. I really didn’t feel great fear for my life, but I have the “been there” medals for three different overseas military actions. I am both proud to have served, and believe I did right by doing so.

My father, on the other hand, was a conscientious objector. He was a Seventh-day Adventist, and believed that taking lives even in war was wrong. He would have served in a medical capacity, but was not allowed that option in Canada during World War II. Some Canadians were accepted into medical roles, but many were not. So he spent World War II planting trees.

This was not a matter of disrespect for his county. It was a matter of conscience. He believed that training with and then carrying a rifle into combat was wrong. Obviously, I disagree. My participation in the military was without limitations. No, carrying a rifle is not the Air Force thing, but however distant we may be, in war people die partially as a result of our actions.

My dad also respected my choice, as much as he disagreed with it. He would have preferred that I not go into combat. We didn’t discuss it that much, but we knew the score.

So when people say that by protesting a war or any policy of the government someone is disrespecting my service, I firmly disagree. One of the things I am proud of is that my service helps defend a country where a conscientious objector can be diverted to service in some other way in war time.

I also defended a country which has, as one of its founding stories, the revolutionary and protest action of dumping tea—a commercial product of value to its owners—into the harbor in protest of the taxes imposed on it.

Some of the folks I see commenting today would surely have been incensed at this action. Destruction of public property! Against the law! Disrespectful! Aren’t they grateful for the defense provided by the British troops?

These protesters, however, felt that this was an important issue, with underlying principles that were worth breaking the existing law in order to protest. They were very, very disrespectful.

I know there are people who just don’t care for any form of authority. But the majority of cases come from two groups of people: 1) Those who have a reason of conscience for their actions, and 2) Those who believe they have been so badly handled by our society that they need to shake things up to get noticed.

Like my dad, who believed that in spite of conscription laws, God’s law said he could not fight in the war, some believe that they cannot swear oaths. This might be because Jesus said that (Matthew 5:33-37). Now I have a different interpretation of that passage, but some people believe that this is a specific and literal command. They don’t believe they can take oaths.

I’m glad that I served in defending a country that makes exceptions for those who do not believe they can swear an oath. There is alternative language that is permitted. I’m glad of that, I support it, and I am glad that I defended it.

Others don’t believe they can swear allegiance, or even affirm allegiance to any earthly power. Thus, “I pledge allegiance to the flag” is, to them, a denial of the sovereignty of Christ and acceptance of a lesser power. I don’t agree with them, as I believe every claim or affirmation I make falls into a category that is less than my allegiance to God, but that doesn’t change their consciences.

Again, I am glad to have served to defend a country that allows this right and I am disturbed when people mock them or make fun of them. They are following their conscience and are right to do so. I would say that they need to be “convinced in their own minds” (Romans 14:5, mildly out of context, I think!).

Further, if someone believes they have been so mistreated by our society that their best recourse is to call attention to the problem through acts of protest, whether or not I approve of their approach, I am not the one who has been treated unfairly. It is not for me to judge the depth of either pain or conviction, or more probably a combination of both, that has led to an act of protest.

I am again glad to have served to defend a country that will allow such protests. It is important that they be permitted. Don’t complain if the person doing the protest is privileged (yes, think Colin Kaepernick), because that person may well be using a position of influence on behalf of others less privileged.

Further, I don’t have to approve of the cause. The important thing about freedom of expression is that one is free to express things of which I (or anyone else) disapproves. Freedom of speech or expression is not for the things of which society approves. You don’t need a bill or declaration of rights to protect the things the majority wants to do. It’s there to protect the things that the majority disapproves.

The cause is separate from the method as well. I don’t have to approve even of the aim of the person protesting to approve of his or her right to protest. That again is why we need a right to freedom of speech. It’s for the things that make us angry. It’s for the people we want to shut up. Those are the people who need, and should have, protection.

There are religions of which I do not approve. No surprise there! You can note my disapproval because I haven’t joined those religions. But that is what freedom of religion is for. It protects the practice of religions that are not in the majority and may not be approved. And yes, this includes Islam, which, contrary to many assertions recently, is a religion.

And yes, I extend this to those of differing political views. This continues to apply whether they’re wearing MAGA hats or have Bernie Sanders bumper stickers. It’s most important that we have a free exchange of ideas in our society.

If this annoys you, just remember this: I also support your right to be annoyed. Enjoy!

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One Comment

  1. mflabar says:

    Good post. Thanks!

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