Alaska Editorial: More than words

  • Thursday, August 25, 2016 1:00am
  • Opinion

The following editorial first appeared in the Kenai Peninsula Clarion:

The next time you recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a public function, try to listen to what other people are saying, too.

Most folks simply recite the pledge, having learned it in kindergarten and repeated it daily through high school. There are some who don’t say the pledge at all, either for religious or personal reasons. There are some who recite the pledge but are silent through two words — “under God” — while others, particularly since court challenges to the inclusion of the phrase, put an extra emphasis on those words.

It’s worth noting that “under God” was not in the original version of the pledge, which was first recited in 1892. The phrase was added in 1954, due in part to building Cold War tensions with communist regimes. Inclusion of the phrase has been subject to court challenges ever since, with courts generally finding that the phrase is ceremonial and patriotic, rather than religious. Those who do not wish to recite the pledge are legally protected from being compelled to do so.

You might ask why we’re talking about the Pledge of Allegiance, and here’s our point: Even something that has been a universal part of the fabric of American life for more than a century can still be controversial — especially when it touches on issues of faith and spirituality.

That brings us to the recent concerns over an invocation offered prior to a Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting recently by a member of the Satanic Temple.

When the assembly first took up a proposal to remove the invocation from its agenda back in June, we noted that an invocation isn’t intended to be a sermon, but rather a request for wisdom, guidance or inspiration. In its discussion, assembly members concurred that guidelines for giving an invocation should be broad-based and inclusive, which we also suggested would be good advice for those seeking to give an invocation. We’re aware that guidelines can be subject to interpretation — what seems overly preachy to one person is the perfect inspiration to another.

The willingness of the assembly and the community to adhere to those guidelines has certainly been tested with recent invocations, leading at least one assembly member to propose changing the invocation to a moment of silence. There are others who wish the assembly would have taken up the measure to remove the invocation in the first place, rather than voting against introduction.

What’s the best solution? That’s hard to say. What we don’t want to see is an escalating battle of faiths. Inclusivity should encourage understanding differing points of view, not spark tension between them.

Keeping the invocation as part of the agenda means that, from time to time, we will here from someone whose religious views we disagree with. Letting it go means giving up what is meant to be a ceremonial function that has long been a part of public meetings — not unlike reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Perhaps a moment of silence is a good middle ground, but whatever decision the assembly reaches, someone will be giving up something in order to appease someone else.

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