If you have to stand and salute it, then you ought to be allowed to burn it

Pledging allegiance to the flag can help to establish patriotic identity, says Andrea Loux, but it can also encourage a slide into nationalism

As an American teaching public law in the UK, I was struck when listening to recent debates on whether British schoolchildren should salute the flag by the naivety of those commentators who suggest adopting a US- style ceremony without legal protections, such as a Bill of Rights.

The debate was sparked by the recent comments of Dr Tate, the Government's curriculum adviser, about the need for all schoolchildren to be taught their national identity. According to news reports, in the United States saying the pledge of allegiance is supposed to make every schoolchild "feel American".

Saluting the flag did make me feel American, but in a way that would not please the Republican majority of the US Congress, who made the pledge of allegiance an electoral issue in the 1988 presidential campaign and who now threaten to amend the Bill of Rights to ban flag burning.

When I was four years old and entered the local state kindergarten, before I learnt to tie my shoes I learnt to say the Pledge of Allegiance. This was followed by singing "My Country 'tis of Thee", a patriotic song to the tune of "God Save the Queen", but replacing those words with "From every mountainside let freedom ring!" Ask any schoolchild to write down the pledge of allegiance and you will get a plethora of renditions, since four-year-olds do not know what words like "allegiance" mean. Nevertheless, phrases such as "liberty and justice for all" pervade the consciousness of American children.

By 1968, when America was at war with itself, the pledge of allegiance had taken on a different meaning. I learnt that it was my constitutional right not to say the pledge of allegiance. I sat through the pledge, marvelling at the power of the constitution that allowed me to defy my teachers and parents.

The pledge of allegiance became for me a symbol of protest, as would the flag itself in a series of celebrated Supreme Court decisions, including the decision in "US v Eichman", which denied Congress the power to prohibit desecration of this most potent of political symbols.

The pledge of allegiance did indeed teach me what it means to be an American. It inculcated in me the culture of constitutional rights and taught me that being American is about the right to be different and to dissent from authority in whatever form, be it teachers, parents, the church or the government.

Along with most Britons, I have often laughed at the showy patriotism of Americans; I could laugh because my compatriots' flags did not threaten me. The danger of such symbols as saluting the flag or singing the national anthem comes when their meaning cannot be contested, when the government can declare that being American or British has only one meaning.

History and newspapers show that the line between patriotism and the more dangerous nationalism is a fine one. As the US Congress considers constitutionally banning flag burning, the British should take heed and realise that imposing cultural symbols and meanings is playing with fire.

The author is lecturer in public law at Lancaster University.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

    £20000 per annum + commission: SThree: Sthree have an exciting opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £32,000+

    £18000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

    £50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?