The American flag. (Karsun Designs/FlickrCC)

In an age of maligning those who take a knee during the National Anthem, while shrieking of patriotism, I have found myself reciting the Pledge of Allegiance more than I have in years. While I stand with hand over heart, I ponder the words instead of blindly reciting them.

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America,

Notice, we pledge allegiance to the flag. We do not locate pictures of governors, senators, legislators or presidents; we do not pledge to the Republican or Democratic parties. Our flag consists of 13 stripes to represent the 13 original colonies. Fifty stars represent the current 50 states. Wyoming is one of those stars. White signifies purity and innocence. Red signifies valor and bravery. Blue signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice. That is what we pledge — allegiance to freedom, the innocent, valor, vigilance and justice. Wyoming would do well to take these ideals to heart.

and to the Republic for which it stands,

Our flag, beside the symbolism, represents our republic, not our government, a party or a pure democracy. Our Constitution never mentions democracy, nor does the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence or any other document forwarded by our Founding Fathers. In fact, our Founding Fathers did not want our country to be a democracy. They wanted our country to be a republic.

What is the difference? Succinctly, a true democracy is majority rule, period. While that sounds logical, is majority rule always right? How about that lynch mob? Majority rule. Thomas Jefferson stated, “A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49.” Benjamin Franklin said, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.”

The Wyoming Constitution, ratified in 1889, also embraces the ideals of a republic. 

Article 1, Section 7: “No absolute, arbitrary power. Absolute, arbitrary power over the lives, liberty and property of freemen exists nowhere in a republic, not even in the largest majority.”

And Article 1, Section 20. “Freedom of speech and press; libel; truth a defense. Every person may freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right.”

Contrast these with the Wyoming Republican Party’s threat to discipline Republican lawmakers who fail to vote in line with party instructions 80% of the time; the party’s declaration that while “the First Amendment applies to all Americans in affairs public, governmental and social, it does not supersede the conduct and expression within the confines of a private organization made up of voluntary constituents”; or the proliferation of RINO — Republican in name only — “hunting.” 

So much for allegiance to the flag, its people or to the republic! 

My hair is short. I rarely wear make-up. I am not a stay-at-home mother, nor a home-making wife. I supported myself through two master’s degrees, and have worked full-time my entire life. The employment benefits for my family have been provided by me. I have opinions which I am not afraid to state. Does that make me a woman-in-name-only? Who gets to make these judgement calls? Let’s review, folks: no absolute, arbitrary power.  

What makes a republic? Majority influence is recognized but limited. Minority rights are protected from majority rule. A republic is based upon the idea that its citizens have inalienable rights — rights that cannot be superseded despite the popularity of those who find them objectionable or inconvenient. A republic recognizes differences rather than forcing adherence to a monoculture. 

A republic recognizes a central government is necessary and good as long as it does not overstep its boundaries. Central government should not remove decision-making power from the individual or elected local control. 

A republic recognizes the separation between church and state, which protects both the church and the state. It should not make decisions involving procreative rights either for or against (hence the word “choice”). Neither should it dictate laws about sexuality or civil marriage. Nor should it interfere in what a church teaches its congregation or what a family teaches its children, unless said teaching is nefarious (causing actual physical or mental harm). 

A republic has frequent elections with protected and supported options — an election alone does not ensure liberty. In other words, if there is only one choice, if there are multiple choices that adhere to identical ideology, or if the elected choice will be ignored, this is not liberty. 

Lastly, to paraphrase the scholar Harold Pease, a republic is wary of the emotion of the masses. Not to say protest is not honored — it is the uncontrolled, high emotion of riot, intimidation, blind allegiance or fury that should be questioned. 

To continue Ben Franklin’s quotation about democracy, “Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” There are quite a few wolves prowling Cheyenne. I hope the lamb of our republic has the strength to stand for Liberty.

one Nation, under God, indivisible,

We are so trapped in the echo chambers of social media, political party, conservative right doctrine, latte liberal left doctrine, gender, race, social status, religion and ethnicity, we forget we are one nation and one state. The beauty of our country is its diversity. Lady Liberty says,

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses

yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of

your teeming shore

Send these, the homeless,

tempest-tossed to me:

I’ll lift my lamp beside

the golden door.

My family came from Ireland in the late 1600s. Another branch from Germany emigrated in the 1800s. One of my closest friends is a mixture of Cherokee and African American. My spouse has grandchildren who have South American and Chinese heritage. At one time, we all were the tired, poor masses yearning to breathe free; many still are. Some came of free will, some did not, and some were here long before. Regardless, we are one nation and one state; if we cannot find a way to live in respect and harmony, we will tear ourselves apart. My God may not be your God. But one thing all of our Gods have in common is the betterment of humankind. Frankly, to claim knowledge of the true mind of God is hubris I cannot nor will not stake. We cannot know the unknowable, nor understand the incomprehensible. If we are to be indivisible, then divisive rhetoric, prejudicial judgement, trolling, political grandstanding and moral superiority must stop.

with liberty and justice for all.

Let’s ask Taylor Blanchard — a female prisoner facing 6-10 years in prison, instead of the boot camp males can attend, until she sued Wyoming — just who liberty is for. Let’s ask Andrew Johnson, after 24 years in prison for a wrongful conviction, to whom our own Legislature refused to authorize compensation. Let’s talk about the immigration jail proposed by a private prison company to be located in Wyoming.

I encourage you to think of these words and meaning the next time you stand. 

I encourage Wyoming’s elected officials to recall that their duty is to represent all Wyoming people, not just the majority, and to protect our republic. 

Have you thought maybe those who kneel during the anthem are not disrespecting the content, but pointing out the hypocrisy? Maybe they paid attention to the words.

A woman inquired of Benjamin Franklin after the Constitutional Convention of 1787, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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Jeanne Raney

Jeanne Raney is a speech language pathologist who has worked in preschool, public school and medical settings working with the special needs population. She has a master’s in communication disorders...

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7 Comments

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  1. I disagree with this article. Wyoming legislators get voted into office agreeing to vote for the party platform. Too many times have we seen democrats flip to republican and then vote 100% democrat.

    This is unacceptable. Why do we have so many GOP legislators vote 100% against the GOP platform?

    The Frontier Republicans support voting against the GOP platform 100%. Why because they are liberals painted red.

  2. WITH LIBERTY & JUSTICE FOR ALL

    Sounds nice. Rarely executed without prejudice in practice. It’s a feel-good slogan that has never lived up to its promise like so many things in the USA. Justice is a moving target. Liberty is an illusion.

    “Let’s ask Taylor Blanchard — a female prisoner facing 6-10 years in prison, instead of the boot camp males can attend, until she sued Wyoming — just who liberty is for. Let’s ask Andrew Johnson, after 24 years in prison for a wrongful conviction, to whom our own Legislature refused to authorize compensation. Let’s talk about the immigration jail proposed by a private prison company to be located in Wyoming.”

    I get the impression that the writer would like to conflate enforcing immigration laws with the total injustice of locking up an innocent man for 24 years. As if there is any correlation. Liberty does not mean you are free to break our laws. Justice does not mean you can break our laws without consequences.

    Wave your flag, pray to it, pledge allegiance to it, sell your soul to it, wrap your identity around it if it makes you feel better. Get out the wallet if you want freedom, liberty, justice, or citizenship. It’s always for sale.

  3. BRAVO FOR THIS WELL THOUGHT OUT DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF THE WORDS OF THE PLEDGE.. TOO OFTEN IT IS A CREDO THAT WE ARE APPLYING SELECTIVELY MORE AND MORE AS YEARS PASS..

  4. Probably one the better essays on the state of our civic life I have read lately. Our political discussions, our electioneering, campaigning, and our approach to our local, state and federal government are nearly in shambles. Why? Many reasons including but not limited to excessive partisanship, information technology and our societal failure to adapt to its negatives, and importantly, a general bitterness due to many economic and social factors. Republicans and Democrats both fight and seek to divide each other over purity tests seemingly leaving no room for subtle differences and nuances of opinion. We follow this pernicious path at our peril. A reawakening of the values articulated here would serve us all well. This is not some Pollyanna go along to get along pablum. This strikes at the core of or nation and our beliefs, regardless of party. Thank you.

  5. Excellent discussion of the “Pledge”, Jeanne!
    We said it every morning in Catholic grade school, and high school.
    The Pledge rings different bells for different people.
    I get kinda choked-up saying it, like singing the national anthem.
    The way to honor those words, is to behave accordingly,
    “…with liberty and justice for all…”.
    Thank you for encouraging our lawmakers and representatives
    to follow these foundational rules & ideals for our republic.

  6. Ms. Raney’s “woman-in-name-only” comment made me chuckle. I am frequently called a “traitor-to-my-gender” for my anti-abortion views, so I know very well that those judgements are out there.