I pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.
How many times have you said it? Hundreds? Thousands? 31 simple words. We repeat them as a matter of rote. How many times have we really thought about these words and what they mean?
I recently had the deep honor to attend the Naturalization Oath Ceremony. My friend Muhammad Maaita was taking the Oath along with 60 other proud soon to be Americans. They came from dozens of different countries, from all over the globe, but they all shared to common desire to become US Citizens, they had met the requirements of residency (most, like Muhammad, five years), they had passed the English test exhibiting the ability to read, write and speak English, they had passed the civics exam showing an understanding of US history, our form of government and the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. They gathered today to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.
If they were all half excited as Muhammad, this group of new Americans will be a model for groups to come. The smile on his face was contagious!
As we sat there watching the ceremony unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder, how many of us who have been born into citizenship could pass the tests? English? Ok, maybe most of us. But, Civics? I don’t know about you, but I hated Civics class in high school (funny from a guy that grew up to love Lewis and Clark and other figures from US History). Could you pass it? Take the practice test. I double dog dare you (and post your score)…I missed FOUR!!! Pretty lame!
OK…assume you passed all the requirements…now raise your right hand and repeat after me…
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”
Hmmm….140 words. 140 words vs. 31 words. Read them again…go ahead, I’ll wait…….Wow! What a difference THAT would make, if we ALL had to take this oath and if we ALL had to live by this oath.
Many peoples, many religions, formalize the Rite of Passage, or the Coming of Age, that time when we move from childhood to adulthood. The forms and ceremonies differ dramatically, but they all symbolize the same three stages: withdrawing or separation from the current state, transition between states, and finally re-incorporation into the community. You could say the college experience embodies these three phases: the student leaves home (separation), studies and learns (transition) and finally graduates and heads out on a career (re-incorporation).
Here, within the Native American cultures that lived the lands hundreds of years ago this rite of passage was vitally important, many times signified by the person taking a new name, an outward symbol that they were not the same person as before.
The Oath of Naturalization follows the same three phases. Once expressed, the individual is incorporated into the body of citizens of the United States. What if we ALL had to pass the tests? What if we ALL had to take the Oath? What if we ALL followed this rite of passage? I believe we would be a stronger people, a stronger country, a more bonded people.
Witnessing this event, made me proud to be an American, made me proud of Muhammad and his rite of passage, and made me proud to be Muhammad’s friend.