Flag Salute, Anthems and Voting
Perhaps one of the most sensitive areas of our children’s interaction with the schools involves patriotic observances. We realize that deep feelings may be involved, and we appreciate very much those teachers who handle the various situations with sensitivity and understanding. An explanation of why Jehovah’s Witnesses do not participate in patriotic observances may be helpful.
Historical evidence indicates that the first Christians did not involve themselves in political affairs. As Jesus said of them: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.” (John 17:16) Rather, they shared a common allegiance to a heavenly government, God’s Kingdom. New York educators Eugene A. Colligan and Maxwell F. Littwin said regarding them in the book From the Old World to the New: “They preferred the Kingdom of God to any kingdom that they might serve on earth.”
In this respect early Christians followed closely the example set by Jesus Christ, and Jehovah’s Witnesses today try to live up to that standard. (John 6:15; 18:36) Note how textbooks comment on the neutral position Christ’s early followers took toward political affairs:
“Early Christianity was little understood and was regarded with little favor by those who ruled the pagan world. . . . Christians refused to share certain duties of Roman citizens. . . . They would not hold political office.”—On the Road to Civilization, A World History (1937), by Albert K. Heckel and James G. Sigman, pages 237, 238.
“The Roman government called the Christians enemies of the state. They would not serve in the Roman army. They refused to salute the emperor’s statue, which meant the same to Roman society that a nation’s flag does to citizens today. They were loyal only to their religion.”—Man—His World and Cultures (1974), by Edith McCall, Evalyn Rapparlie and Jack Spatafora, pages 67, 68.
As you may appreciate, following a similar course of neutrality today affects our young people’s participation in a number of school exercises and activities. What conscientious position on these matters have Jehovah’s Witnesses taken earth wide?
The Flag Salute
Even though we do not salute the flag of any nation, this certainly is not meant to indicate disrespect. We do respect the flag of whatever country we live in, and we show this respect by obedience to the country’s laws. We never engage in antigovernment activity of any kind. In fact, we believe that present human governments constitute an “arrangement of God” that he has temporarily permitted to exist. So we consider ourselves under divine command to pay taxes, tribute and honor to such “superior authorities.”—Romans 13:1-7.
‘But why, then,’ you may ask, ‘do you not honor the flag by saluting it?’ It is because we view the flag salute as an act of worship. Although we do not discourage others from saluting the flag, we cannot conscientiously give what we view as worship to anyone or anything except our God, Jehovah. (Matthew 4:10) Of course, many people do not consider the flag sacred or that saluting it is an act of worship. However, consider what secular authorities say about this:
“The flag, like the cross, is sacred. . . . The rules and regulations relative to human attitude toward national standards use strong, expressive words, as, ‘Service to the Flag,’ . . . ‘Reverence for the Flag,’ ‘Devotion to the Flag.’”—The Encyclopedia Americana (1942), Volume 11, page 316.
“Nationalism’s chief symbol of faith and central object of worship is the flag, and curious liturgical forms have been devised for ‘saluting’ the flag, for ‘dipping’ the flag, for ‘lowering’ the flag, and for ‘hoisting’ the flag. Men bare their heads when the flag passes by; and in praise of the flag poets write odes and children sing hymns.”—What Americans Believe and How They Worship (1952), by J. Paul Williams, pages 359, 360.
You may feel that the above are extreme views. However, it is interesting that in the colonial days of America the Puritans objected to the British flag because of its red cross of “Saint” George. According to The Encyclopædia Britannica (1910-1911), they did this, “not from any disloyalty to the mother country, but from a conscientious objection to what they deemed an idolatrous symbol.”
One of the Ten Commandments forbids making an object to worship with “a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath.” (Exodus 20:4, 5) As Christians, we also feel bound by the Bible’s command to ‘guard ourselves from idols.’—1 John 5:21.
We appreciate it when teachers are understanding regarding our beliefs and help our children to abide by them. Others have expressed an understanding of the position we have taken that the flag salute is related to worship, as the following comments show:
“Christians refused to . . . sacrifice to the [Roman] emperor’s genius—roughly equivalent today to refusing to salute the flag or repeat the oath of allegiance.”—Those About to Die (1958), by Daniel P. Mannix, page 135.
“The key assumption is that saluting a flag constitutes an act of religious devotion. . . . This view, while odd, is not entirely without biblical support. . . . If saluting is a religious act, then it is forbidden by God’s law however worthy the object of respect. In other words, refusal to salute need imply no disrespect for flag or country.”—Render Unto Caesar, The Flag-Salute Controversy (1962), David R. Manwaring, assistant professor of political science, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, page 32.
We would like to emphasize that we intend no disrespect for any government or its rulers by our refusal to salute the flag. It is just that we will not, in an act of worship, bow down to or salute an image representing the State, like the one Nebuchadnezzar raised up in the plain of Dura, or like the modern flags of the nations. (Daniel 3:1-30) Significantly, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a historic reversal of a previous decision, stated:
“We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.”—West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943).
So then, while others salute and pledge allegiance, our children stand quietly during the flag salute ceremony. But if, for some reason, the flag ceremony is conducted in such a way that simply standing gives evidence of one’s participation in the ceremony, our young ones remain seated. In addition, our youths do not march in patriotic parades, which would show their support of the thing honored by the parade. We remain neutral.
National Anthems and School Songs
A national anthem often is, in effect, a hymn or a prayer set to music. The Encyclopedia Americana (1956) says: “Love of fatherland and pride in one’s country are the keynotes of most national anthems, and in many, religious feeling is blended with patriotic sentiment.” Actually, patriotic songs express the same fundamental ideas that are embodied in the pledge of allegiance to the flag. And since there is no Scriptural basis for the nationalistic pride that has so divided our world, we do not join in singing songs that extol any earthly nation.—Acts 17:26; John 17:15, 16.
When national anthems are played, usually all that a person has to do to show that he shares the sentiments of the song is to stand up. In such cases, Witness youths remain seated. However, if our youths are already standing when the national anthem is played, they would not have to take the special action of sitting down; it is not as though they had specifically stood up for the anthem. On the other hand, if a group are expected to stand and sing, then our young people may rise and stand out of respect. But they would show that they do not share the sentiments of the song by refraining from singing.
Do school songs come into the same category as national anthems? Yes, they are viewed the same way by those in the school as national anthems are by the nations. They are often sung with religious fervor and with cheers. Our youths do not share the sentiments of such songs.
Elective Offices and Positions
In many schools, students are voted into an office or a position, such as class president. Some schools have small-scale political campaigns, including campaign buttons and posters advertising candidates. The purpose is to familiarize young people with the machinery of politics. However, Witness youths do not mix in school politics, either by accepting an elective office or by voting others into office. So if either nominated for or elected to an office, they tactfully decline. In this way they follow the example of Jesus who withdrew when the people wanted to make him king.—John 6:15.
However, we consider an appointment by the teacher as something different. So if Witness youths are appointed to help in traffic direction or some other such activity, they are encouraged to cooperate to the extent possible.
Of course, our young ones realize that not all voting is political. Sometimes students are called on by the teacher to give their opinions. There may be no violation of Bible principles to express one’s preference for certain activities or to provide one’s appraisal of a talk or composition. When persons express opinions by a show of hands as to the quality of something, this is not the same as electing another politically to an office.
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“They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.”—John 17:16
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Jehovah’s Witnesses view the flag salute as an act of worship
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“Christians refused to . . . sacrifice to the [Roman] emperor’s genius—roughly equivalent today to refusing to salute the flag”
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As faithful Hebrew youths refused to worship an image of the State, so Jehovah’s Witnesses do not salute the flag
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Witness youths do not mix in school politics