A clarification about the pledge

Published 8:10 pm Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Like most journalists, I hate clarifications. Running a clarification in your newspaper is prima facie evidence that whatever you’re clarifying was not clear enough in the first place.

So it was with a column I wrote for Sunday’s paper (“Take transparency out of the shadows”).

As is so often the case with clarifications and corrections, it wasn’t the main argument of my column that caused the problems. Instead, it was something intended as a bit of a throwaway line, an appetizer tossed into the introductory paragraph on the way to the main course that followed.

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But the unpleasant note struck by an inelegant juxtaposition of the pledge of allegiance and an empty, procedural vote to affirm open government left a bad taste in the mouths of some who read the column.

Calling the latter “utterly without meaning,” I left room for readers to interpret me as saying that I felt the same way about the pledge of allegiance.

Let me be perfectly clear here: I recite the pledge with conviction and respect, and I take it as a given that Suffolk’s elected and appointed officials do, as well. Such a recitation should be, by definition, fraught with meaning.

Furthermore, regular readers will recognize that I have a healthy love and respect for the flag to which we pledge allegiance, to the republic for which it stands and to the many brave and selfless men and women who have died trying to protect them. But not everyone who read Sunday’s column would have been a regular reader, so I wanted to take this chance to be completely clear.

Within the same sentence, I mentioned “the nondenominational, deity-neutral invocation of nobody’s name in particular” that is part of the City Council’s regular meeting tradition. Such a prayer is meaningless, I wrote.

Such is the shorthand of opinion columns that I failed to acknowledge the pressure council must feel on this issue because of the potential threat of prayer-related litigation. And in the interest of saving space, I omitted a bit of appropriate qualification for the sweeping statement I made. Here it is: As an evangelical Christian, I believe in one God who answers prayer and has promised that wherever one or two are gathered in His name, there He is, too. I also believe prayers that do not acknowledge His sovereignty or that are prayed for the glorification of the person praying, rather than God’s, will be ineffective, at best.

But I don’t know the hearts of those on City Council. Only God does. He can judge their motives and sincerity. That’s not my job. I have enough on my hands some days, just trying to be sure I communicate clearly.