Freedom's just another thing we never want to lose

Patriotism is a fine thing, but it has to be voluntary, or it's meaningless. Some states are rushing to make the pledge of allegiance, for instance, mandatory in every class. That sounds fine, except there are some religions that hold that allegiance can be pledged only to God, not to a flag or to a state.
In Pennsylvania, where such a bill was passed by state representatives last Tuesday, pupils would have to obtain written permission from their parents to be exempt from reciting the pledge or singing the anthem at the beginning of the school day. The Pennsylvania Senate would be wise to quietly jettison this measure before it necessarily winds up in court.
Freedom of speech: The First Amendment has made freedom of speech an inviolable American right. And parents should not have to be forced to demand that their children be permitted to exercise those rights.
Rather than mandating the recitation of a 31-word pledge that was written by a school superintendent for a Columbus Day celebration in 1892 and has been modified several times since then, legislatures should do far more to strengthen the public school teaching of American history and institutions. American values are reinforced when children -- and all of their teachers, not just those who teach social studies -- understand the Declaration of Inde pendence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the true foundation of our democratic republic.
Respect for democracy: It is those documents, written by this nation's founders, and in the case of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, voted on by elected representatives, which demand respect. And such respect is not expressed by those states rushing to punish anti-war professors at state universities. If we learned anything from the '60s, it should be that trying to suppress protest only encourages more protest.
In fact, the protests today -- such as they are -- have hardly risen to the level of those during the Vietnam War. As yesterday's Years Ago column reminded us, in 1967 tens of thousands of anti-war protesters marched in Washington, D.C. Certainly, the situation then was different from now: neither the United States had been attacked, nor thousands of its civilians slain. Still, in every war there have been truly conscientious objectors, and their right to oppose war and killing must be protected -- just as the rights of those who advocate bombing Vietnam or Afghanistan back to the Stone Age must also be protected.
The radical fundamentalists whom we battle would have everyone recite the same prayers and say the same words or suffer severe punishment. We must not allow them to, in effect, dictate how Americans will behave.