The Problem With Pledge

An article in the Loudoun Extra last Sunday ["Father's Objection to Pledge Rejected"] expanded on news that a federal appeals court had turned down my request to declare the Pledge of Allegiance ritual in public schools unconstitutional by enumerating my recent political activism that greatly irritates local government. What on the surface seems like a trivial pursuit is a careful use of symbolism to amplify that I as a parent refuse to allow government to exercise eminent domain over my children's moral and religious development.

There is a political constituency that believes that civic morality is derived from government itself. Thus the Pledge of Allegiance ritual and "In God We Trust" posters in public schools are part of an effort to indoctrinate children into believing that government is God's agent here on earth.

Phrases such as "God bless America" and public prayer at government meetings are necessary to maintain a divine mandate that elevates government institutions into sacred institutions. Public servants (soldiers, police, firefighters, teachers, politicians) are the saints in this civil religion.

In contrast, I believe government is simply a system of laws for the purpose of civil order. My relationship to God is through family and church and does not pass through the government. I don't need to adore the flag to be a law-abiding citizen because my God's commandment to love my neighbor only requires respect for government's job of maintaining civil order. I refuse to acknowledge the God that government has chosen for us by making him part of a patriotic oath.

Proponents of the pledge scoff that children's morals aren't compromised because the Virginia law that mandates a pledge ritual also says that children can opt out for "any reason" by remaining seated. My children report that teachers and staff routinely reject as unacceptable such reasons as finishing breakfast or showing friendship and solidarity with my children by joining them in opting out. Even worse, substitute teachers assume my children are misbehaving and punish them by making them stand and recite the pledge. I have enrolled my youngest child in private school because as a kindergartner he is not prepared to defend his rights.

Educators extend the concept that government is the pillar of morality from patriotism into lessons on sex and drugs. Last year's controversy over a high school play that depicted homosexuality in a positive light illustrates the problem of schools overruling parents in developing a child's character.

Since morality is absolute, government cannot be the fount of moral instruction without oppressing those religious minorities with differing views.

This past year Loudoun County sheriff's deputies -- in violation of Virginia statutes -- taught an anti-drug program dressed in paramilitary uniforms. The lesson children learned is that those carrying guns get to ignore the rules and government workers are such saints that we need not hold them accountable to the rule of law.

Likewise, the school bus drivers added flag decals to their buses in violation of state regulations. When I protested by adding a peel-off burning flag to my children's bus, the administration was livid and those same officers who thought that the law should be interpreted liberally when applied to them were quite willing to charge me with every conceivable infraction for daring to challenge the sanctity of government.

I propose a wager for those who think I am making mountains out of molehills. I will stop demanding that my children be absent during the pledge if the school district issues a news release declaring that a different religion's deity will be used in the pledge each week.

If virtually no one is offended when children recite, for example, one nation under Allah, one nation under Yahweh or one nation under Zeus, I will happily concede that the 4th Circuit judges are correct that the pledge is about patriotism and not religion.

Edward R. Myers


Don't Count HCA Out

Two letters concerning HCA Inc. and its attempt to capture the lion's share of Loudoun's lucrative health care market both missed their marks ["HCA Should Reassess" and "No Means No," Loudoun Extra, Aug. 14].

Just as the "property rights" people gloated prematurely over the Virginia Supreme Court decision on zoning, so a similar danger exists for supporters of Inova Loudoun Hospital following the Board of Supervisors recent action against HCA Inc.

The decision was not so much based upon medical care in the moral sense, as it was upon capitalism in its immoral sense. Darwinian economics, rather than arrogance, drives today's modern medicine as a business rather than a profession.

Since the three most important considerations for success in business are location, location, location, in this respect, the Broadlands location for HCA has it all over South Riding.

Three important sources of revenue for hospitals are coronary artery bypass surgery, gastrointestinal illnesses and special needs for children. None succeeds in these endeavors like the Washington Hospital Center and Children's Hospital, both located in nearby Washington.

A modern hospital in Broadlands would place HCA in the important position to intercept this lucrative flow of monetary resources, whereas a location in South Riding would not.

This fact was amply demonstrated by a similar attempt some years back to build a no-expenses-barred, modern medical facility in Scotland under the concept that "if you built it, people would come." Today the facility stands as an important memorial to the failure of that adage when applied to medicine.

Where life-threatening illnesses are concerned, the victims often find themselves at the mercy of convenience rather than a history of successful outcomes.

The soldier severely wounded on the front lines cares little as to whether the "doc" is board certified.

Lest we forget, HCA already has an approved certificate of need from the Virginia state health commissioner allowing it to build a hospital in Loudoun. All HCA has to do is bide its time while spending a bit more of its deep pocket change in the political arena, guided by one of its own, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, Bill Frist, whose father helped start the Nashville-based hospital chain.

If it isn't this Board of Supervisors that will approve its request, it will be another gaggle of newly elected "wascally wepublicans."

HCA did not get where it is today by backing off its goals, in spite of agreeing to pay millions in fines, penalties and civil damages to the government following a Medicare fraud investigation that began in the mid-1990s.

To a for-profit organization, this is "the price of doing business," especially in today's dog-eat-dog medical arena, where competitive success often requires pushing the legal envelope.

When the chips are down, my guess is that HCA will be standing tall and in charge of Loudoun's medical viewshed while Inova facilities will be considered medical outhouses, 100 yards too close in the summer and 100 yards too far in the winter, except for the proximate, desperately impoverished few.

Lawrence V. Phillips

Round Hill