National pledge necessary for nation building

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THIS past week I have come across numerous articles reporting on the hullabaloo by certain politicians over the introduction of a national pledge in Zimbabwe’s schools.
People’s Democratic Party leader Tendai Biti, who is a lawyer, has said the pledge is fascist and is offering to take up the matter in the courts, if someone comes forward to challenge it.
“This so-called pledge infringes on the children’s rights to conscience,” he said.
“Children have a right not to do or sign anything they do not believe in or agree to.
“And their parents or guardians have a right to protect them against such abuse.
“It is reminiscent of autocratic regimes and does not add any value to the people.”
MDC-T spokesperson, Obert Gutu said the pledge flew in the face of the country’s Constitution.
“We cannot have a so-called national pledge that is totally out of sync with the dictates of our founding values and principles as a nation,” he said.
“One can safely argue that the so-called national pledge violates the right to human dignity as espoused in Section 51 (of the Constitution) and it can also be viewed as some form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of Section 53 of the country’s supreme law.”
The Zimbabwe national pledge reads:
“Almighty God in whose hands our future lies, I salute the national flag.
“United in our diversity, by our common desire for freedom, justice and equality; respecting brave mothers and fathers who lost their lives in the Chimurenga/Umvukela and national liberation struggles, we are proud inheritors of our rich natural resources.
“We are proud creators and participants in our vibrant traditions and cultures.
“We commit to honesty and dignity of hard work.”
In America, one of the cornerstones of an educational day can be saying the pledge of allegiance in school.
For many, it is one of the main tasks which is completed at the beginning of the day.
The US Pledge of allegiance reads:
“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.”
The Pledge of Allegiance has not been without controversy as legal challenges to the pledge are frequently founded on the basis of freedom of religion.
As a result, since 1943 public schools have been disallowed from punishing students for not reciting the pledge.
Nonetheless, it remains taught to and expected of school children in many schools, as the courts leave many details in such matters up to respective state governments.
One of Congress’s reasons for adding ‘under God’ to the pledge was to explain America’s disagreement with the Soviet Union about the nature of human rights.
The Soviets claimed that people receive their rights from the State and therefore the State can take those rights away.
In contrast, Congress said it was using the phrase ‘under God’ to make clear that basic human rights are beyond the reach of the State.
In his inaugural address, President J. F. Kennedy is quoted as having said: “The rights of man, come not from the generosity of the State, but from the Hand of God.”
Courts across the country recognise that the phrase ‘under God’, instead of acting like a prayer or religious creed, communicates timeless American values.
On June 14 2004, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the pledge, holding that the plaintiff, atheist activist Dr Michael Newdow, did not have proper standing to challenge the pledge.
On March 11 2010, a second challenge from Dr Newdow in California was rebuffed by the federal appeals court for the 9th Circuit, which held, ‘that the Pledge of Allegiance does not violate the Establishment Clause because Congress’ ostensible and predominant purpose was to inspire patriotism’.
On November 12 2010, a third challenge by Dr Newdow, this time in New Hampshire, was flatly rejected by the federal appeals court for the 1st Circuit because, ‘both the choice to engage in the recitation of the Pledge and the choice not to do so are entirely voluntary’.
On May 9 2014, Massachusetts’ highest state court unanimously rejected the American Humanist Association’s attack on the pledge, finding that, ‘the pledge, notwithstanding its reference to God, is a fundamentally patriotic exercise, not a religious one’.
And on February 4 2015, a New Jersey teenager and her family successfully protected the right of all her fellow students to continue reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in its entirety from the American Humanist Association’s latest effort to take ‘under God’ out of the Pledge.
Coming to Zimbabwe, national unity is a rather fragile concept and what better way to boost patriotism than to teach the next generation that as diverse as Zimbabweans are, they all have one home.
By having a national pledge, is Zimbabwe not laying the ground work to foster active participation by children in a context that by far and large will put an end to the politics of the individual and strengthen the realisation that through collective responsibility this country can achieve greater heights?

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