By Sergio Legorreta
It’s often easy for us to overlook what we believe is someone else’s problem. Especially if we don’t know there is a problem to begin with.
A little more than a week ago, a Florida man attended a local city0 commission meeting. He was asked to stand for a beginning invocation and the pledge of allegiance. When he did not oblige, the mayor had a police officer escort him out.
A crowd of 150 people looked on as the man was escorted out of the meeting. Not one of them stood up for him. After all, what was the problem?
The man could have agreed to stand for the invocation that was strangely reminiscent of a Christian prayer for a government meeting: “Father, we thank you for bringing us together tonight … we thank you for allowing us to be in a country where we are free to believe and think and pray.”
While invocations are allowed to include secular prayers, it seems as if referring to a particular “Father,” may make the prayer more religious than secular.
Nonetheless, it’s surely good to give thanks for living in a free country.
He could have agreed to stand for the pledge of allegiance. The mayor said his decision not to stand was “simply not fair to our troops.”
It’s surely good to respect and honor our troops who risk their lives.
So what was the problem?
There was no visible violence, but the mayor’s actions were an attack on the man and his First Amendment rights.
No one should have to stand at attention to peaceably attend a government meeting; the mayor’s coercing was a harsh violation of the man’s right to participate in the meeting.
Even further, the mayor’s actions go against what the values he supposedly believes – his actions create a country that is not free to believe and think and pray. Our country’s freedom suffers and we become bound as we are forced to believe, think and pray the way those in charge want us to. We are forced to comply and follow meaningless orders.
Refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance is not disrespectful – it is an exercise of our rights and our free speech. Rather, it is disrespectful to infringe, violate, and ignore our constitutional rights.
What is most disturbing is not the abuse of power in the name of virtue or respect. That is practically a given. What is most disturbing is the fact that no one pointed out the abuse. No one defended the man who was attacked.
Perhaps no one truly realized there was a problem, and that is a problem in itself. But once we see someone abused, we must defend them like we would defend ourselves. Because their problems are not merely their own – they are our problems too. When someone else’s freedom is taken away, our freedom is at stake too.
When one of us is wrongly isolated and abused in a multitude of people, we should hope that someone would defend us. And that begins with us.
Sergio Legorreta is a senior business journalism major from Kingwood. He is a reporter for the Lariat.