Free-thinking the Pledge: Sequim man skips flag, asks allegiance to U.S. Constitution
By Diane Urbani de la Paz, Peninsula Daily News
SEQUIM, WA - It was time to say the Pledge of Allegiance, but the group was hamstrung. Nobody could find a flag.
"We scrambled around until we found a little flag pin," said Clint Jones, recalling a Clallam County Charter Review Commission meeting of a few months ago.
Pledging allegiance to the pin seemed silly, to say the least.
So Jones, a 79-year-old retired opera singer, seized the opportunity to advance a new version of the Pledge.
This one skips the flag's symbolism and goes straight to the U.S. Constitution.
At a Democratic Party meeting earlier this month, Jones and 40 standing members recited:
"We, the people, pledge allegiance to the Constitution and Bill of Rights of the United States of America and the Republic, which protect and guarantee our life, liberty, pursuit of happiness and the freedom of choice to all, regardless of race, religion or economic status and equality of gender."
On Monday - Constitution Day, which commemorates the signing of the national document on Sept. 17, 1787 - a display advertisement purchased by Jones was published in the Peninsula Daily News.
In the $500 ad, he included his version of the Pledge and noted that it had been recited at the Democrats' September meeting and at a Green Party meeting where impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney was discussed.
On Saturday, the county Democratic Central Committee unanimously passed a resolution supporting the impeachment of Bush and Cheney.
Jones, for his part, said impeachment doesn't necessarily mean removal of the leaders.
To him it means "restoring the Constitution," and exercising the rights it guarantees.
This week in Clallam County, however, Jones simply wants to raise the profile of the Constitution, and put his version of the Pledge out there for discussion.
"I wanted to put it on a billboard," Jones said of the Pledge he wrote with his wife, Viva, a retired elementary school principal, and three other retired teachers.
He was quoted $7,000 a month for billboard rental.
He said he'd have to get a group together to raise that kind of money.
In his newspaper ad, Jones listed his home phone number and e-mail address - and said he's received no negative responses.
"Can you give me more information as to how we can bring this about?" asked one reader.
Jones has plenty of ideas on how to convert to what he sees as a more meaningful pledge.
First, post the Bill of Rights in every classroom, and have students pledge allegiance to it. Eventually they'll give thought to its contents, he said.
"I want to set up a discussion group about the Constitution," he added.
Jones is cofounder of the Strait Freethinkers, a group that meets on the third Thursday of the month, usually at the Port Angeles or Sequim library.
Yet Jones acknowledges that "a lot of people are afraid to come out against something like this. They're afraid to speak out against the mores of the moment . . . we are social animals."
He said, "It's up to public to make this possible," hoping that people will encourage school boards to adopt it.
"I'm not making any money on this."
Jones is also the inventor of the Dandy Digger, a weed-removal tool - and a person who sought to change the spelling of Sequim in 2000.
When he ordered parts for his Dandy Diggers, delivery services kept sending them to Sekiu, Jones said, so he pushed for dropping the "e" from Sequim to make it less similar to the West End town.
Jones has yet to persuade the U.S. Postal Service or United Parcel Service to spell it "Squim," but he's had his own address labels printed with that spelling.
He said he's sold about 4,000 Dandy Diggers, which range in price from $32 to $52.50.
The Pledge of Allegiance, written in 1892 by schoolteacher Francis Bellamy, originally read, "I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands; one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
The words "under God" came later, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved them on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.
"We are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future," Eisenhower wrote.
"We shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war."
Today, federal law requires public schools to lead the Pledge daily.
While students don't have to recite it, they are required to stand and show respect, said Tricia Billes, a history teacher at Sequim Middle School.
The Bill of Rights hangs on her classroom wall, and Billes relishes teaching her kids about the Constitution - and how the Bill of Rights' freedoms come with responsibilities.
But "the Pledge of Allegiance is so controversial," she said.
In just the past six years, the "under God" clause has been ruled unconstitutional by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals - and then ruled acceptable for public-school recitation by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Some students have chosen the Pledge of Allegiance as a topic for required civics research papers.
"It's a wonderful thing to talk about," with young people, Billes added.
As for the Constitution, "they understand the freedoms in the First Amendment," including speech, press and religion.
"They know freedom of speech means they have the right to criticize the government, and how important it is."
Jones enjoys that right, too.
He disagrees with the current administration's policies on just about everything - while revering the Constitution.
Jones said the 220-year-old document, with its 27 amendments, has played a major role in his good life.
He was born in Los Angeles and has roamed the world, moving to Naples, Italy, and New York City to study and sing opera, then back to California, where he was a salesman and advertising business owner.
"People my age have lived through the best years of our nation," he said.
"This Constitution has served me for 80 years. It's given me the freedom to live as I do. I owe it something."
Sequim Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CLINT JONES' STRAIT Freethinkers, a discussion group for skeptics, will meet for a potluck at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Black Diamond Community Hall, 1942 Black Diamond Road, just outside Port Angeles.
For information and to arrange carpools, phone 360-683-5648 or 360-670-9078.
To respond to Jones' new version of pledging allegiance, which focuses on the U.S. Constitution rather than the flag, e-mail email@example.com or phone 360-681-0101.