Rep. Mike Yantachka
All members of the Vermont House of Representatives meet at least once a day as a body during the legislative session to consider the bills on the day’s calendar.
These floor sessions begin with an invocation delivered most of the time by a member of the clergy. The Reverend Susan Cooke Kittredge, Associate Pastor of the Charlotte Congregational Church, has done so several times. On other occasions a musical performance by an individual or a group will be provided, and occasionally a member of the House will provide a reflection. Last week it was my privilege to offer some thoughts for consideration. The motto on the currency of the U.S., E Pluribus Unum, translates to “Out of Many, One.” That motto and the Pledge of Allegiance inspired my thoughts and the following comments.
Every Tuesday morning we begin by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. The last line of that pledge includes the phrase, “with Liberty and Justice for All.” What does the word “All” mean?
Some people think it means citizens of our country and nothing more. But I would suggest that the composer of this pledge meant it to include all human beings. The pledge was composed in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister’s son from upstate New York. While there is considerable documentation about different iterations of the pledge from the original text, there is no documentation as to what Mr. Bellamy considered the word “All” to mean. What we do know is that in the post-Civil War era, the idea included those who were at one time enslaved. Since then, waves of immigrants have come to America from various places—Ireland, Eastern Europe, Italy, Latin America, Asia and Africa—and from every corner of the globe, and each wave, other than enslaved persons who were forced to come, faced resistance from those who were already here.
Like immigrants that came before them, today’s immigrants generally start out near the bottom of the economic ladder and, with hard work driven by a vision of a better life for their children, rise over generations to a place higher on the ladder. Many, perhaps most, of us here today can recognize our own grandparents or great-grandparents in today’s immigrants. This illustrates a simple fact: Our differences are superficial. At our core, we are all alike.
Those who seek to focus on the perceived differences among us—color, race, ethnicity, gender preference, religion, even politics—create division and weaken us as a society. The true cement that binds us together is love, altruistic love, agape in Greek. It is the core belief of the Judeo-Christian tradition as expressed in the Greatest Commandments to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves. And who is our neighbor? Jesus answered the question with the parable of the Good Samaritan at a time when the Samaritans were the outcasts of the Judaic community. It is expressed in the Quran in which the Prophet states that it is the duty of believers to “show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and to the neighbor that is a stranger.”
In his new book, “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?” Bill McKibben states, “Another name for human solidarity is love, and when I think about our world in its present form, that is what overwhelms me. The human love that works to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, the love that comes together in defense of sea turtles and sea ice and of all else around us that is good. The love that lets each of us see we’re not the most important thing on earth and makes us okay with that. The love that welcomes us, imperfect, into the world and surrounds us when we die.”
So, if we really mean it when we pledge Liberty and Justice for All, it truly has to be for all, and our actions should reflect it.