Imagine that you go to a football game in the United States. The announcer asks the crowd to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance. Everyone stands and faces the flag. Except you. In this thought experiment you’re a citizen of the United States and a patriot. You were born in America and you served with honor in the military. But you don’t like pledges. It feels too brainwashy. So in a demonstration of free speech, you sit it out.
How does that go over with the rest of the crowd?
They might kick your ass. They might spill beer on you by “accident.” But they definitely won’t be making you any job offers.
Now try the thought experiment again, but this time you stand up and recite the pledge like everyone else. The only difference is that you are wearing the traditional clothing of a religious person. You might be dressed as a Buddhist monk, a Hasidic Jew, a Catholic priest, a Muslim, or a Sikh.
How does the crowd react now?
They probably respect you. You’re on the team. Same pledge, same team. That’s the melting pot.
And so I wonder if we’re approaching the issue of immigration wrong when it comes to Muslim refugees. If we block people based on religion – no matter how well that works for safety – we’re sacrificing something important about our national character. And we’re stirring up domestic and International problems that no one wants.
But what if we changed the focus from religion to the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge is what binds Americans. We can get past each other’s hobbies and beliefs if we’re on the same page with the pledge. The folks who are worried about Muslim immigration are mostly worried that the new people won’t be on the same team because of religion. That distrust creates fear, the fear generates hate, the hate causes discrimination, and we lose legitimacy in world affairs.
Is there a better approach?
I don’t know, but it doesn’t hurt to think creatively. Regular readers know I like to present the bad version of an idea to see if you can fix it. Maybe we’ll get lucky with one of them.
So how about this…
Instead of using religion as a filter for immigration, suppose we only allow people into the country who have no pledges of allegiance that are higher than the United States’ Pledge of Allegiance. Religion would not be the focus in this case. It wouldn’t matter if you were in a motorcycle gang in Ireland or some sort of quilting group in France. If your group has written rules, or some sort of charter, those rules need to be compatible with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Here’s how this might work.
When border officials are interviewing a potential immigrant, they could ask if the applicant belongs to any group that has a written set of rules telling them how to behave. If the answer is yes, they ask which specific leaders are in charge of interpreting the written rules. If the leader is on record – in writing – as recommending that followers obey the law of a nation over the group’s own rules, that applicant goes to the short line for more vetting.
Under this scenario, any Muslim leader could issue a signed statement advising followers to obey the laws of the United States should they conflict with holy teachings. If a Muslim immigrant has a direct line of worship to the leader who issued the statement – such as regular attendance at a mosque – that person gets into the short line. Everyone gets the same thorough check, but this hypothetical immigrant has not been disqualified by religion. In fact, religion acts as a good reference in this case.
I’m not a religious scholar, but I assume some religious leaders would be unwilling to sign a statement putting the laws of man above the laws of the group. I’ll bet lots of religions have leaders like that. In those cases, we would have a potential conflict with the Pledge of Allegiance, so those followers can’t get in.
None of this works for immigrants from war-torn lands with no reliable records. That group would be subjected to the maximum scrutiny, but not because of religion. Christian refugees would have the same burden of proof as Muslims and everyone else. For this set of unfortunates – the people who are out of options – I wonder if they would agree to wear tracking devices and give up digital privacy for a set period. As terrible as that sounds, it might be better than the alternatives.
You are scoffing at my pledge idea because people will simply lie about their organizational associations. But I’ll bet it is easier to check on a person’s group affiliations than just about anything else.
This idea has lots of problems, but at least it takes the focus off of religion and puts it on the Pledge of Allegiance where it belongs.
Does the idea have potential?
[Update: Keep in mind we are not relying on the honesty of any applicants. If they say they have an association with a certain moderate mosque, it has to be confirmed. Many of the comments missed that point.