Why I love America

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

We ran a front-page article Friday asking our readers to submit 250-word essays about why they love America.

That's a tough request on so many levels. It's difficult to put into words why we love America. (I don't even know why I choke up almost every time I hear an outstanding performance of our national anthem.) There are just so many reasons, especially with America and Americans under attack.

But I hope everyone gives it a try.

I've been thinking about my essay for a couple of months, ever since we developed the idea. Why I love America is a little complicated but involves everything about what makes this nation the greatest on Earth.

My Mom and Dad are Jehovah's Witnesses. Because Witnesses don't salute the flag or serve in the military, people think they don't appreciate and respect America and the freedoms they enjoy.

That's not true. They believe they are putting God's laws first -- in the cases mentioned above, the commandments to worship no deity but Jehovah and never take a life.

So I was raised with an educated love for this country, knowing its freedoms and its flaws.

I knew that cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses led to 23 U.S. Supreme Court rulings between 1938 and 1946. Those included Minersville School District v. Gobitis in 1940, which tried to force Witnesses to violate their faith by pledging allegiance to the flag in school, and West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette in 1943, which reversed the earlier decision and clarified all Americans' First Amendment freedoms.

Mom sat down with literature and encyclopedias and explained all this to her 12-year-old daughter. "That's why we follow all the laws. We never break the law," she finished. "Only when it conflicts with God's law."

Yes, Jehovah's Witnesses have been persecuted for their beliefs but have been to the government time and again for relief. As recently as 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that local governments can't force them to get permits before doing their door-to-door ministry because that would constitute a violation of free speech.

In short, no matter how odd you think your neighbor's beliefs are, you have to let him practice those beliefs if he isn't harming you. You have to let him speak, but you don't have to listen.

I left the Jehovah's Witnesses a decade ago, explaining to my family that much of the doctrine wasn't supported by what I'd learned as an adult. To say the decision caused heartache on both sides would be an understatement.

I wouldn't change my upbringing if I could. But today, I believe saluting the flag is just that -- a salute to our nation and the men and women who support and defend it, not worship of a decorated piece of cloth that has come to mean so much.

I love this country because my family can worship the way they want, and I can worship the way I want -- or not at all. We don't have a dictator telling us what to believe. Our news agencies call our leaders to task when they make bad decisions.

It's a scary time in America right now. Some people feel our freedoms are in danger because of the fear terrorists have spawned.

I have faith that our leaders won't reverse 200 years of fighting -- on the battlefield and in the courtroom.

It's time for you to express your views. Send your essays to me, along with your contact information, at: Southeast Missourian, P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702, or hhall@ semissourian.com. We'll publish the essays and the writers' names and hometowns in our Spirit of America edition on July 1.

Heidi Hall is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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