A small liberal arts college with a strong pacifist tradition recently banned the national anthem at sporting events, after some students, faculty and alumni complained the song glorifies war (h/t Fox News’ “America Live” today). The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
Fifteen months after Goshen College began allowing “The Star-Spangled Banner” to be played at sporting events, the institution’s board of directors has suspended the practice in response to complaints. … The board of the Mennonite liberal-arts college has asked its president to come up with a song “that fits with sports tradition, that honors country and that resonates with Goshen College’s core values and respects the views of diverse constituencies,” according to a press release.
School representatives say this suspend-and-replace policy is not actually a ban — but they have also said the Star Spangled Banner doesn’t fit the founding principles of Goshen College.
In a Facebook message posted Wednesday afternoon, Indiana’s Goshen College distanced itself from rumors that it had “banned” the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” at sports games because the lyrics were “violent.”
“Goshen College HAS NOT ‘banned’ the National Anthem. The Board HAS asked President James E. Brenneman to find an alternative to playing the Star-Spangled Banner that fits with sports tradition,” the message clarified. …
Goshen College initially issued a statement Tuesday to Fox radio stating, “Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language.”
I disagree that the Star Spangled Banner glorifies war. Certainly, it suggests some things are worth fighting for — and maybe Mennonites disagree even with that — but it doesn’t glamorize the fight. If anything, the lyrics convey just what fear must pervade a night of battle, what relief must come with the dawn. To see the flag only intermittently by the glare of rockets sounds terrifying — not at all like an experience I’m itching to have. The additional, mostly unsung verses only add to the heavy impression. One line says: “The foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes.” Another mentions “the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion.” The final verse refers to peace as a blessing.
But while I disagree with the school’s decision, I somehow can’t bring myself to reduce this story to one about a battle with the PC police — because it also touches on religious freedom. The conservative cowgirl in me — you know, that part of a conservative that says “rid the world of lawlessness, but, for the most part, let people be” (credit to writer Ross McCullough for that concept) — says the school certainly has the prerogative to play or not play whatever songs it chooses. It is, after all, a private school run by the Mennonite Church USA. But I still hope school officials are aware of how closely their pacifism seems to resemble paranoia and how far it seems from patriotism: The version of the national anthem the school used before the ban was already instrumental-only.