By Kathleen Johnson
A few months ago, there was a discussion on the blog pertaining to a disturbing trend taking place at major sporting events, during which spectators are expected to stand for the singing of God Bless America. I believe then, the general consensus was that we should take our stand by not standing up for this song. I agreed with this consensus because I refuse to be bullied into participating in a clearly religious practice during a supposedly secular activity.
However, yesterday I encountered a new twist on this practice. I was attending the last regular season Rangers baseball came in Arlington, TX when an announcement was made that spectators needed to stand for the playing of God Bless America to HONOR OUR TROOPS! So now, by not standing, I would be disrespecting our troops. Since I didn’t spend 23 years in uniform, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan, to be accused of disrespecting the troops, this left me with a dilemma. Do I stand by my principles and refuse to accord this religious activity any significance and thereby fail to honor our troops or do I stand to honor our troops and sacrifice a core belief on the alter of majority-rules religion?
Here’s what I did. I bought a beer from a vendor just as the song started playing and I sat there and sipped my beer while everyone else around me stood. I honored the troops in my own way, by rendering them a toast. I am pretty certain I was the only person sitting down in section 30 of Rangers ballpark while God Bless America was played and I wouldn’t be surprised if I was the only person in the ballpark who remained sitting (this is Texas, after all). Afterwards, I endured a lot of dirty looks and a very nice elderly woman, who was sitting next to me and who I’d been chatting with during the game, moved to an empty seat in order to avoid having to sit next to me for the rest of the game.
It was a great day for a baseball game and I had been enjoying myself up until that moment. It was wrong for the officials at the Rangers ball park to force the spectators into participating in a religious ritual, and it was even more wrong to think playing this song in any way honors our troops. I think the whole “honor our troops” angle is just a sneaky way to encourage blind compliance and participation and it sucks to be put into that position against my will. Plus, it was extremely uncomfortable to sit there and endure all that hostility after the song. What if there had been some nut-ball nearby who took it personally enough to say or do something to me? I was there with my elderly and disabled parents plus my fiance and his young daughter, and it could have easily turned into a situation that endangered their safety and well-being. I wouldn’t have knowingly endangered their safety for anything, but I only had a few seconds to decide if I was going to comply or not and didn’t become fully aware of the hostility being sent in my direction until it was already done.
Thoughts? Anything I could have or should have done differently? In my capacity as American Atheists vice president and military director, I’m working on a letter of complaint on American Atheists letterhead to send to the Rangers Ballpark (assuming our president and legal director concur, which I think they will) but I am interested in any other suggestions and/or comments.