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There is a two-part slogan on display that seems to be more and more ubiquitous, and it does not bode well.

The First Amendment to our Constitution clearly mandates, to use Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, a wall between church and state. And yet this unfortunate and boastful slogan declares that the T-shirt-wearing jingoist “stands for the flag” and also “kneels for the cross.”

What are we to make of this unequivocal self-proclamation of a desirable church-state connection?

First, note the exclusivity. There is no question which flag the wearer stands up for — the stars and stripes are depicted — and there is certainly no difficulty in identifying the particular religion. Then, some more perceptive observers will detect a whiff of hypocrisy. Those wearing the shirt do not seem to display much religious humility or patriotic readiness to sacrifice, since those who really are either humble or ready to sacrifice do not advertise.

These caveats notwithstanding, there do seem to be many folks oozing out of the woodwork who fervently declare that only a Christian America can save itself or the world. (If you have to ask from what the U.S. and the world need saving, then you don’t know nothing). And who leads this make-or-break philosophical movement? Obviously, the name of a certain one-term, sore-loser ex-president immediately springs to mind. There are, however, others, religious and political, who could be named.

But, one might ask, since this lethal combination (think Hundred Years War, Holy Inquisition) has been around for a while — why should it be reemerging here and now? The best answer, I believe, is the recent, effective protest of Black pro football players who have knelt — rather than standing — during the playing of the pregame national anthem.

They are a brave lot, since they risk a high salary and status in a public gesture that promotes a cause that brings little to them personally. Surrounded by huge numbers of fans, many of whom passionately cheer them on but who would find them unacceptable as dates to their daughters’ prom, they draw attention to a painful American reality.

It must be admitted, however, that the great majority of those who wear this particular shirt won’t do much harm. They will never attain the dignity of those who kneel for the anthem to stand in solidarity with their less-well-off brothers and sisters. They won’t vote (the system is rigged); they won’t wear COVID-19 masks or get vaccinated (if God wants them to die ...); they likely will not develop their productive potential (the apocalypse or restoration or storm, or whatever, is imminent). If called upon by a person or website they respect to rise up, some of them, in giddy confusion, might grab weapons. A few particularly disgruntled isolated loners might eventually decide one day to take a fraction of their gun collection, locked and loaded, to the mall or local school or their place of work. Others will yell at their TV as they grow old.

But, while most will remain drifting in the margins of society, a few exist who are completely identified with this slogan, and they are driven by a powerful impulse to set things right ASAP. If, for any reason, some political turmoil erupts, they will pounce.

So, dear reader, relax: As long as no black swans appear in the next few years, you are (probably) safe.

John D. Palmer, Ph.D., lives in Huntington

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