중앙데일리

What is wrong with requiring the pledge of allegiance?

They say it is a vestige of military regimes.

July 17,2007
Some civic activists opposed to the pledge of allegiance protest in Seoul on June 26. [YONHAP]
Watching their athletes salute the national flag from the medal podium at an international sporting event is a proud moment for Koreans, who enjoy competition as much as any people in the world.
With that same pride, Korean crowds at a soccer stadium join the athletes before the start of a match, right hand on the chest as the national anthem is played and the Taegeukgi, the national flag, flutters in the stands.
All this joy about saluting the flag, however, fades in daily life, some Koreans say, when they are forced to do it at public gatherings or school meetings. They say the act cheapens people’s patriotism.
For decades, saluting the flag as the national anthem is played and reciting the pledge of allegiance have been required of students from elementary through high school, as well as of participants in most public gatherings.
Starting July 27, these patriotic gestures will be required under Korean national law, although there is no specific punishment for people who don’t observe it. Civic groups say the rule is unfair, and elevating its status to a law could open the door to penalizing people for not following it, as happened during the past military regimes.
The first rules that prescribed showing respect for the national flag were issued in 1950 by the Education Ministry and were eventually ordered by presidential decree.
Starting in 1972, the flag ceremony ended with the pledge of allegiance: “I pledge, in front of the proud Taegeukgi, allegiance to the Republic of Korea to devote my body and soul to the eternal glory of my mother country and the people.” The pledge is recited with the right hand placed over the heart.
Civic groups say the ceremony is not so much a show of patriotism as an act of oppression. According to human rights groups, in the 1960s through the 1980s, under the Park Chung Hee and Chun Doo Hwan military regimes, hundreds of students, teachers and other citizens were punished by school and public authorities for refusing to observe the ceremony.
As recently as 2003, a student was denied admission to Youngseok High School in Uijeongbu, Gyeonggi, because he would not salute the flag. His religious beliefs acknowledge no authority except God.
Lee Yong-seok, a high school teacher, is allegedly the latest “victim,” human rights groups said.
The 37-year-old Korean language teacher had refused since 2004 to salute the flag in teachers’ meetings, a daily routine for every teacher in his school in Bucheon, Gyeonggi. In a punitive action, the school suspended him for three months last year; he was later transferred.

The school board said that Lee lost dignity as a teacher in refusing to abide by a school rule. After his suspension, he was transferred to another high school, which tolerated his protest.
Lee said saluting the national flag was a vestige of the past authoritarian and military regimes and was enforced so students or even teachers become submissive and caused no disturbance.
The government disagrees.
Jung Hyun-kyu, a director in the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, said the majority of Koreans support saluting the flag as a means of reinforcing their loyalty to the country.
Earlier this year, the ministry conducted an opinion poll that found 75 percent of the public support rules to promote saluting the national flag, according to Jung. Only 14.8 percent were opposed.
“The majority of the public wants to keep the rule, so we don’t see any problem here,” Jung said.
The new law codifying routine displays of affection for the national flag passed the National Assembly in January. The bill, proposed by Grand National Party lawmaker Lee Sang-dae in December, was not put in place for six months so the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs could have time to revise the parts of the law related to the pledge of allegiance.
Jung noted that laws and regulations related to the national flag in Korea are much more lax than in other countries. In France and Germany, the rules about the national flag are in the constitution, Jung said. He said that given the role of the national flag as a symbol of the country, the rules needed to be elevated into law. He said the government has no intention of suppressing people under the new law and they need not worry about being punished.

Human rights groups, however, have claimed the elevation of the new rules at the end of this month will also mean others who refuse to salute may be punished. The groups want the law abolished. The salute and the pledge are ways to make the people submit to the state, said Bae Kyung-nae, of the human rights group Sarangbang. Human rights are not to be determined by majority rule, she added.
On July 6, the government unveiled a revised version of the pledge of allegiance, which it said sounds less compulsory, and would encourage people to voluntarily express their loyalty to the country.
As announced by the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs, the new version is: “I pledge, in front of the proud Taegeukgi, allegiance to the Republic of Korea for the eternal glory of the country, liberty and justice.”
The new version takes effect on July 27, when the new law takes force. The change was necessary, Jung said, because the pledge of allegiance was outdated and sounded a bit oppressive. “Liberty” and “justice,” values laid down in the Constitution, were inserted in the new version. “The Republic of Korea” also sounds less oppressive than “mother country,” he said.


By Moon Gwang-lip Staff Writer [joe@joongang.co.kr]



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