If you are like me, you might say that faith in our country is something that is lacking today.
I may be able to help.
About a month ago, I attended an event that was the last step in the process of my wife obtaining her U.S. citizenship, referred to as the Naturalization (oath-taking) ceremony. As background, prior to this final step, the candidates were required to take a test on U.S. history and government, and to confirm their proficiency in the English language. All applicants present at the event would necessarily have passed this earlier step. In the particular local naturalization ceremony that I attended, approximately ninety persons from about thirty-four countries were confirmed as new U.S. citizens. A U.S. Magistrate Judge presided over the proceedings and administered the Oath.
My first big surprise came before the actual oath-taking ceremony, after I rushed to share the news of the scheduled date for the event with family, friends and neighbors. Even though I was merely attempting to share the good news and was not offering invitations, most of those I spoke to expressed an immediate interest in attending the ceremony. For example, both my mom and (two) sisters jumped at the opportunity to attend (one traveling from another state, and the other from halfway across the country, both joined by their loving husbands), three of my cousins expressed an immediate interest (with one driving in from another state, and the other two flying in from the East coast), and many locally-based neighbors and friends were also quick to commit, without any formal or informal invitation being made.
On the day of the ceremony there were more pleasant surprises. What I noticed right away when entering the parking lot, and the first thing that impressed me that morning, was that almost all of the participants were dressed up. Despite that the invitation letter my wife received specifically requested appropriate attire, I was expecting to encounter the more “modern” version of this concept. Many of the men were wearing suits, and many of the women were wearing dresses. This is by itself a rare sight today, as the business world and most churches have long since moved, either formally or informally, to a “business casual” dress code (at best). Furthermore, not only were many, and perhaps most, of the participants dressed smartly for the event, but a good number of the attending family members were similarly embellished.
The second thing I noticed was that almost everyone was smiling. In cases where I passed by someone who was not, all that was needed was to share a grin, and I received an immediate similar reaction from them. While some of the participants may perhaps have been a little bit nervous about the day, I observed that most appeared to be “beaming.”
The agenda was a third thing that impressed me. It not only included the singing of the National Anthem, but also something else that most of us have not heard in public for a very long time—the Pledge of Allegiance. The most important component of the ceremony was the aptly titled “Oath of Allegiance,” which I am pleased to share ended with the following four beautiful words: “So help me God.”
I feel compelled to mention that at no time in the ceremony were the participants instructed that our country was systemically or otherwise racist, or alternatively that the United States was founded on the concept of slavery (1619 Project, I’m thinking of you on this one…). I imagine any such statements of this kind would probably have confused most of these new citizens and their families (as it should have, given the questionable nature of these recently semi-popular, but no doubt spurious claims), which consisted of a mix of people from many different races.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, volunteers from the American Legion Auxiliary were waiting to provide the attendees with well-deserved refreshments, which I understand is a regular practice at naturalization proceedings. Given what I have already shared, it should not surprise you to hear that almost everyone remained to attend the reception, with very few (if any) rushing to get out of the building at the close of the ceremony (as is more often than not a fairly common practice for most any type of event or meeting today).
Finally, I think it is worth mentioning that the occasion was not in any way political. Each participant received a paper copy of a letter of congratulations from their U.S. Senators, as well as their Congressional representative, which included a mix of both Democrats and Republicans. If there were people from complete opposite ends of the political spectrum present (as the odds would suggest that there probably were), you wouldn’t have known it. For those who are blessed to remember, such is the way that our society used to operate before it became polarized over the last decade or so.
In case you might be wondering, voter registration was promoted during the ceremony, as well as in the handout that was provided to all attendees (with instructions for how to complete the process). I couldn’t help but think, isn’t this what it is really all about—the right to vote, and to pick our leaders and our elected officials, for the purpose of creating a more perfect nation.
After it was all over, I was left wondering whether I might have somehow managed that morning to have stepped into some type of magical time machine device, traveling back to an earlier decade, and possibly to an earlier century.
With that being the end of my story, I imagine you might be wondering: how can I make use this experience in such a way that was promised above?
In case reading this article by itself may not have helped you, I recommend the following: find out where the next Naturalization ceremony for new citizens will be held that is close to your location, and attend it. If your experience ends up being similar to mine, you won’t be sorry if you do. It just might help to restore your faith in our great country.
It might even bring a small tear of joy to your eye (as it did mine, more than a few times throughout the ceremony).
May God bless America, and all of its new citizens.
*The title to this article references our “republic,” rather than our “democracy.” This is intentional. There is technically no “democracy” to restore, since we have never had a simple or pure democracy in America. There is a good reason for this, as the Founders did not intend for the outcome of every important political issue to be decided by 50.01 percent (or perhaps less) of the voting population. Federalism (state’s rights), the separation of powers and a system of checks and balances were all concepts that were specifically selected for the protection of our liberties, and to protect us from what otherwise could lead to a “tyranny of the majority” trampling over the rights of a discrete minority. While many Americans may not appreciate this distinction, I expect that this fundamental reality would not escape the attention of our new citizens.