4-H Pallet Flags Praise Patriotism and Piety

The best use of pallets I’ve seen is the great Pallet Maze at the Brown County Fair. The next best is the pallet bookshelf I built one afternoon long ago that now surely occupies a place of honor in some unknown renter’s furniture.

The Rondell Robins 4-H-ers also dig pallets… but pallets for theocracy?

Rondell Robins $-H Club display, Brown County Fair, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2016.08.18.
Rondell Robins $-H Club display, Brown County Fair, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2016.08.18.
Pallet flag with cross of stars, Brown County Fair, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2016.08.18.
Pallet flag with cross of stars, Brown County Fair, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2016.08.18.

I won’t throw a Flag Code flag—it’s a pallet, not an actual banner meant to fly from a pole, and I welcome creative interpretations of the American flag and the exploration of Stars-and Stripes symbolism.

Official Malaysian flag
Official Malaysian flag, with crescent honoring that nation’s official religion.

So what does it mean to mingle the American flag and the Christian cross? What message does such a flag send to Americans who are not Christian? Christian readers, how would you feel if our 4-H-ers had palletized something like the Malaysian flag, with the U.S. stars reconfigured into a Muslim crescent to celebrate the Mohammedans among us and to suggest that their religion is patriotic, too? What about stars rearranged in the form of a Star of David, or Buddha, or maybe just a nice smiley face?

And Christians, as believers in a faith meant to counter and critique earthly powers, how do you feel about your symbol being merged with the banner of today’s Rome?


51 Responses to 4-H Pallet Flags Praise Patriotism and Piety

  1. For a star of David flag, would you paint 5-pointed stars into the shape of a 6-pointed star, or would you go all out and paint 6-pointed stars into the shape of a 6-pointed star? What is the etiquette for adulterating the US flag?

  2. Joe Nelson

    Cory,
    That was a project done by children, who is most likely combining the two things they love: God and Country. Why cast aspersions?

    But you asked questions (without answering your own), so I will respond to the questions you asked to the Christians.
    1. So what does it mean to mingle the American flag and the Christian cross?

    It means that the child loves both God and their country, and depicted it art form.

    2. What message does such a flag send to Americans who are not Christian?

    You will have to answer this one.

    3. Christian readers, how would you feel if our 4-H-ers had palletized something like the Malaysian flag, with the U.S. stars reconfigured into a Muslim crescent to celebrate the Mohammedans among us and to suggest that their religion is patriotic, too?

    I would be fine with it, and assess that they are expressing their love for God and country. Unless that were not Muslim, then I would be more curious at what they meant. But these are children, so I doubt they would do a crescent. Make me think of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent organizations.

    4. What about stars rearranged in the form of a Star of David, or Buddha, or maybe just a nice smiley face?

    I have scene the smiley face one, it doesn’t bother me. Buddha and Star of David, see answer above.

    5. And Christians, as believers in a faith meant to counter and critique earthly powers, how do you feel about your symbol being merged with the banner of today’s Rome? I feel fine, it is a child’s art project, not a political or theological statement.

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with being patriotic and religious.

    Stop picking on children. Stop picking on Christians. Is this really your methodology for trying to convince people to vote for you?

  3. Oh Lord. Who else would attend a county fair and find a 4-H display of painted pallets troubling because they apparently raise church/state separation issues. You must go nuts every time you handle U.S. currency with “In God We Trust” stamped all over it.

  4. Bill Dithmer

    Really Cory, is this what this blog has come to.

    The Blindman

  5. LeaAnn Manke

    I’m curious as to what the criteria for a blue ribbon is on this project. Can’t be creativity, because there are 3 of the same thing – unless they were all made by the same person, and why is that allowed? As far as it being patriotic to try to depict the US as a Christian nation, I think the leaders of this 4-H club need to learn some history and then teach it to their members.

  6. Doug, I handle money regularly, though not in great quantities. I find the mingling of God and capitalism at least as bothersome and philosophically inconsistent as the mingling of church and state. The Christian God I hear about does not put much stock in business or politics.

    Notice, Joe and Bill, that nowhere do I cast aspersions on children. I’m talking about the symbols themselves, the mixing cross and flag, and asking about what those mixed symbols say. And Joe, please don’t think everything I do is part of a methodology to win elections. Tuning every word for the purpose of winning elections makes for dull, inauthentic writing (see exhibit #1, Dakota War College, or most politicians’ campaign literature). I write what I write because I’m curious, and I want people to discuss questions like this, regardless of who’s in office.

    As 4-H grows, I will be curious to see what the community reaction will be when a Muslim 4-Her makes a Malaysian style pallet flag. I hope the people of Aberdeen will be as tolerant as Joe says he would be in his response to #3.

  7. What would be really neat, a skull and crossbones. Then overlay an orange elephant with a cross.

  8. Darin Larson

    I’m a Christian and I don’t have any problem with the pallet. It is a religious and artistic expression and we want to encourage freedom of expression and patriotism in this country.

    The point that I thought Cory was raising is what happens when a Muslim child blends religion and country in a similar fashion. Are the Doug Lund’s, Bill Dithmer’s, and Happy Camper’s of the world going to have a live and let live attitude when the immigrant kid or Muslim kid mixes the imagery of the US flag with that of their own religion?

    I don’t see that this story raises any issue of church and state. A private individual made this presumably without being paid by the state. It is not endorsed by the state in any way. It is the free expression of an individual’s religious beliefs.

    Now display that pallet in a government office and we may have a problem–most especially if the government official in that office refuses to issue marriage licenses because of their personal religious beliefs.

  9. This is not an American flag. This is the new Trump flag that will be forced upon us. That is not a cross either…it is a small “t” which symbolizes Trump’s humility. We will all be saved.

  10. Speaking of flag etiquette, I believe the photographer credited with the photo in this article—Matt Kryger—grew up in Brookings:

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/olympics/rio-2016/2016/08/20/jamaica-pokes-fun-usa-4×100-relay/89044510/

    Matt and I were in the same cabin at NeSoDak Bible Camp near Waubay in 1984. Larry Bird beat Magic Johnson in the NBA Finals that week, and I missed it because I grew up in a community where religious education was regarded as a higher priority.

  11. More to the heart of the post’s topic, I’m reminded of the reference to “the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven” in the testimonium clause of the U.S. Constitution, which Cory says was rendered unconstitutional by the First Amendment:

    http://dakotafreepress.com/2015/05/09/obama-wrong-on-faith-and-success-right-on-value-of-community-college/#comment-5397
    http://dakotafreepress.com/2015/05/09/obama-wrong-on-faith-and-success-right-on-value-of-community-college/#comment-5410

    It raises the question of how Christians would feel if the Constitution referred to “the Year of our Prophet Muhammad one thousand two hundred and Seventeen” instead.

  12. Mrs. Nelson

    Are you serious with this? I’m as staunch an atheist as they come and I see ZERO ISSUES with this – atheist and as a former 4H’er and supporter.

  13. owen reitzel

    what would happen if you had a Muslim symbol on that pallet?

  14. People can paint these pallet things any way they want, as I see it. Who cares? I sure hope we don’t see nanny-state legislation next year saying you can only paint pallets in one of the 27 patterns shown in a government brochure. PS: there is no god

  15. Seriously? It’s a kid’s 4-H project.
    Did you really just refer to the USA as “today’s Rome”?
    That kid has every right to paint that pallet exactly the way he did. So does any one religion. It’s a pallet.
    The message sent is he’s proud to be Christian, and proud to be American.
    Both if those are absolutely fine.
    I don’t care what people from other faiths, or other countries perceive the message to be.
    If they don’t like an American’s pride in his love of his country and faith, they can pound sand.
    I’m not religious at all, but I am a veteran. We fought for this kid’s right to express his pride. Did you?
    You getting offended at this is part of what’s wrong with the USA, and now it seems SD. I sure hope you don’t get elected.

  16. This is a 4H project. When Christ said His followers would be persecuted, I bet this kid didn’t anticipate this would be one of those times. But, I guess it is a good lesson on how broad it will be.

  17. Persecuted, Troy? Far from it. I’m asking a question about a symbol, just as I would if I were grading an essay or evaluating any other public statement. I’m not calling anyone names or demanding that anyone be thrown out of the public square.

  18. “Today’s Rome”? Yes, Don, I did say that. Do you find something erroneous in comparing the United States to the dominant political and economic power of 2,000 years ago? Does not Jesus’s direction, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” help modern Christians understand their relationship with the secular power of the United States?

    Not caring how other people perceive a message, especially your neighbors and fellow Americans, perceive your message, Don, demonstrates a Trump-like lack of empathy.

    I’ve taught thousands of kids how to express their pride and exercise other rights of citizenship in the classroom. Have you, Don? I could wage that attack, akin to yours, Don, trying to claim some special status that means I can speak to an issue and you can’t, but that’s un-American. Soldiers, teachers, parents, community leaders—we all protect and promote the Constitution. We can have an inclusive community that allows all forms of free expression. But we all should consider the meaning and impact of our expressions. Critique is one thing; personal attack is another. I do the former; unfortunately, a lot of my neighbors are more interested in the latter.

  19. Kurt! I know Matt! Cool to see he’s traveling the world taking pictures!

    And not cool, of course, to see people wearing flags as capes.

  20. Mr. H: 0
    Everybody else: 8

    Mr. H loses another debate about a meaningless blog. Let us hope if he is in the legislatures he wastes much time with law bills such as this, like Mr. Nelson does, to keep the legislatures from doing real damage.

  21. im with Owen W. What if there was another religious symbol on that pallet, ? Many of you would be condemning that, however art is art, your eye is either attracted to it or it isn’t, move on….,

  22. Douglas Wiken

    Interesting, but not a real problem. But give Corey some latitude here. Not everything has to be deep and meaningful on a blog. Most comments on every issue suggest that as well. I think the design indicates a failure in education that does not present the benefits of separation of religion and state to both the state and to the religions.

  23. Oh man, if that cross on the pallet was a Muslim symbol, Christian ‘Muricans all over would have there panties all in a bunch! I’m half tempted to make one and post the picture here to prove it.

  24. Democracy is not inherited. It requires constant vigilance, participation, and education. I think that the wisdom of the founders to instill separation of church and state in our constitution is “the” foremost reason our nation has survived as a nation for this long. Nothing compares to theological debates and their ability to divide people. Think politics are worse? Compare our two-party political system to the myriad of religions and sects and denominations in this land. Separation of church and state provides for national stability.

    Now that I have felt the need to be serious about this topic, someone can throw the cross and flag together in a big jar of piss and call it creative expression! Just like these pallets!

  25. Douglas Wiken

    Somebody wrote, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” Probably worth remembering when we get to the point of throwing up our hands in disgust.

  26. Don Coyote

    @Leo: There is no “separation of church and state” mentioned in the Constitution. Not in the original body or in the Bill of Rights. If you are referring to the Bill of Rights restriction of power on the establishment of religion by the Federal government as a separation, then you show your ignorance of the Constitution although you are not alone if that is any comfort.

  27. owen reitzel

    @Don. You’re right Don. “Separation of Church and State” is not mentioned on the Constitution.
    However the Supreme Court did mention it.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dale-hansen/yes-there-is-a-constituti_b_8171550.html

  28. @Don: Well bless the founders for Article V then, as you imply that they need correction and that their omission in “the original” of the concept of “separation of church and state” shows their real intent (of secretly installing the Papacy perhaps?, etc.) Surely, this notion of “separation of church and state” just sprung up out of nowhere, all of a sudden, without historical perspective. I think most civic-minded people consider our constitution to be a living document, as it can be changed, and do not think of the constitution without its Bill of Rights, nor consecutive Amendments, because it is all one, original to present, it grows. Do you challenge all Amendments to be without merit, or just this one?

  29. @Owen Here is an interesting list of quotes by the founders on the subject of separation of church and state.

    http://aattp.org/twenty-quotes-from-the-founding-fathers-on-the-separation-of-church-and-state/

  30. Cory writes:

    Kurt! I know Matt! Cool to see he’s traveling the world taking pictures!

    Cool indeed. I don’t remember crossing paths with him since camp (32 years ago—wow), but I’ve crossed paths with some of his work, and he’s definitely a gifted photographer.

    And not cool, of course, to see people wearing flags as capes.

    It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine World War II vets rolling over in their graves. My favorite highlight from this year’s olympics came during the men’s basketball medal ceremony today: NBA players standing at attention during the national anthem for a change. :-)

  31. Grudz, there is a difference between the variety of topics I open for discussion on my blog and the focus I will place on Legislative priorities while working on the people’s dime in Pierre.

  32. Nice post Cory, I love a good intellectual discussion on an interesting topic. Readers need to just enjoy reading a blog and comment on the issues brought up by the post and stop trying to come up with motives they think the author has in possing a question. In my opinion, Cory’s motive for this post were clear. They were to understand how others (his readers) think of the image he saw at a public event and ask the question if it were a bit different, would their opinions be different. I too love to understand how others percive things. I find I can learn alot by understanding others’ perceptions different from my own. Lighten up everyone and enjoy sharing your opinions without getting to upset at the authors questions.

    Personally, I think people would have thrown a fit if the flag had an Islamic or Muslim symbol on it instead of a cross. We are quite Christian in this state and have a difficulty accepting change of any kind. Give South Dakota 20 years… we will come around. The other question posed was how symbols like this make non Christians feel. Probably like an outsider in ones own country. My guess is that is why our founders put stars there not an exclusive symbol of religion.

  33. CraigSK, thanks for reading what I wrote and grappling with the actual questions I posed. We need to think like outsiders to understand outsiders and help them not feel like outsiders in America.

  34. How dare you ask questions Cory! You leftie intellectual, this type of curiousity is perversion! The fact you do not bow down with humble appreciation for all things conservative is clear proof you are a self serving heathen who just wants to inflict good Christian folk with taxes because you are a sick child hater on the inside. Or maybe you just like to ask interesting questions, you know, because sometimes that leads to other interesting questions.

    Apparently it takes a LOT of effort to continually hate and fear you because all your haters seem to do is make up reasons to criticize you that have nothing to do with what you wrote or apparently believe. Please stop giving them what they want – which is more fighting – what they really need is some love and a hug.

  35. Not caring how other people perceive a message, especially your neighbors and fellow Americans, perceive your message, Don, demonstrates a Trump-like lack of empathy.

    With that thought in mind, Cory, it seems you might want to abandon the use of “Mohammedans” to describe the practitioners of Islam; apparently it has some connotation issues to which many of the faith object.

    As to the subject matter at hand, I’d much rather see pallets turned into gardens than flags, but pallets do make a great symbol – pallets are the foundation for how just about everything makes it to its final destination in this country. Not least of which our daily bread (figuratively speaking – most bread actually comes on dollies. Much of our food, however, comes on pallets).

  36. Really, Wayne? I didn’t know followers of Mohammed’s teachings didn’t want us using that term. Can you find a non-polemic explanation of the reasons for that preference?

    I am all about recycling pallets. I’ve built raised garden beds and my current garbage can bin from pallets. One of the best signs in Aberdeen is the post on an old warehouse by the tracks on Kline that says, “FREE PALLETS”. And I appreciate your foundational metaphor.

  37. Paul, even in my “intellectual perversity,” there are some people I won’t hug. I’ll talk with them if they want to talk, but if they won’t speak and listen, I won’t try to get them in a clinch.

    But I will keep asking them questions. That drives them nuts… and questions are my best expression of civic love.

  38. Cory, can you clarify what you mean by a non-polemic explanation?

  39. What I see is a blog post where Cory is asking questions rather than making statements. This is designed to get people talking, but unfortunately many are so blinded by their personal views that they immediately twist this into an attack on religion, patriotism, or even children. That tells me a lot more about the people posting those types of comments than Cory’s original post does.

    That said, this is art. It doesn’t offend me and I assume the message is simply that the creator thought it was a clever blend of the symbolism for American and the symbolism for their religion. Had I saw a similar design with another religious symbol I’d think the same thing. However, it seems fairly clear that a painted pallet with any other religious symbol most likely wouldn’t be winning any ribbons at a local county fair… as welcoming as we like to claim we are, our state isn’t known for being overly inclusive.

  40. A few things come to mind when I see this:

    I believe 4H is a fine organization, but personally think it is best to leave out the religion and politics. They are too divisive.

    It does bother me that many believe our country was founded as a Christian nation. It most certainly was not. Most of the founders were Deists.

    11 stars and 7 stripes? I thought there were 13 colonies?

    As far as “In God We Trust” being printed on money, it as only been that way since ’56 (communist scare). I liked the original “out of many, one” better. Same goes for our “Pledge of Allegiance”. the “under God” part was added later (54′).

  41. Craig gets my point, too. I think there’s a philosophical problem with mingling Christianity and loyalty to any earthly government. Christians should be wary of conflating their piety with their patriotism, because, contrary to (currently, mostly Republican) thinking, the Christian God doesn’t take partisan or patriotic sides. I invite the artists, their parents, their 4-H leaders, and whoever else may have been involved in producing these three similar pallet projects and all of us viewers to examine the full meaning of these works and the possible philosophical problems therein.

    Consider this analogy: suppose a 4-Her made pallet art with a Laffer curve. I won’t take the kid’s paints away. I won’t lodge a formal protest with 4-H or the county that hosts the fair. I might actually commend the artist for attempting to raise awareness of macroeconomics and fiscal policy at the county fair. (That beats Salad Shooters!) But I’ll still point out that trickle-down economics doesn’t work.

  42. Darin Larson

    Cory, 70%+ of US citizens identify themselves as Christian, so we are going to have Christian influences in our society.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christianity_in_the_United_States

    Although the US is not a theocracy, Christianity is going to be an influence on our people and policies, just like your non-faith is an influence on your policy preferences. I realize that influence can sometimes be for the worse and not the better.

    These pallets are an artistic expression by a private citizen which raises no serious issue of separation of church and state or establishment of religion. The only problem is that some people won’t look kindly on a Muslim’s similar right to freedom of expression in this country.

    Cory states: “I think there’s a philosophical problem with mingling Christianity and loyalty to any earthly government.”

    It depends on the manner in which it occurs. A private individual expressing their faith and love of country in an artistic form is classic first amendment freedom of speech. It is not right or wrong like trickle down economics. You don’t know what was in the artist’s heart or what was meant by the pallet. It could be as simple as the artist’s priorities in life: faith and country. Your ox is not being gored here.

  43. Oh, sure, Wayne! Sorry I didn’t catch your question before my earlier comment. By “non-polemic”, I mean an explanation that doesn’t come from someone who appears to be in the Ron Branstner/Usama Dakdok mode of critiquing or condemning Islam and instead just a straight explanation, preferably from a recognizable expert or journalistic source.

  44. Okay, that helps.

    Good old fashioned Wikipedia explained the issue to me; the sources behind the archaic/ potentially offensive nature seem legitimate.

    A not so scholarly, but very informative discussion of the issue on Quora It interests me because the question was posed by a Muslim, and the top responses were by Muslims. Not scholarly, but it definitely gives an insight into the rational.

    I suppose you’re using the term to try to differentiate yourself from those who use Muslim or Islam as slurs. Unfortunately, I think Mohammadan doesn’t accomplish that.

    But I’ve never asked a Muslim if he or she is offended by the term (and that’s anecdotal evidence anyway).

  45. Darin, the “philosophical problem” is not in the expressive act itself. An artist has every right to make that statement, just as an artist or a columnist has every right to say, “Trickle-down economics works!” On free speech, we agree. I’ll even mingle the First Amendment aspects of free speech and separation of church and state and say that if I were teaching an art class in a public high school and a student proposed creating a painting mingling overt American and Christian symbols, I would not forbid her from exploring that idea and creating that work. I might ask the same questions I’ve posed to readers here about whether there is a philosophical tension between the ideals being symbolized (I’d ask more questions if it were English class and the student were writing an essay, since she’d be getting into a more explicit discussion of the intended mixing of ideals). But I wouldn’t be asking those questions to censor or punish; I’d be asking to help the student understand what she’s trying to say.

    We may disagree (though I’m not sure) on the actual philosophical conflict that I would ask the artist to consider. Christianity may require a believer to oppose certain American policies and values. For instance, can carefully read and practiced Christianity support America’s current foreign policy of military dominance? Can Quakers and other conscientious objectors wave that part of the flag? For another instance, can rigorous Christianity support the consumerism that underpins the American economy?

    Does Christianity conflict with American militarism and consumerism? I think we can debate that question as objectively as we can debate the validity of trickle-down economics. I don’t know if there’s one absolute right answer to the question, but I think a Christian can offer a wrong (i.e., logically and Biblically unsupportable) answer to that question.

    I asserted in the original post that Christianity is a “faith meant to counter and critique earthly powers.” That’s where I see the philosophical problem in mingling these images. It’s fine to say, “I’m a Christian and I’m an American.” But when those identities conflict (and I contend they sometimes do!), how does the American Christian resolve that tension?

  46. Darin Larson

    Thanks for spelling it out for me, Cory. Yes, there is tension between being a Christian and being an American at times on some issues. That doesn’t mean they are incompatible to each other. I think being a Christian should inform my views on being an American and American public policy for the better. More on this another time.

  47. Thank you, Wayne. Good link responses.

    I’m intrigued to see the term misnomer in that discussion. The first respondent on Quora says, “It is not offensive but it is not proper.” I see comments that Muslims don’t want a name that creates an impression that they worship a mere man. Of course, on that score, perhaps Christians could take issue with my use of the term Christian: when I say Christian, I’m referring to followers of that carpenter from Nazareth. When I say Mohammedan, I’m referring to followers of that dude from Mecca. There appears to be a difference in the believers’ views of their respective namesakes’ divinity and centrality to their respective religions: unlike Mohammed, Jesus wasn’t just a dust antenna for God Radio [Chris Whitley echoes in my head] but God in the flesh, the reason for worship and overhaul of apparently incomplete Judaism.

    (Reminder: there’s a 2% chance that the kids who painted the pallets are reading this conversation. If any of them are reading, there’s a 95% chance they look at that last sentence and ask, “What the heck does that mean?”)

  48. There’s strong historical evidence that Christ was crucified and rose from the dead. Christianity is based on that historical evidence, and Islam is based on a rejection of that evidence.

    Bodily resurrections don’t happen every day, and I can understand how a sincere individual might have difficulty accepting even strong historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection, but Muslims generally deny He ever died in the first place, explaining away His crucifixion with the popular belief that God transformed someone else to look like Him, and that person was crucified instead.

    Above I’d raised the question of how Christians would feel if the testimonium clause of the U.S. Constitution referred to “the Year of our Prophet Muhammad one thousand two hundred and Seventeen” instead of “the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven.” While I think that question is useful, I’d like to clarify that I don’t see a moral equivalence between the two.

  49. Kurt’s pulling me away from the pallets with those first couple paragraphs. I’ll just say this: the idea that God had to come to Earth incarnate and die at our hands in order to cash in some cosmic debt still strikes me as more than strange (I’m tempted to say incomprehensible). The Muslim contention that God tricked us with a last-minute substitution feels like that shoddy rewrite of Red Dawn, replacing the Chinese invaders with North Koreans just to keep Chinese ticket-buyers happy.

    Just curious: is pallet art uniquely American?

  50. “Don_2” writes:

    It does bother me that many believe our country was founded as a Christian nation. It most certainly was not. Most of the founders were Deists.

    The founders were almost exclusively Protestant Christians.

    Cory writes:

    I’ll just say this: the idea that God had to come to Earth incarnate and die at our hands in order to cash in some cosmic debt still strikes me as more than strange (I’m tempted to say incomprehensible).

    The Bible calls it foolishness:

    “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

    “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

    —First Corinthians 1:20-24

  51. I’m comfortable with the company of Greeks and Jews. They philosophize well and throw good parties (quite a combination!).