Faith and Patriotism - Do they belong in the Firehouse?

A recent story out of Baltimore, MD has some folks in a hissy fit after 3 recruits did not salute the American Flag at graduation.

Here at HMHQ we don't ignore the third rail topics, instead choosing to grab on with both hands and get things out in the open.  Sunlight is a wonderful disinfectant.

Let me talk about the story in Baltimore, then we'll talk about my headline.

The recruits in Baltimore who did not salute the flag practice a religion that sees flags and other symbols as false idols.  They believe their religious text forbids the worshiping of idols and so they did not salute the flag.  See? Wasn't that easy? OK, cool, that makes sense let's move along. Oh look, comments...oh my lords...

Comments on the story were as you'd expect, ranging from folks claiming it was a protest akin to certain football players taking a knee to some who equate God with Country and see their refusal to salute the flag an insult to their own faith and a reason to "get out."

This got me thinking about the role faith and patriotism play in the Fire Service.

I have a number of co-workers friends and acquaintances who seek comfort in faith and practice said faith both at home and at work.  Their beliefs and faith guide their decisions much like my beliefs guide mine and the cadets in Baltimore use their as a guide.  As with many things, the problems arise when we require others to comply with our own belief system. The comments about Baltimore are proof of that.

I wanted to focus on many of the comments on the story, as well as those I've heard bouncing around, that religious faith and patriotism are an all or none proposition for some.  That is their faith and they are welcome to practice it, until it impacts others, of course.  When your beliefs demand someone to go against their own, I'd argue you are wrong.

Some equate refusing to salute the flag as a direct insult to their own faith and get upset when others can't see the correlation. This is often followed by comments like "In God we Trust is on the money" and "Founded as a Christian nation" but never really followed up with how the flag got wrapped around their cross, altar or religious text.

I fully support these recruits practicing their faith on duty, so long as it does not interfere with their activities on the fireground or impact the practice of others.  These recruits didn't demand that their entire class refrain from the salute, or that the entire class adopt their belief system.  They are the embodiment of what our Founding Fathers were hoping for: A place where people of all faiths, or none, can co-exist without persecution.

Meanwhile, I'm over here in the corner wondering how the stars and stripes got caught up in all this and realized that for some belief systems, idols are everything.  Look at statues to saints in the Catholic religion, relics in Notre Dame that were rescued that bring comfort to those who practice that faith.

Then I see stories and pictures from fires where Firefighters abandon hose lines to "rescue" a flag from a building to present it to a home owner as the fire continues to burn.  The image here is from Oroville, CA and shows 3 firefighters working to take a flag down as flames approach the home. That idol means more to that person than the building and it is here that your faith and patriotism may collide with your mission.  At some point you'll have to choose which is more important: the idol or the mission?

Patriotism has many flavors but in recent years the symbols of the flag have begun to overtake what the flag represents for some.  The flag to me is a symbol of our united union, a place where people of all colors, faiths and beliefs can co-exist without fear of persecution.  It is a symbol only and can easily be replaced by another symbol, for example the statue of liberty or an image of the Constitution.  To some this flag is an idol to be protected, respected and those who refuse to do so must not respect what the idol stands for.  To me the idol is just a nylon pattern, to them it is a relic to be protected at all costs.  There's a good chance that the embedded Amazon affiliate ads on this post will include variations of the flag/idol that many folks champion.  Red stripe, blue stripe, rainbow, each variation shows allegiance or recognition to a group within the whole represented by the symbol.  Think of them as State Flags, all still part of the US, a smaller group proud to be part of the greater whole.

There are many different faiths and interpretations of patriotism in and around the fire service and many different ways of practicing them.  I welcome all to our table and have myself been welcomed at others, but there is a growing sub section that demands we change how we practice our faith and patriotism so that it more closely matches their desires.

If my religious faith requires you to change change your actions, am I wrong?
If your patriotism requires that I change my actions, are you wrong?