A New Orleans native, Ron Borne is a medicinal chemist by experience, and an amateur writer by avocation. He served Ole Miss and the School of Pharmacy as a teacher, researcher and administrator for more than 40 years and is now “retired” and living in his center of the universe. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Those of us who were fortunate to have been born in the United States tend to take our citizenship, and all of its accompanying benefits and freedoms, for granted. We are reminded of our good fortune on holidays such as the Fourth of July that evoke our passion of patriotism. But we tend to put aside these feelings until the next holiday.
Yet our respect for the flag and nation often disappears when the national anthem is played at sporting events. Men leave their caps on when the anthem is played, or else interpretations of the anthem would make one think they were at the Grand Ole Opry or watching Soul Train.
At Ole Miss, it is the custom of students, sober and otherwise, to holler out “Go the hell LSU!” in the middle of the anthem. Our respect seems to be waning. However, I recently experienced some hope. Judge Neal Biggers invited me to attend a naturalization ceremony at the federal courthouse in Oxford. I gladly accepted his invitation.
After passing through security, I arrived at courtroom No. 1. Judge Biggers reserved a seat for me in the second row of the jury box. All other seats in the courtroom were taken. The front row was filled with young children holding small American flags. I was told that 43 individuals were to be naturalized, but only 42 had shown up. Everyone stood as five federal judges entered the courtroom.
Judge Biggers opened the ceremony by observing that a naturalization ceremony is the only occasion at which everyone present in a federal courtroom is happy to be there – usually half of those present wish they were somewhere else! This remark seemed to put everyone at ease.
Two female members of the Second Baptist Church of Oxford came forward to sing the national anthem, performing it flawlessly, a cappella. Many in the group about to be naturalized wiped away tears. Then Rev. David Freeman presented the invocation –– a bit of a challenge for a Christian minister to invoke a blessing to which all religions represented could relate. But he responded to the challenge. A quartet of singers came forward and sang “American the Beautiful” – also a cappella.
Judge Biggers then introduced Ole Miss journalism professor Samir Husni to present the principal address. He began by noting that he could relate to this ceremony because 18 years ago he was naturalized as a citizen of the United States, 12 years after arriving in this country from Lebanon.
After his address, Patricia Didlak of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office came forward to read the names of those to be naturalized. Judge Biggers asked each candidate to stand and name the country to which they held previous allegiance. The audience was invited to come forward and take photos of the ceremony, an exception of the use of cameras in a federal courtroom. Countries represented in this particular group included Taiwan, India, Mexico, Turkey, Germany, Argentina, Venezuela, the United Kingdom, Cuba, Barbados, Jamaica, Yemen, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Columbia, El Salvador and the Philippines.
The candidates then stood to take the oath of citizenship. The intensity with which each candidate renounced his or her former allegiance was impressive:
“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce
and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate,
state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject
or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United
States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will
bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf
of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform
noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States when
required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance
under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this
obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.
So help me God.”
Everyone applauded, many cheered. Judge Biggers then asked the audience to remain standing and join Lt. Stuart Doyle of the United States Army in stating the pledge of allegiance. I have never heard the pledge spoken with such intensity and credibility, and I would not be telling the truth if I did not say the moment overwhelmed me.
The Judge then asked everyone to be seated and invited Ms. Betty Brandon of the Daughters of the American Revolution to come forward to present souvenirs to the new citizens –– a small American flag and a booklet containing the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence.
Other Federal Judges present were then invited to comment. Magistrate Judge Jerry Davis noted that the several countries present represented many different national sports –– from soccer to cricket. He then implored the new citizens to learn, appreciate and become fans of the game of baseball – the national game of the U.S. – and especially the St. Louis Cardinals! His comment evoked the first humorous response from the audience.
Other judges then joined in welcoming these new citizens and urged them to accept their new responsibilities. The new citizens and their families and friends were invited to remain after the ceremonies officially ended and pose for photos at the American Flag in the courtroom. Judge Biggers then adjourned the ceremony.
The crowd seemed to swell as everyone gathered at the flag. Several judges offered to pose with the new citizens before their new flag. Leaving the courtroom, I began humming “America the Beautiful.”
There should be a way to force every individual who does not show respect for our flag and our national anthem to attend a naturalization ceremony. Perhaps they would gain new respect for both.
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