Tags: US | Star | Spangled | College

Pacifist College Begins Playing National Anthem

Tuesday, 23 Mar 2010 11:17 PM

Fans packed the stands and an American flag fluttered in a spring breeze as strains of the national anthem floated over the baseball field at Goshen College in what is typical pregame ritual for most Americans.

But both the flagpole and the anthem were new Tuesday to the Mennonite-affiliated college, which had never before played "The Star-Spangled Banner" in deference to its pacifist traditions.

The northern Indiana college's decision to play an instrumental version, followed by a peace prayer, roiled many students and alumni when it was announced in January. But on Tuesday, the reaction was, if not 100 percent positive, at least polite.

Three students sported chests painted to form the American flag. Most in the stands stood as the anthem played, though a few remained seated.

Athletes tried to stay focused on the task at hand — a doubleheader against Siena Heights University.

"There are a lot of distractions today. Let's focus on baseball," Goshen baseball coach Josh Gleason told his team during the pregame huddle. "Most of this will be over after the first inning. We have 14 innings of baseball to worry about."

The Mennonite Church, with which Goshen College is affiliated, has no official stance on playing the anthem. But the 116-year-old school had never played it because officials felt its wartime images were incompatible with the school's commitment to peacemaking.

Some on the 1,000-student campus believe the song undermines the church's pacifist message and puts love for country above love for God.

Goshen College President Jim Brenneman said the change was aimed at making students and visitors outside the faith feel more welcome.

Brenneman noted that some students have strong feelings about pacifism, while others have loved ones who have served in the military and embrace patriotic causes. International students have no association with the American national anthem, he added.

"All of these students are a vital part of this community," Brenneman read from a statement Tuesday. "I am committed to retaining the best of what it means to be a Mennonite college, while opening the doors wider to all who share our core values."

The athletic department asked Brenneman to reconsider the school's stance in September 2008. Brenneman said the teams often fielded the criticism about the policy because the anthem's absence is most visible at sporting events, where it has become part of American culture.

The issue caught the attention of conservative talk show host Mike Gallagher and prompted a flood of calls and e-mails urging the school to change its policy.

Goshen spokeswoman Jodi Beyeler said the decision to lift the ban stemmed from the work of a task force assembled last spring. The college will review the practice in June 2011.

Siena Heights coach John Kolasinski said his team respected Goshen's decision and wouldn't dwell on it.

Goshen student Sean Doering said he attended the game to support his friends and honor the United States and those with different beliefs.

"You have to respect other people's opinions," said Doering, whose chest was painted in red and white stripes. "The freedom that the flag means allows us to be here, attend this college."


Associated Press Writer Carly Everson contributed to this story.

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