Indiana college says no to national anthem

Sporting events at small Goshen College won't play out with the sounds of 'The Star Spangled Banner.'

July 2, 2011

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Goshen College officials say they're not trying to be disrespectful by not playing the national anthem. be
(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Goshen College President James Brenneman.
(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Goshen College student Luis Lopez supports the college's exclusion of the national anthem.
(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
VFW Post 985 Chaplain Terry Parsons supports the college's right not to play the anthem but doesn't agree with stance.
(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Bingo Night at VFW Post 985 in Goshen, Indiana.

You’ll no doubt be hearing a lot of  "The Star Spangled Banner" during this weekend’s Fourth of July parades and ceremonies. For some people, it’s the sound track of national loyalty.

But one small private college in North Central Indiana is pulling the national anthem from its sporting events.

It says the anthem doesn’t fit its religious outlook.

Critics of that decision are calling the college unpatriotic.

With its tree-lined streets, and quaint downtown  Goshen, Indiana looks like the quintessential American city.

A huge American flag waves at the entrance to Goshen Hospital.

Across the street from that big flag is Goshen College.

And what’s happening there, or rather, what’s not happening, is causing a stir!

FOX NEWS CLIP: Meanwhile the national anthem is banned in Goshen College in Northern Indiana. Normally they play the Star-Spangled Banner at its sporting events. But now, they’ve nixed it from all sporting events because they say it goes against the school’s pacifist principals.

That’s a commentator on FOX News. 

FOX NEWS CLIP: So, they’re going against what American stands for.

Not surprisingly, that’s not how Goshen College President James Brenneman sees the school’s recent decision to stop playing the national anthem.

"It was never about banning anything it was just something we didn’t do as part of our religious heritage,"  Brenneman said.

Goshen Collegehas been around for more than a hundred years.

It’s connected to the Mennonite Church, a Christian-based faith.

A primary tenet of the church is non-violence. It also takes the separation of church and state very seriously.

The church doesn’t restrict the handful of its colleges from playing the anthem.

But for a long time, Goshen College just didn’t include the anthem at things like sporting events. 

"For us, it was just not something we did," Brenneman said. But last year, college leaders decided to give it a try. "We actually experimented on doing it. Me and along with my team made a decision to do it and I felt good about the decision actually."

That decision brought heavy criticism from Mennonites who oppose playing the anthem, believing it puts country before God.

So, over the past year, administrators held discussions with faculty, alums and students; Fewer than half of the one-thousand students at Goshen are Mennonites.

In the end, Brenneman says, they concluded the anthem just doesn’t fit at GC. 

"The words of the anthem. You know, ‘Bombs bursting in air,’ the words are part of a larger argument being made as to why not to play it. Our intent is never to disrespect or dishonor not only our country or those who have died for these principals but to actually honor these principals," Brenneman said.

"I’ll tell ya, I think it’s wrong," said Goshen resident Keith Wixson, a member of the city’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 985.

"If you didn’t have the good country like it is, you’d have no freedom. They wouldn’t be able to have the college, or church or nothing," he said at the VFW hall, where he arrived to play bingo.

VFW Post chaplain Terry Parsons, a Vietnam veteran, is torn on the college’s stance. "That’s why we fight for this flag so people can have their own freedom of speech, freedom of life. Yea, it upsets me. I wish they’d go for it. You can’t make them," he said.

Goshen College isn’t the only Mennonite school that refuses to play the anthem.

A college in Kansas and another in Virginia don’t play it either.

But neither received the backlash Goshen College is now getting.  

Luis Lopez, one of Goshen College’s international students from Paraguay, says in addition to national principles there are religious teachings at stake. 

"A lot of the ones who have criticized the college do not know enough about Mennonitesand do not know enough about the institution. You can look at the act that we don’t just play the national anthem but it’s much deeper than that."

Goshen’s administration says the college will come up with alternative ways to honor the country while staying true to its faith. But it won’t be playing the anthem, as it did at this ballgame last spring.

Parsons says he’s not sure what alternatives the school could come up with. "I know what I like. ‘Ain’t’ no prettier song that the Star Spangle Banner."

He says at least when it comes to music…..no other song will do.