Mennonite College Denies Banning National Anthem

Amid pressure from its surrounding community, a Mennonite liberal arts college denied banning the performance of the national anthem at sporting events, saying it is simply finding an alternative that better resonates with its core values.

In a Facebook message posted Wednesday afternoon, Indiana's Goshen College distanced itself from rumors that it had "banned" the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner" at sports games because the lyrics were "violent."

"Goshen College HAS NOT 'banned' the National Anthem. The Board HAS asked President James E. Brenneman to find an alternative to playing the Star-Spangled Banner that fits with sports tradition," the message clarified.

Additionally, the school denied that violence was the reasoning for their decision. Instead, it stated the board found the music to be "too divisive" and said that it compromised the college's vision.

The college's clarifications differ from statements the school spokesmen and staff initially gave to Fox News network, the news organization that publicized the story.

Goshen College initially issued a statement Tuesday to Fox radio stating, "Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College's practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem's militaristic language."

Goshen College art professor John Blosser also told Fox News Radio, "[The anthem is] rather violent. It's about using violence to conquer and that would be something that many people here would have problems with."

The change in Goshen College's tone came after news of the college's decision against the anthem, made Monday, sparked negative remarks in the community.

Goshen City Councilman Harland Lantz told Fox News Radio (which aired the story Tuesday) that the decision is "anti-American."

City Councilman Donald Riegsecker said of the college's decision, "People are disappointed."

Last January, board members decided to allow an instrumental version of "The Star Spangled Banner" to be performed before games. However, on Monday, board members changed their decision, announcing it would no longer perform the anthem, preferring instead an alternative.

School officials say the recent decision was influenced by a year-long dialogue that began in February 2010. In a Facebook comment, a school official stated that board members expressed very heartfelt positions on both sides of the issue, leading the university to seek a neutral alternative.

Richard Aguirre, director of public relations at Goshen College, told the Goshen News the issue is far from black and white.

"I think some in the media ... have framed it as a debate between those who love country, who honor the military and respect the sacrifice of those who served in the military, and America haters on the other side," he said. "Not only is that an inaccurate framing of the issue, but it's an offensive one to people who on this campus have in fact served in the military or had relatives who did, but for reasons of conscience don't support playing the anthem."

Goshen College is not the only institution of higher learning to ban the performing of "The Star Spangled Banner."

Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia and Hesston College in Kansas have similar policies, according to The Goshen News.

More than any other Christian denomination, Mennonites – who emphasize peace and non-violence – place higher priority on their status as people of God than on their national identity, says Dan Miller, Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference pastor.

However, some are still displeased about the absence of the American anthem.

Facebook commenter Shannon Scott-Fisk said, "You can be a pacifist and patriotic."

She continued, "Choosing not to play the national anthem is unpatriotic and you ALL should feel shame."

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