It may be a bit of a dirge. It may sorely lack (in my humble musical opinion) a Keith Richardsesque guitar riff and a Keith Moon drum break. It may contain archaic language (‘thee’, ‘thy’, ‘entreat’) and be acknowledged as the work of a second rate poet set to a third rate tune. 

But national anthems, like flags, are one of the things, perhaps small in themselves, that nonetheless hold a nation together. They are small loose threads that make up the national fabric; pull on them and the whole stitching may start to come apart.

So it is dismaying that this week a school principal has given one of these threads a decent yank. 

The principal of Whanganui’s Carlton Primary, Gaye O’Connor, has sent a text to parents asking if they did not want their children to sing the anthem at school assemblies ‘due to cultural or religious reasons’. Principal O’Connor had noticed a less than enthusiastic rendering at assemblies and concluded that the students might need to be re-taught it. Sound idea. But then as it so often does these days, the PC impulse kicks in. Principal O’Connor in her own words:

“But before we decided to re-teach it I said to the staff you’d better find out first if there are any students who for religious or cultural reasons don’t sing. Like some people don’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas.”

Oh God defend us!

Defend us all from this mushy hugs-for-everyone hypersensitivity.

What ‘religious or cultural’ grounds could you possibly have for refusing to sing the national anthem of the nation you are a part of?

Let’s take religion first. Nowhere in the lyrics does it explicitly refer to the Christian God. A Mohammedan or a Jew could sing it with good conscience substituting their own deity. While the poet Thomas Bracken was no doubt a believing Christian (as were most New Zealanders in the 1870s when it was written), the words refer to God only in a vague universal sense. Personally I’m a fence sitter on the question of the divine and have fashioned my own personal religion ‘The Church of the Second Martini’ based on the mystical insights that two of those sublime concoctions inevitably produce. But even those more unorthodox than I, the radical Richard Dawkins type atheist should get by with the thought that the belief in God they so scorn was a central part of the founding of this nation. A little humility is called for, if not in the face of God then at least in the face of religion and the benefits it has given the country.

As for cultural objections, after re-reading the full lyrics (the first verse is usually the only one sung) I cannot imagine what these could be. Something in the second verse?

‘Men of every creed and race,
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place
God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great’

Is it the implied criticism of state corruption? Would our recent immigrants from a certain country (it rhymes with ‘diner’) where you routinely slip the government teacher a little brown envelope full of cash so your child mysteriously receives the exam answers a week before the exam, object? 

Or is there some culture that actually values ‘dissension, envy and hate’?

Actually I can think of a few. 

How can I put this politely? Perhaps I shouldn’t. If you as an immigrant can’t get behind the simple sentiments of our anthem and muster enough gratitude for this country that has accepted you into its borders, you shouldn’t be here. You should bugger off to a country whose values you do agree with.

Because we aren’t (despite the best efforts of the Principal O’Connors of this world) changing ours.

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