By Terence Farrell, Chester County Commissioner
The Chester County Commissioners’ meetings always begin with the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge was composed in 1892 by Francis Bellamy and adopted by Congress in 1942, the dark days of World War II.
We take part in this pledge as an expression of loyalty to our flag and to the United States of America. As I stated during Thursday’s meeting, the meaning of our Pledge of Allegiance was never more evident than during Wednesday’s United States Citizenship ceremonies at Temple University.
I was asked by U. S. District Court Judge Juan Sanchez – a former member of the bench of Chester County Common Pleas Court – to be the guest speaker and spoke after Michael E. Kunz, the Clerk of Court for the U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania, conducted the Oath of Allegiance to those 48 new citizens from 32 different countries. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Dr. Samuel Hodge, professor of legal studies at Temple University. Judge Sanchez presented each person a citizen’s certificate.
You could tell by looking in their eyes that the oath meant a lot to those new citizens of the United States. Many faced struggles, with and without family members to support them, to become citizens of this country. I told the gathering that we welcomed them to this newest circle of opportunity called American citizenship. For me, it was a great honor and privilege to join them on this special day
“Citizens, because you have had to choose citizenship in America, and you have not been born into it, you have had to study and become familiar with the founding documents of this great country,” I said. “You know that our Declaration of Independence states, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’ Our Constitution was established so that ‘we the people,’ the citizenry, might, among other things, “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
Those sacred documents, for which men and women have pledged their honor and shed their blood, for more than two centuries, now apply to all of the new citizens and their children and grandchildren. They are welcome to this grand American experiment.
America is not perfect and is evolving as we grow towards those ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. We are a nation of immigrants. Nearly two-thirds of America is an immigrant, the child or grandchild of an immigrant, or married to an immigrant.
Each new citizen had a unique story and made a unique journey in coming to the United States. They made sacrifices. The diversity of America is one of its great strengths, in fact its backbone.
They all have an opportunity to succeed and they didn’t have to look far for an example. Judge Sanchez was born in Puerto Rico, and was sent to this country by his mother as a young boy. He did not speak English, yet went through the school system in New York City and excelled, then attended Law School at the University of Pennsylvania. He had a distinguished career as a lawyer in Chester County, was elected a judge here, and 10 years ago was elevated to the Federal District Court, where he continues to distinguish himself.
Every time we take part in the Oath of Allegiance, in a commissioners’ meeting or a gathering of new citizens, we should all keep in mind the possibilities and the responsibilities of being a citizen of the United States of America.
In conclusion, I encouraged them to enjoy their new lives as American citizens and quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who once said, “We may all have come on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”
(Terence Farrell is a Chester County Commissioner. He can be reached at TFarrell@chesco.org.)