The Dagger - NCAAB

Visiting fans who attend a basketball game, or any sporting event, at Goshen College this season may be surprised by the patriotic song they hear over the loudspeakers minutes before tipoff.

The Northern Indiana school has decided to play "America the Beautiful" prior to sporting events instead of the "Star-Spangled Banner" because the lyrics better fit the pacifist ideals of a Mennonite campus whose motto is "Healing the World, Peace by Peace."

Adopting "America the Beautiful" is Goshen president James E. Brenneman's attempt to end a debate over the national anthem that has engulfed his school for almost two years.

Goshen College had never played the national anthem before a sporting event until March 2010 when the school began playing an instrumental version at the urging of Brenneman. In a lengthy statement explaining the change in policy, Brenneman said, "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."

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The practice of playing the national anthem before games was immediately controversial among the 1,000-person student body, 58 percent of which belong to the Mennonite faith built on pacifism and global citizenship. Complaints from students and alumni eventually caused school officials to put an end to the short-lived ritual of playing the anthem at sporting events in June.

What bothered many at Goshen College about the "Star-Spangled Banner" was imagery from the War of 1812 that Francis Scott Key included. Goshen spokesman Richard R. Aguirre told the Chicago Tribune that lyrics such as "the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air" were "inconsistent to the entire message we were trying to send."

Seeking a compromise that would satisfy both factions at his school, Brenneman considered numerous patriotic songs before announcing last Friday that "America the Beautiful" would be the replacement for the national anthem at Goshen. In a statement released that day, Brenneman explained his choice by pointing out that it's easily recognizable, it honors the country and it fits with Goshen's core values.

"Though some may or may not agree with the alternative recommended here, I call now on each one of us to move beyond this decision and turn our attention to other important matters before us," Brenneman said. "May God help Goshen College become one of the most welcoming places on earth for all who come to our campus."

Brenneman's attempt at compromise may have satisfied some students and alumni, but the decision has sparked protest and derision from many outsiders.

"Goshen College should be banned from NCAA competition until they start playing the National Anthem again," one man tweeted. Wrote another, "I don't agree w/Goshen College decision but it's America and it's cool for them to do what they want.."

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