The Democracy Book-Principle 16

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Principle 16: Private groups can have special  practices if they are not against the Supreme Law of the land or the new laws.

Basketball player, girl in folk clothing, cheerleader

One girl is wearing a special uniform that only members of her team wear. The dancing girl is wearing a dance costume worn only by members of her dance troupe. That is their special practice. The cheerleader has a special practice too. She and her cheerleader friends agree to always wear a special uniform when they perform as cheerleaders. Their special practices are not against the law.

A private group of fishermen had a special practice they used. When people who looked just like them fished in the area it was okay. But when people with a different language and color of skin came to fish in the area the private group got mad. They carried out a plan to wreck the boats of the different colored fishermen and to hurt them physically. This was their special practice. The practice said, “Only our kind can fish here.” Do you think this practice is against the law of the land?

Another private group had a practice too. Most of them came from a country high in the mountains and far away. So they decided that each one from their high and distant homeland would wear a little blue snowflake on his or her shirt or coat. That way they could easily recognize each other and be quick to offer help if it was needed. Their practice said, “We who wear the blue snowflake are like family.”

In  a democracy one of these private group practices is okay and the other is illegal. Can you tell which is okay in a democracy and which is not? Do you think one of the practices breaks the law of the land?  Which of these two special practices do you like best?


The time at Elena’s had passed quickly and soon it would be one year since Petra and Nadesh had been put ashore in Big Tree Land by the old Captain. It had been a good year. So much had happened.  Things like being voted to get to stay, finding a religion she liked and a religion that also knew democracy was a good thing. And she was happy to have her friends.

But it had been a hard year too. She would never see her parents again. She knew they were dead. But she was not alone in this. Of course she had Nadesh, but Petra also discovered that a few other kids knew their parents were dead too. Most of the kids at Elena’s expected to have their parents return for them eventually. But for those who knew their parents had died there was a strange thing. They all felt the same way about it. On the one hand they were very sad that their parents were dead. But on the other hand they knew their parents would be happy that their children were living in freedom, living in a democracy.

Sahara said it like this. “Oh how I wish I could have Mommy and Daddy back again, but I know they had always hoped that someday I would be able to grow up in freedom, and now I am. I just wish they could be here to live in freedom too. But I am happy to be making their dream come true—the dream that one day I would live and grow up in a democracy and get to be free every day!” The handful of kids who knew their parents were dead all felt the same. They felt like Sahara did. They were fulfilling the dream of their parents—the dream of living in a democracy.

One day Sahara had an idea. She shared it with Petra.

“Let’s do this to honor our parents—the parents we no longer have. Let’s tell all the kids whose parents are dead to wear yellow arm bands one day a week. We can be the yellow arm band club. It will show we still think of them AND, it will show that we are happy to be living in freedom.” She stopped to see how Petra liked her idea. Petra was smiling. Petra liked it. 

“Sahara, that is a great idea! It will be a club for honoring our parents who have died and at the same time, show that we are happy to live in a democracy. I like it.”

Sahara added, “But this club is only for those kids whose parents are dead.” Petra agreed. They needed a special little club just for them. A club where they understood how each other felt.

After the idea had been discussed among those whose parents had died, it was agreed.

“Ok,” said Petra, “every Tuesday we will wear our yellow arm bands. We should encourage each one in our group to do it. Let’s get 100% on this!”

Some kids did not like it that they were not invited to wear yellow arm bands on Tuesdays. They knew their parents would come back someday, but they wanted to be a part of the new practice that said—“if your parents are dead, and you love democracy, wear a yellow arm band on Tuesdays.” One person even said he thought it was against democracy to have a special practice that was not passed by the voters. There was a lot of talk about it.

But after a heated discussion one day before lunch, Nadesh set the record straight. He felt strongly about this and you could tell it by his loud voice. “This practice does not go against the written laws that our elected lawmakers have made. So that part is ok. And secondly, people in the club are strongly encouraged to wear the arm bands, but they don’t have to. They don’t violate the legal laws if they don’t wear them. You can’t put anybody in jail if they refuse to wear one. So, there it is! It is not against the law TO WEAR one and the law cannot do anything to you if you DO NOT WEAR one!”  Then in a more regular voice he added, “The point is, special groups can have special practices if they don’t violate the law of the land.” To be continued....

Activity: Repeat aloud the questions from the discussion page. Draw the children out. Which special practice breaks the law? (The one that wrecks boats and hurts people) Why does it (wreck boats/hurt people) not fit in a democracy? Why does the blue snowflake special practice fit in a democracy? This question is answered by restating the phrase under the drawing, “private groups can have special practices if they are not against the law.” (The snowflake special practice is not against the law) Look at the drawings with the children. Mention again what special practice each one has. (Ball players wear athletic shorts and jerseys, dancers wear dance costumes and cheerleaders wear uniforms.) Ask if they have ever seen a ball player wear a business suit when playing basketball. Or have they ever seen a cheerleader wearing airplane pilot clothes? Usually they have not. Have they seen dancers wearing soldier uniforms? No, not
usually. Then ask, “Does a dancer wearing a soldier uniform or a ball player wearing a business suit go against the law of the land?” (No, it is tradition, not law, that has basket ball players wear jerseys, dancers wear dance costumes, etc.) “Could the government FORCE the ball players and dancers to follow the traditional dress practices?” No, it is not illegal to not follow tradition. In a democracy a private group can have a special practice to live by, but they cannot force the special practice on their members and the special practice must not be against the law.

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