On Monday, the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri announced that it was requiring every freshman to enroll in a “Patriotic Education and Fitness” program, which, according to the Kansas City Star, was created to teach students about modern military customs, American politics, and flag protocol and procedures.
“We should be more intentional about patriotic education, and from our point of view that needs to occur from kindergarten all the way through college,” College of the Ozarks President Jerry Davis told the Springfield News-Leader. “Patriotic education is not inherited. It must be taught, it must be modeled and it must be emphasized.”
Davis added: “It’s the United States of America, not the diversified states of America.”
The class seems to be a direct response to athletes across the country taking a knee during the national anthem to protest systemic racism and police brutality, a movement that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began last year. In September, the College of the Ozarks, which is a Christian college that was named the most unfriendly school for LGBT students by Princeton Review this year, announced a “No pledge, No Play” initiative — it not only requires Ozarks athletes to stand at attention during the Star Spangled Banner, it requires their opponents to stand at attention as well.
“There is too much of an indifference toward the military in this country, and people seem to have forgotten that people in the military are the ones that continue to make the sacrifices for the rest of us,” College of the Ozarks President Jerry Davis told Fox News.
The “Patriotic Education and Fitness” class won’t just focus on the flag and military — it will also teach students about map reading, navigation, rope knotting, and rifle marksmanship.
The College of the Ozarks is a unique, private Christian liberal-arts college that only has about 1,500 students. It proudly calls itself “Hard Work U.” According to Davis, “all students work on campus, debt is openly discouraged, and no federal, state, or private loans are made.” Though it is small, the school does offer athletics: baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, and track for men; basketball, cross country, cheer, golf, track, and volleyball for women. They compete independently in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, and are thereby unbound by the NCAA’s rules and regulations on inclusion.
Patriotism is baked into the core of the college’s mission — the school officially boasts Academic, Vocational, Christian, Patriotic, and Cultural goals. It’s patriotic goal is to “encourage an understanding of American heritage, civic responsibilities, love of country, and willingness to defend it.”
The school’s Christian goal “to foster the Christian faith through the integration of faith with learning, living, and service” is similarly vague, as is its denominational affiliation. Documents on the school’s website indicate it once claimed a connection to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a relatively liberal mainline Christian denomination which ordains LGBTQ ministers, allows clergy to officiate same-sex marriages, and whose leaders have openly criticized President Donald Trump. But while the school is listed as a member of the Association of Presbyterian Colleges and Universities (schools that reportedly have “historical relationships to the Presbyterian Church (USA)”), a national PC(USA) representative distanced the denomination from the college in a conversation with ThinkProgress, noting it was founded by Cumberland Presbyterians—a more conservative sect. When contacted by ThinkProgress, a representative from the College of the Ozarks could not immediately name institution’s official denominational affiliation.
How the school marries devotion to country and devotion to God is unclear, and un-nuanced conflations of piety and a hardline brand of patriotism are firmly rejected by many Christians–including some demonstrators who take a knee during the national anthem. But news of the flag-focused class may play well with devotees of Christian nationalism, a political and theological ideology that is seeing a resurgence under Trump.
Whatever the school’s religious identity, it appears to be distinctly conservative when it comes to sexual ethics: the College of Ozarks handbook specifies that “sexual relations are for the purpose of the procreation of human life and the uniting and strengthening of the marital bond … purposes that are to be achieved solely through heterosexual relationships in marriage.” It also considers homosexuality, porn watching, and gender expression that is “inconsistent with sex assigned at birth” to be “misuses of God’s gift of human sexuality.”