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Pledge Of Allegiance

A few days ago, my son told me that one of his teachers (he is in 8th grade), after decorating the whole school with American flags, announced that they will be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.

I was not aware at the time that this is a new State Law, snuck under the radar during the summer. But it is. It was enacted on July, 12th 2006, as a change in general powers and duties of the state concerning the educational system. You can see the history of how the statute was changed here and the final version of the bill here (PDF).

The press only noted this the other day. Some were good, i.e., using precise language of the law, e.g., the Raleigh News & Observer, which stated correctly:

A new state law requiring schools to schedule time each day for students to recite the pledge has revived a tradition right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

On the other hand, every newspaper that carried the Associated Press article got it wrong:

A shortage of flags, questions about patriotism, and confusion among teachers have greeted a new state law requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom.

The latter would be unconstitutional, according to this Supreme Court decision (which is a great read actually).

Apparently, the bill was snuck in so silently that even our local bloggers, who are usually very alert to everything happening at the state and local level, missed it. Only Dave commented at the time, with the predictable and correct outrage, and suggested an alternative version that reflects reality in a less ambigious way:

I pledge to honor and defend the flag, our nation, and the principles that make them great: the right to choose our leaders, freedom to worship, freedom of speech, and justice for all.

Even Will Raymond, who is a watch-dog and hound-dog of local politics missed it until this week. He provides more detail on the history of the way the bill was worded.

Not everyone is outraged, of course.

Although the NC House is controlled by Democrats, the bill passed with only one “No” vote. The lone dissenter is State Representative from Durham Paul Luebke (more here and here). I am assuming that he is in a very safe district and I am not sure if he even has an opponent this Fall, so he probably does not need campaign contributions (though you can ask). But you can send him a thank-you note if you wish at: paull AT ncleg DOT net.

As a naturalized U.S. citizen, I follow the stereotype of foreign-born citizens knowing American history, geography, civics and law better than many locals (because I had to study it, instead of just organically grow in it), so I was quite aware what the constitutional/legal issues are regarding the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.

So, I told my son that he has several choices: go along and recite it (with ot without the salute); recite the original version by skipping over the 1954 “under God” insertion; or remain silent (while either standing up, sitting down or exiting the classroom). I told him that the Constitution gives him the choice and that nobody could take that choice away from him. It is the “under God” clause that bothers him the most and he wanted to make sure that he had the right to omit it on the days he decides to say the Pledge, as well as right to not say the Pledge at all on days in which he is not in the mood to do so.

On Monday, after I picked him up, he was really distressed. He chose not to say the Pledge. He told the teacher that he is an atheist and does not believe in that stuff and does not wish to say a pledge that includes “under God” in it.

She threatened to made him call his parents if he does not shape up and he immediately went to the classroom phone and started dialing, but she stopped him. At the time, I was still at home and she would have gotten an earful from me, as you can imagine.

Then he told her that his Dad told him that he has the right to remain silent. In the end, after much questioning and threatening, both in front of his friends and out in the hall, she FORCED him to say the Pledge, every word of it. She was giving him mean looks for the rest of the first two periods.

Yesterday morning I went to school and talked with the vice-principal. She was appalled that such a thing happened in her school, apologized profusely, and reassured me that she will make sure that such a thing does not happen again. This made me happy – the system DOES work.

After all, one of the main reasons why people from the area, no matter if they work in one of the big companies or institutes in the Research Triangle Park, or at NCSU, UNC, Duke or other local colleges, choose to live in Chapel Hill despite outrageously expensive housing – the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system is the best in the state and one of the best in the country. This is an island of sanity in the ocean of irrationality. But this incident goes to show that such things can happen even in the most enlightened of places.

And I agree, my son’s school is excellent, I love all of his teachers of the past three years, and he is really thriving there. The teacher who did all this flag-waving is a brand new hire and you cannot really blame the school for not knowing she would be a frenzied, jingoistic nationalist and a rabid evangelical, frenetically worshiping a piece of cloth that stands as a symbol of the state instead of the people.

In the meantime, my daughter is in the 5th grade. Her teacher, who is just absolutely fantastic (she was my son’s 5th grade teacher as well), told the class in advance what their rights were. Some chose to say it, some chose not to. My daugther chose to stand up and remain silent – she could always have the excuse of being shy to speak out loud in front of other people.

Tuesday morning at Pledge time – I guess someone told my son’s teacher something in the meantime – she told the kids to exit the room if they did not want to recite the pledge and ALL but one kid went out, with my son in the lead (it’s a small elective class – so it is not like 25 kids walked out, more like 5). She is still not 100% right, though, as they had the right to remain inside the classroom if they so desired and remain silent. I will see what happens today, after she has been briefed by the vice-principal.

I am so proud of my son for thinking about the issue with his own head, getting the relevant information and acting according to his rights. All I provided was information and support – all choices were his. It takes guts to do so.

Also, see Ed Brayton’s take on this here and here.

Update: Will R, Lindsay Beyerstein, TNG, Timelady, Northstate Science, Alon Levy and Faux Real have commented on this and you should also check out what their comenters say.

Comments

  1. #1 themann1086
    September 13, 2006

    Tip of the hat to both you and your son. Your son showed a lot of guts in front of an authority figure like that.

    I’m sure everyone has Pledge stories, good and bad, so I’ll preemptively share mine. Junior year of high school. School tradition had it so that one student would lead the pledge over the PA system every morning. One of my friends, when she did it, paused for the under god part, then continued with the next line, omitting it. There was outrage, OUTRAGE, from the administration and members of the student body… though not, notably, our teachers, who were obviously quite amused by the whole situation. I never got a chance to do it myself, but had I, I was going to say something like “Under The Invisible Pink Unicorn”, just to prove a point. Ah well.

  2. #2 Elf Eye
    September 13, 2006

    Because I once objected to a proselytizing song (it itemized the qualities of the god of one particular sect–he is this, he is that, etc.) the music teacher took it into her head that my daughter had to be sent out of the classroom when the class began to learn Christmas carols. This was very ironic because I teach medieval and Renaissance literature, and my bread and butter is religious poems like The Pearl and Piers Plowman and Paradise Lost. However, I teach them for their literary and cultural value, a distinction that the music teacher was apparently unable to make. The school administration was thrown into a tizzy when I made it clear to them that my daughter was NOT to be removed from the classroom. Why, I asked, would removal be necessary, assuming that the material was being taught for its aesthetic and historical significance and NOT in order to indoctrinate the students? My daughter was returned to the classroom, and I received a letter of apology, supposedly from the music teacher, but I am convinced it was drafted by the town lawyer, who knew a civil rights violation when he saw one. I would be very surprised if your son could be required to leave the classroom as the price for exercising his rights. Keep us posted on how things turn out.

  3. #3 somnilista, FCD
    September 13, 2006

    It is a good thing you were just dealing with one overzealous teacher. In certain regions of this great land (Texas comes to mind) opting out of the Pledge would mean volunteering to be beaten up on the way home from school every day.

  4. #4 Mike the Mad Biologist
    September 13, 2006

    He told the teacher that he is an atheist and does not believe in that stuff and does not wish to say a pledge that includes “under God” in it.

    She threatened to made him call his parents if he does not shape up and he immediately went to the classroom phone and started dialing, but she stopped him. At the time, I was still at home and she would have gotten an earful from me, as you can imagine.

    Then he told her that his Dad told him that he has the right to remain silent. In the end, after much questioning and threatening, both in front of his friends and out in the hall, she FORCED him to say the Pledge, every word of it. She was giving him mean looks for the rest of the first two periods.

    Was the teacher a Bully for America or a Bully for Jesus? Of course, the two aren’t mutually exclusive…

  5. #5 tng
    September 13, 2006

    Kudos to your son for having the courage to resist that kind of pressure, and kudos to you and your wife for raising him to take pride in doing the right thing.

  6. #6 coturnix
    September 13, 2006

    I asked him again and, yes, she forces them to leave the room while that one remaining kid says the Pledge.

    BTW, my son decided today to run for Student Body President. His platform: to be heard, listened and respected no matter what one’s opinion.

  7. #7 somnilista, FCD
    September 13, 2006

    I think it’s interesting that when i discuss the Pledge issue with friends who would be labeled as “moderate Christians”, they frequently say something like, “why don’t you just keep silent during those two little words,” as a sort of don’t rock the boat plea. However, when someone actually tries that (e.g. congressman Jim McDermott), we find that it isn’t enough to appease the God-mongers anyway.

    Sometimes I try the “equal time” argument on them; how about a fraction of the time we say “under God,”, other times we say “under Allah,” or “under no God.” They don’t go for this, which really shows up their lack of fairness.

    Another thing I notice is that if I discuss the Pledge issue with such people, they will frequently bring up other transgressions, such as the “In God We Trust” on our money to justify the viewpoint that separation of church and state is not absolute. But then, if we discuss the “In God We Trust” issue, they will cite the Pledge, or congressional chaplains, etc etc. If they are going to use every transgression to justify the next, I see this as sufficient justification to oppose every step, no matter how inconsequential it may seem.

  8. #8 PhysioProf
    September 13, 2006

    “Tuesday morning at Pledge time – I guess someone told my son’s teacher something in the meantime – she told the kids to exit the room if they did not want to recite the pledge and ALL but one kid went out, with my son in the lead (it’s a small elective class – so it is not like 25 kids walked out, more like 5).”

    The image of those kids marching out of the room nearly brought a tear to my eye. Now *that* is patriotism.

  9. #9 Nick Anthis
    September 13, 2006

    Rock on. I’m glad to see that you’re making this a “teachable moment”. Although it’s ridiculous for any kid to have to go through this, this is also the kind of situation that I’m sure many of us would have liked to have been placed in so that we can make such an important point.

  10. #10 Neil the Ethical Werewolf
    September 14, 2006

    Well done, Bora.

  11. #11 cfeagans
    September 14, 2006

    Your son just became my hero!

    When I was in the 10th grade in Pecos, TX, we were made to recite the lord’s prayer at each assembly. I was a transfer student and *not* a church goer (though I had no idea what my religious beliefs were… I just never thought about it), so I found myself always faking it and struggling to learn the words just to fit in.

    I wish I had the cojones back then to have refused and remained seated, but I was more interested in making sure I went unnoticed. I pity the teacher that tries to force my daughter to participate in such things when she’s older… I just hope I get to the school before my wife does! :)

  12. #12 yank in london
    September 14, 2006

    Please pass on my congratulations and support to your son. It is both unbelievable and discouraging that this is sort of thing is still occuring.

    My pledge story goes back to 1972 (yes I’m old!). We were required to stand for the pledge but weren’t required to say it. Four or five of us (I’m afraid my memory is fading) refused to do so and were indefinely suspended. After about a week in which we threatened to get the ACLU involved, and they were eager to do so, we were eventually reinstated with the proviso that we spend our home room time in the vice-principal’s office.

    Good luck to your son. I’m proud of him!

  13. #13 cccc
    September 14, 2006

    You may want to tell your kid about Lucinda Williams. It’s not bad company to keep. Melancholy, that is.

    She had a similar pledge of allegience experience that her dad helped her with. Dads are useful like that.

  14. #14 Mrs. Coulter
    September 14, 2006

    Kudos to your son for being brave enough to stand up for his rights! I was also a pledge dissenter in high school (refused to recite or stand). My teachers and fellow students for the most part accepted my non-participation, except for the school librarian, who would have a complete fit if I happened to exercise my right to remain seated and silent in her domain (pledge was said at the end of first period–one year I had study hall that period, so I often spent it in the library). She was also a member of the church that my parents attended, and hounded me to return to attending services. Which I did not.

  15. #15 Erin M
    September 14, 2006

    *applause*

    Kudos to your son for thinking, for knowing his rights, and for standing up for himself.
    Kudos to you for raising him in a way that he knew he could do that without fear of reprisal!

  16. #16 The Ridger
    September 14, 2006

    As Mark Twain wrote nearly a century ago (1907):

    “This chief point of importance relates to citizenship. Citizenship? We have none! In place of it we teach patriotism which Samuel Johnson said a hundred and forty or a hundred and fifty years ago was the last refuge of the scoundrel — and I believe that he was right. I remember when I was a boy I heard repeated and repeated time and time again the phrase, ‘My country, right or wrong, my country!’ How absolutely absurd is such an idea. How absolutely absurd to teach this idea to the youth of the country….

    “Yet to-day in the public schools we teach our children to salute the flag, and this is our idea of instilling in them patriotism. And this so-called patriotism we mistake for citizenship; but if there is a stain on that flag it ought not to be honored, even if it is our flag. The true citizenship is to protect the flag from dishonor — to make it the emblem of a nation that is known to all nations as true and honest and honorable. And we should forever forget that old phrase — ‘My country, right or wrong, my country’!”

  17. #17 Benny
    September 14, 2006

    What an experience you and your children have been through. It proves that politics is always seeping in our schools, etc.

    I didn’t know until much later that “Under God” was added to the Pledge. I just recited it out of rote. In JR high, we never had to do that. In HS, it was diminished to a moment of silence, which was OK with me because it meant I didn’t have to worry about rights only but my own, which were to meditate or perhaps not.

    Good blog post, Bora. Thanks.

  18. #18 parge
    September 15, 2006

    I can’t add anything meaningful to the comments already here – just another kudos to add to the collection. Keep on rocking, et cetera and whatnot.

  19. #19 jeonjutarheel
    September 16, 2006

    Great post. I’m a Science and Math grad and I’ve heard some dissatisfaction from the current students about the policy (though certainly not as much as they’re up in arms about the new internet policies).

    My mother, who teaches middle school in Avery County, hasn’t mentioned it. Not that it’s an issue up in them there mountains, she had a girl inform her in science class last week quite matter-of-factly that the continents didn’t drift because of the flood, or some such nonsense.

  20. #20 ladysown
    September 27, 2006

    I guess I”m the odd one out. I don’t give kudos here.

    I can understand not wanting to say something, but you are part of the USA. This pledge is part of the culture that you are raised in. Your son COULD have chosen recite the pledge and then NOT say the words “under God”. That was a real option. INSTEAD he chose to make an issue of it. I don’t understand the ‘need’ to do that.

    It’s like immigrants coming over, and saying… oh I don’t like that this country does this, or that it does that, and it shouldn’t because I don’t like it. People choose to either be part of a country and follow it’s laws OR they can also choose to go somewhere else, perhaps to a country which is more to their liking.

    Each country has it’s “thing” that makes it unique. America was predominately formed by people who knew God and acknowledged him. Saying the pledge is partly saying that you hold to the history of the country that you are in.

    I’m not saying all my thoughts as well as I would like, but I guess I just don’t get why such a big deal needs to be made.

  21. #21 coturnix
    September 27, 2006

    Actually, the Pledge is not a part of the tradition – it is something imposed later by rightwing nationalistic sissies, quite against the idea of what America stands for. Addition of “under God” by even greater supernationalistic sissies (McCarthey-ists) is even worse. And the notion that America was built by and for Christians is a lie that Christians like to tell.

    Reading the Bernadette ruling (link is in the post) is quite enlightening.

  22. #22 elementaryhistoryteacher
    September 27, 2006

    I’m sorry your son was put through that. It’s amazing to me that many educators are not aware about the pledge and the history behind it. While I happen to be a Christian and I happen to like to say the pledge I honor the choice people have when they don’t wish to participate.

    I have had many students in my classroom who are athiests as well Seventh Day Adventists who have chosen to opt out. Once I am made aware I meet with the student to ask him/her how they want to handle the situtaion since most of my kids wants to recite along with the rest of the school during homeroom. Some have chosen to remain in the hall until after the pledge while others have chosen to sit.

    While I’m not a hand-wringer constantly spouting, “Can’t we all just along.” I do feel that educators need to begin the tolerance train with our own actions. Too many of us remain ignorant regarding the details of the situation.

  23. #23 Lady S
    September 30, 2006

    “Nothing But The Truth” by Avi should be required reading for all teachers.

    Say the pledge, don’t say the pledge. Be “under God”, or not. Stand or don’t stand. As long as you aren’t bombing my country, shooting up schools, malls, or churches, or taking away my right to choose, I am okay with what you are doing.

  24. #24 Deborah
    November 10, 2006

    Kudos to you and your son.

    Your teacher does not have the right to single children out by requiring them to leave the room. Every child has the right to stand silently or sit silently. Asking students to leave is considered a punishment under law.

    Further, most states consider asking children’s parents for permission for that child to opt out of the Pledge a violation of student’s rights. The ACLU is currently persuing a case in Florida, suing the state for requiring students to provide such written permission.

    Here is a good summation of the law. And yeah, the reason I know so much about it is I’m the Lipp cited in the 1978 case.

  25. #25 David
    November 10, 2006

    Kudos to your son for his brave stance. I teach middle schoolers, and it is very difficult for kids in that age group to stick up for themselves: they normally hate to stand out.

    That teacher deserves a serious reprimand, not just for the first incident, but for making the kids leave the class the second time. NO TEACHER has the right to do that.

    As a member of the Religious Society of Friends, I’m obligated by my faith NOT to swear an oath, to anything. I do not recite the Pledge in my own classroom. This has gotten me some looks and some questions from students and colleagues. What is most important is that we all know our rights, all the time, and stand up for them.

    Some of us also need to learn our limitations as well, it appears.

  26. #26 David Harmon
    December 12, 2006

    Notice the pattern of absolutism, as exemplified by the music teacher… it’s not enough to let a non-Christian kid choose not to join in religious statements or songs, they have to be ordered out of the room, lest anyone be inspired by their refusal to invoke God! Gaah!

  27. #27 David Marjanovi?
    April 23, 2008

    It’s like immigrants coming over, and saying… oh I don’t like that this country does this, or that it does that, and it shouldn’t because I don’t like it. People choose to either be part of a country and follow it’s laws OR they can also choose to go somewhere else, perhaps to a country which is more to their liking.

    No, it’s the USA’s own constitution that is at issue. This is what contradicts the pledge. Especially the First Amendment.

    Also, may I mention the fact that the USA is the only non-dictature in the world that has anything similar to the pledge of allegiance? I was deeply surprised and revulsed to learn (perhaps 10 years ago) that such a thing exists in the USA.

    In any case, I’ll mention the fact that the pledge (minus “under God”) was invented by a flag salesman as his slogan near the end of the 19th century.

    Each country has it’s “thing” that makes it unique.

    Patently untrue. As an Austrian, I speak from experience here. :-)

    America was predominately formed by people who knew God and acknowledged him.

    But not in the way you imagine. Most of the Founding Fathers were Deists: they believed that a god had created the universe and then retired. They didn’t believe in revelations, miracles, or any such phenomena, and Jefferson, while having utmost respect for the Sermon on the Mount, called the doctrine of the trinity a blasphemy…

  28. #28 Brigit
    April 23, 2008

    I’ve never said the pledge, and thankfully the nuns of my school accepted my explanations. Then again, I’m from an American colony and refuse to pledge allegiance to the overlord government.

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