Freethinker Sunday Sermonette: Atheism, The Next Generation

Last week about 50 Boulder High School students walked out of class rather than recite the Pledge of Allegiance with the words "one nation, under God" in it. They wanted to recite their own version, cleansed of the offending phrase. I have a better idea, but first here's what happened in Boulder:

About 50 Boulder High School students walked out of class Thursday to protest the daily reading of the Pledge of Allegiance and recited their own version, omitting "one nation, under God."

The students say the phrase violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

They also say the daily reading of the pledge over the school public address system at the start of the second class takes away from education time and is ignored or mocked by some students.

A state law passed in 2004 requires schools to offer the opportunity to recite the pledge each day but does not require students to participate.

The protesting students, members of the Student Worker Club, want administrators to hold the pledge reading in the auditorium during each of the school's two lunch periods for any students who want to participate.

Otherwise, they said, they plan to walk out each Thursday when the pledge is read and recite their version, which omits the reference to God and adds allegiance to constitutional rights, diversity and freedom, among other things. (Denver Post)

Good for them. But why pander to the uber patriots? This is a big universe we live in. They should go all the way, like the 8 year old I posted on a little over two years ago:

I got a call from the elementary school administrative assistant this morning.

"Mrs. Jaworski?" I could hear her tapping a pencil against the desk.

"Uh yes, and it's Ms., please."

"Your son, 8, has been suspended for the day. Come here and pick him up."

She didn't give me time to answer, to ask questions, her voice disappeared as if someone cut the line. I stood in the kitchen, my bare feet aching from yesterday's marathon, and I took a deep breath. My son can be a nut at times, but he's never done the kinds of things that troubled kids do. He doesn't talk back, he doesn't pick fights, and he's never destroyed property. I couldn't picture him doing anything scholastically evil. Maybe he stripped and ran around the school naked, I thought. I grabbed my keys and headed out the door.

The principal met me in her office. She closed the door tightly behind me and invited me to sit in a stuffed orange vinyl chair.

"Mrs. Jaworski, 8 has been suspended from school for one day." She wore an arctic blue power jacket over black slacks, and I self-consciously tried to pull my hooded sweatshirt further over my pink pajamas.

"It's Ms., please. And sorry for my attire, but I ran a marathon yesterday and I'm too sore to change this morning." I tried to infect her with my smile, but she wore a tight-lipped expression as frosty as her jacket. "So, anyway. What did he do?" I picked at the hem of my sweatshirt, looked just to the right of her face. I couldn't meet her eyes. I felt nervous. I felt underdressed. I wondered where 8 was.

So she told me what he did. And as she told me, I started to laugh. I didn't laugh a little, either, but I belly-laughed and grabbed my stomach. My son stood with his class this morning, put small right hand over heart, faced the American flag, and recited his own personal pledge of allegiance:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United Federation of Planets, and to the galaxy for which it stands, one universe, under everybody, with liberty and justice for all species."

"Mrs. Jaworski. This isn't humorous. The Pledge is an extremely important and patriotic moment each morning in the classroom. I am ashamed of your son's behavior, and I hope you are, too."

I wanted to say, Hey Lady, it's a big universe. Why should we pledge allegiance to a mixed-up country? Why shouldn't my son embrace the potential of stardust? But I stood, extended my hand, apologized for my laughter, slung my purse over my shoulder, opened her door to find my son, 8, red-eyed sitting on the wooden bench bordering the World Map wall.

I'm sitting here, working on computer things, and Mr. 8 sits in the living room. He has to write the "real" pledge of allegiance fifty times before he can return to school. But first he's watching Star Trek. Damn straight. (Beauty Dish Blog)

Atheists: The Next Generation. Go boldly.

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There is so much fear, blind submission and mindless passivity to idiotic rules and even dangerous rights-reducing laws that it is indeed heartwarming to hear about these students. Their courage gives me hope. As you say, it is a big universe. And the one nation under God has been known to slip up once and awhile.

Mom should go directly to a lawyer to sue the principal for malpractice. (I bet she carries much less than $1 million in malpractice insurance.) She needs to be punished severely for punishing the kid because he does not conform to the principal's jingoistic politics.

(This strategy builds on the greed of lawyers, which we can rely on, rather than the justness of judges, which seems to not exist.)

This may be the way to go. Put them all out on the street, bankrupt, pushing stolen shopping carts and living in cardboard boxes, and then it won't matter if we shut them up because their voices will never again be heard.

By Watt de Fawke (not verified) on 30 Sep 2007 #permalink

No student can be compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance or any other oath or prayer. Period. (See the Supreme Court decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette:….) The mother may want to point this out to the principal to head off future problems. If the principal persists, go up the ladder. I would expect that the school district has a lawyer who would realize that this kind of behavior makes the school district vulnerable to a lawsuit.

O'Leary: I agree with you. I have a lot of optimism and hope for this generation. My students are wonderful. We seem to have lost a generation or two between the sixties and now (NB: lots of exceptions for individual students who grew up in that blank space) but the current one is great.

Watt, Elf: NB: this event happened over two years ago and was resolved (note I mentioned it was one of my posts from 2005, with link). Things have changed somewhat, but this is a constant struggle. But the kid had spunk.

I don't even like kids and I'd give this little guy a great big hug and kiss for standing his ground and being so open minded. If our future is in the hands of ones such as this, then there is hope....

You know as an ex-military guy I am on both sides of this one. I can guarantee that my kid wouldnt have disrupted the class in the Pledge. He/she would have remained silent. But if they were going to jack him for a day then that would be the most expensive day in their lives.

No one gets it more than the people in the military. They stand so that 8 and others can have the right to NOT do the Pledge, with or without God in it. That Federation of Planets thing... doesnt sound bad to me and doing so you are pledging allegiance to a country, a thing and not God.

Render unto Caesar........

By M. Randolph Kruger (not verified) on 30 Sep 2007 #permalink

When I was in junior high, I stopped saying the pledgs, not because of the God reference, but because the phrase "liberty and justice for all" seemed (in the late 1960's)to be a lie.

I still stood, I was just silent. It drove my teachers nuts and they went to great lengths to tell me how unpatriotic and unappreciative I was. I was never sent home, or suspended, but I think they talked to my parents and figured that was a dead end.

In retrospect, they could have sold me on saying the pledge if they had admitted that I was right about the liberty and justice thing and told me to pledge to work for "liberty and justice for all" in the future.

I stopped saying the pledge in school piece by piece. Stopped the "under god" bit in elementary school, then "with liberty and justice for all", the "the flag", etc. By late middle school I was done with the whole thing. In high school I had trouble with a teacher who wouldn't allow me to sit quietly during the pledge, so I handed him a full copy of the Barnette decision. He shut up after that.

Personally, I think these students who protested the pledge need to be punished severely. If we don't send a message that nonconformism will not be tolerated, there's no telling what will come next. Why, we might even end up with young people thinking they have the right to question authority!

The whole notion of a "pledge" to the flag rubs me the wrong way: why do we need it at all? The US didn't even have a pledge until the late 1800s, I believe. And it has been altered several times since then. I say just scrap the whole thing.

I was one of those sullenly bored kids who just couldn't be bothered to rebel, but simply went through the motions and mumbled whatever came to mind, usually something along the lines of,

"I Pez a sleaze mess to the scag of the Untied Space of Moronica, and to the Republicans, for Maurice Stans, one placation, under Dog, invisible, with Lipton tea and jugs of wine for owls."

Someone I came to know in later life had been far more creative and defiant than I had been, and insisted upon reciting the Pledge without "under God", for which his student peers of course made his life miserable, and his school administrators of course (despite his impeccable academic record) tried to have him disciplined or removed.

This was not helped when he recanted, or so they thought, and promised in writing that he would henceforth recite the Pledge "in its original unaltered form".

By which he meant the form originally written by Francis Bellamy *before* Congress, under Catholic pressure, added "under God" to it in the 1950s:

'I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.'

He further insisted upon reciting this version with what Bellamy had thought to have been the most patriotic form of salute to the flag: right arm raised stiff and straight, fingertips pointed towards the apex of the flag. This of course has certain resonances to a more modern audience which render it unsavory, but it is with no question the "original" form of the Pledge.

They of course told him that it was intolerable to have him delivering a Nazi salute in class every morning, and the formidable old country lawyer who had been retained by his parents then went outside and told a reporter for the local newspaper that the school board members had "made the disgusting implication that the author of the Pledge of Allegiance was a Nazi!"

Then things got complicated.

I wish I had been there to see it.


When I read what this kid said, I laughed out so loud that I scared the dog into the back room! But, the principal is not funny in the least. I hope she loses her job when the lawsuit is over.

By William Marshall (not verified) on 05 Oct 2007 #permalink