To Pledge, or Not to Pledge?

To pledge or not to pledge? That is the question that has been running through my mind for a while now. Why should I pledge to the United States? What does it mean? Why should students care? In the beginning of third hour, I do stand up for the pledge and put my hand over my heart. I may not always say the pledge, but I do stand. I believe in recognizing all the lost souls, lost fighting for the freedom of America. And the flag is a patriotic symbol of our freedom. So yes, I do think students should at least stand for that minute of the day, to appreciate that we live in America. If they don’t stand, they should at least be quiet and be respectful of the students who are pledging allegiance. My family is Catholic and we pray before we eat meals. Some of my friends who come over and eat dinner with me and my family who aren’t practicing Catholics at least bow their heads and stay quiet in understanding and respect. It’s the same with pledging. If you pledge, good on you. If you don’t pledge, then show some respect and stay quiet for those who are. In the famous Supreme Court Case Minersville School District v. Gobitis, Lillian and William Gobitis were expelled form school for refusing to salute the flag and recite the pledge of allegiance in 1936. The brother and sister were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their parents believed saluting the flag violated the Christian commandment against bowing down to any graven image. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school board, that the mandatory flag salute was for national unity and to promote minds of the children who attend public school. Three years later, in the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnett the Supreme Court overturned the Gobitis case. The decision by the Supreme Court held that the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution protected students from being forced to salute the American flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. I had a really in-depth conversion (via email) with the senior Army instructor of Dimond’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps., Thomas V. Shelley, about saying pledge in school. Now for Q&A with Shelley: Q. “What does the flag mean to you / represent? “ A. “It is a symbol that is emblematic of everything our country is. Every belief, value and social norm. Ever policy, law and act by an elected official. Every rule and every freedom. Every collective deed of national heroism or cowardice. Every act which we commit, as well as those which we fail to commit. It is a symbol that represents each and every citizen. Our flag represents the very essence of America—and all that it means to be an American.” Q. “What does saying the pledge mean to you?” A. “To me a pledge is more of a solemn promise, as opposed to an oath or vow, which have at their core the idea of invoking a higher power as a witness with the implication that the deity will be displeased if the one making the oath fails in their sworn duties. So to “pledge allegiance” is first and foremost a solemn promise of commitment to, and denunciation against, the overthrow of our form of government. To pledge allegiance to the flag and the republic it represents —especially while using terms like “one nation” and “indivisible” is really just a solemn promise of proper civics. It’s saying that I will be loyal to my country. By saying that I do not by any means imply a sense of blind obedience – but rather I am committing myself to the ideal that where America needs changing, I will obey our system of government to express my voice.” Q. “In the Minersville School District v. Gobitis case in 1940 to two kids were expelled from school for refusing to salute and recite the pledge of allegiance,the supreme court found that the flag was a patriotic symbol,and the Court ruled, requiring the salute did not infringe on religious freedom. But soon after West Virgina legislature passed a law making public school in the state, salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance as a part of regular school activities. When this happened the Supreme Court overruled the Gobitis decision, and held such laws to be unconstitutional interference with the free exercise of religion. So there is no law stating students must pledge, and the students who choose not to say the pledge—do you think they should by respectful when others are pledging?” A. “ I understand exactly what you are saying about the legalities regarding the pledge. I completely acknowledge that a student cannot be made to take part. In fact, I personally would take it further than the Supreme Court did. How in the world can you mandate that someone make a “solemn promise”? A solemn promise, by its very nature, must come from the core convictions of the person making it – otherwise it is not a promise at all! So I whole-heartedly agree that no student can or should be made to say the pledge. But that begs the obvious question: if you don’t want to say the pledge, what in the world is the reason? If I am correct that our pledge is a simple statement of citizenship and civics, then what is the message one is trying to convey by abstaining? I would be very interested to hear the rational of the students who opt out of participating. I sincerely doubt that there are too many students walking the hallways of Dimond who, for whatever political reason, would choose the overthrow of our government over peaceful reform. It just seems odd to me that anyone would not want to say the pledge. But to more directly answer your question, yes, I do think it is necessary for those abstaining from participating in the pledge not to detract from those who do wish to say the pledge. It is an important point to note that one’s right to not participate does not extend to a right to interfere with those who do. And as I noted above, there is the aspect of solemnness involved. Any conduct that detracts from that, or creates and atmosphere non- conducive to other students solemnly reciting the pledge, would be very improper.” Q. “What do you think should be done if students aren’t being respectful and talking during the pledge?” A. “I think that a two-pronged approach is necessary if that is the case. My first reaction would be to find out if the student is just ignorant of all that we discussed above. Perhaps it is a simple case of the student being unaware of what the pledge really means. Maybe they have not made an informed choice about whether to participate or not. This is school, after all. Maybe the student just needs taught. But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume that we are talking about a student who, for whatever reason, has chosen to abstain. Then it would be a matter insuring that they understand how to abstain properly and without interfering with those who wish to say the pledge. Now, to that point I can hear some of our students crying foul to the infringement of their First Amendment rights. And I’m sure that we would all agree that students do not, as the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker vs. Des Moines, ‘shed their constitutional rights when they enter the schoolhouse door.’ But it is also the case that school administrators have a far greater ability to restrict the speech of their students than the government has to restrict the speech of the general public. In fact, the Court has settled that administrators ought to have the discretion to punish student speech that violates school rules and has the tendency to interfere with legitimate educational and disciplinary objectives. As the Anchorage School District through Superintendent Comeau and Principal Guyett have seen fit to make reciting the Pledge of Allegiance a legitimate educational objective, I think it is incumbent upon all students to either participate, or, if they choose to abstain, to do so in a manner that does not detract from the teachers and students who do. So to finish my thought, in the unlikely event that, even after having all this explained to them, a student refuses to cooperate and insists on interfering with others reciting the pledge, then I believe it would be a matter for Mr. Theonnes to handle. Lastly I couldn’t stress maybe the most important lesson you learn in life which is respect. Show respect and be respectful to everyone and anyone you stumble upon. If it’s respecting the pledge, someone else’s culture, background or what they wear It’s the least you can do”