Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Pledge Project: Respect in Minnesota

There was a meeting yesterday (May 27) in Minnesota to discuss a change in the student handbook. (See Vote Split on Rule for Pledge) The current handbook requires that students stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. The Principal of the school suspended three students for not standing during the Pledge of Allegiance. After these suspensions, a fourth student refused to stand during the pledge (in protest) and was suspended in turn.

After this, the school was informed that the law prohibits the school from requiring students to stand during the Pledge. As a result, the school board met to discuss changing the handbook. Six of the seven trustees met yesterday.

The motion to change the school handbook to conform to the law failed. The vote resulted in a tie, so the motion to change the rule did not pass. The board will try again in June with all seven members present.

Even the three members who voted to change the rulebook have expressed displeasure at having to do so. They do not like the law, but feel compelled to obey it. The remaining three do not like the law either, and feel compelled to ignore it.

It has been my argument that this is the result of years of debate in which people have relied solely on legal arguments to challenge the Pledge of Allegiance and other church-state separation issues. It has generated hostility towards the law that is now strong enough that the law might simply be ignored, or re-interpreted.

The article that I referenced above has a comments section. If you read the comments, almost all of them fall into one of two groups.

Group 1: “Children should be required to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance because they owe respect to all of those who fought for our freedoms.”

Group 2: “Children should not be required to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance because they have a right to freedom of speech.”

Notice that Option 2 does not even question the claim that refusing to stand during the Pledge shows disrespect to others who fought for our freedoms. In effect, Option 2 can easily be taken as saying, “Children have a right to show disrespect for those who fought to protect our freedoms if they want to.” It is consistent with talking about those who sit through the Pledge as one would talk about the Nazi Party. “Yes, I agree with you, what they are saying is despicable and I absolutely condemn what they say. I am merely defending their right to say it.”

But, if sitting through the Pledge is contemptible, then what about those atheists who sit through the Pledge because no honest atheist can pledge allegiance to “one nation under God”?

Furthermore, the purely legal line of reasoning suggests a powerful response. “What is this country coming to if we not only teach our children not to respect the flag and our nation’s values but we protect those who treat our values with contempt?”

It’s time to start a new group.

Group 3: “You can show more respect by refusing to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance than you can by standing it or saying it.”

I added my comment to the comment section attached to this article. However, people need to start going to these meetings and telling not only the school board but the other attendees about the moral objections to having a pledge of allegiance to ‘one nation under God’ to start with.

I would like the news reports of this next meeting to report on somebody who said something like the following:

I would like to thank you for allowing me to have a few minutes of your time.

A citizen can show more respect for those who fought for our freedoms by refusing to stand during this Pledge, with the words ‘under God’, than they can be saying it.

When we teach children to pledge allegiance to ‘liberty and justice for all’ we are trying to teach them that a person who does not support liberty and justice for all is a bad person. He is certainly a bad American.

When we teach children to pledge allegiance to ‘one nation indivisible’ we are teaching them that it is important to support the union. We certainly have good reason to avoid another civil war.

When we teach children to pledge allegiance to ‘one nation under God’ we are teaching them that all good Americans believe in God, and that everybody who does not believe in God are bad Americans.

That last part, when ‘under God’ was added to the Pledge, crosses a line that the government has no right to cross. You have no right to be teaching students that Americans who do not believe in God are bad Americans. You have no right to be teaching children that they should look at their classmates and their neighbors who happen to be atheists with the same contempt that you want them to have for those who do not support liberty and justice for all.

You talk about ‘respect’, but you teach them contempt for neighbors who do not share your religious beliefs.

One of these people who fought for our rights was my father, Technical Sergeant William L. Fyfe. My father joined the army when he was 18 years old. He enlisted, with the intention of making the military his career. He served through the end of World War II through the Korean War, and into the Cold War. He worked for military intelligence, which involved a few missions behind enemy lines.

My father was an atheist.

You owe him your respect. Yet, you insist on starting each day telling the children in your school that an American who does not support ‘one nation under God’ – an American like my father – is as bad as an American who does not support liberty and justice for all. You teach them that my father was a bad American. The claim that in the name of respect everybody else has to stand while you call my father a bad American simply piles one insult onto another.

You want to deny that you are teaching children that my father was a bad American? Tell me that the Pledge is not used to teach children that people who do not support liberty and justice for all are not good Americans. Tell me that the Pledge is not used to teach children that people who do not support the union are not good Americans. Then tell me that you are not teaching them that people who do not believe in God are not good Americans.

I cannot stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I cannot for the life of me stand and join others in saying that my father was a bad American because he did not believe in God. Do you think that those who fought for our freedom deserve our respect. Then show them your respect, then quit saying and quit teaching these children that those who fought without believing in God are bad Americans.

Of course, I am a special position to speak about my father in this way. However, the fact that he was not your father in no way detracts from your right to demand that a local school board, city council, or legislature stop treating people like him with disrespect.

Teach the nation that an American shows more respect for those who fought for our freedoms by refusing to join in the Pledge with the words ‘under God’ than by spitting on Americans who fought for freedom without a belief in God. Teach them that an American who respects all military servicemen will not allow anybody – in particular their own government – to say that servicemen who do not support ‘one nation under God” are as bad as those who do not support “liberty and justice for all”.

Do not let the claim that standing and saying the Pledge means respect for those who fought and respect for America, while refusing to stand implies disrespect for those who fought and for American values. If you allow them to get away with this message, you are simply helping them to teach others (and particularly children), that good Americans say the Pledge and bad Americans do not.

It is absolutely absurd for us to continue to help teach this lesson.


Anonymous said...

Hi Alonzo, first I think you are doing an excellent job in these perspective on the pledge blog postings.

It just so happens that my son needed a fairly quick read for a book report requirement he needs to complete for school. He's in 6th grade. I had earlier purchased your Perspective on the Pledge book and planned to give it to him but didn't until just this morning.

I have told him before he doesn't need to participate in the pledge ritual, but he does. It'll be interesting if once he reads the story you've written in that book he'll act differently.

Anyway, thanks for your efforts.

I wrote a LTTE on the anticipated 9th Court ruling on this issue, but they did not publish it. I'll keep trying to spread the word.

CrypticLife said...

I would note, however, that I don't think it's necessarily reaction to atheists that causes the school board to ignore the law.

I have had run-ins with my local school board over other issues, and they seem to blithely ignore laws that have nothing to do with religion as well.

Anonymous said...

First, let's get one thing clear, the flag or Pledge to it have never been about honoring soldiers and war - that is what we have war memorials. It is cloying and irrelevant to suggest otherwise. (America's unquestioning devotion at the altar of militarism is another subject.)

OK. How soon we forget that Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nazi Germany were among the first to be persecuted for refusing to stand during the Sieg Heil salute, which so closely resembles our Pledge of Allegiance. Forcing this upon our citizens, and especially our children, crosses a line that is un-American.

Every American should understand that there is more to the Supreme Court ruling that applies here than just declaring it unconstitutional to force kids to stand for the Pledge. The majority opinion in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, written by Justice Robert Jackson in 1943, became one of the great statements in American constitutional law and history.

"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein."

The true legacy of Barnette is less its jurisprudence than its defense of the principles of freedom. Justice Jackson continued, "Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard."

I would admonish everyone to forget the patriotism of others, for a minute, and contemplate what kind of patriot you, yourself, are by where you stand on this basic principal we call freedom.

More at:

breakerslion said...

"I pledge allegiance"

(I give up my individuality and my right to independent thought to a group)

"To the flag"

(an inanimate object that can be forever held blameless for all the atrocities that the government who waves it might commit)

"Of the United States of America"

(I associate myself unqustioningly to the policies of this collective and differentiate myself from all others in an artificial segregation of mankind)

"And to the Republic"

(lest we kid ourselves tht this is a democracy, we now acknowledge our control-freak elitist leaders)

"For which it stands"

(Lest we kid ourselves that this is our flag)

"One nation"

(Screw all the others, they don't exist. If that's not delusional enough...)

"Under God"

(The greatest follower-making scam of them all, so why not buy into it?)


('Cause we say so, and we'll kill each other to prove it!)

"With liberty and justice for all"

(Who can afford it)

Bah! I've got plenty of reasons for not standing even without that bone to Jehovamagod. I also love the quibbble that says, "we're not saying which god" too. That only seems to get trotted out in court. Otherwise and other "whens", this is obnoxiously Christian, and bigoted, no matter how many winks it's said with.

"Symbols are for the symbol-minded." - George Carlin