The Ubiquity

The Land of the Free… Or Not

Picture by Sierra Gutierrez

Picture by Sierra Gutierrez

By Sierra Gutierrez, Staff Writer

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Earlier this month, the Texas attorney general made the startling decision to uphold a school’s decision to expel a student who refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. While this event went largely unnoticed by major media due to a week full of D.C. drama, the school’s action and Texas’s support of this action still blatantly violate the student’s right to free speech. While one could spend hours and hours on the interpretation and limitations of the First Amendment for students and school administration (for example, peaceful political protest by students was protected in the Tinker v. Des Moines case), it might be more helpful on a personal level for students to examine the pledge itself, what it stands for, and why they and other students across the nation should definitely be allowed to opt out of its daily recital.

So let’s talk about the Pledge of Allegiance for a moment — where does it come from, and what does it mean?

The original pledge was written in 1892 by pastor and avowed socialist Francis Bellamy for a family magazine in hopes of establishing a new tradition to be celebrated on Columbus Day each year. His original version went like this: “I pledge allegiance to my flag, and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” A relatively harmless oath to be repeated once a year during a patriotic celebration.

(The now-optional ‘under God’ bit was added much later during the Cold War to show opposition to the atheist Communists of the Soviet Union.)

As this yearly tradition became a daily ritual, the Pledge of Allegiance lost much of its originally sacred and important nature and became something resembling indoctrination more than true patriotism.

To truly understand our oh-so-familiar pledge, we must take a deeper and more active examination into what exactly we’re teaching 5-year-old kids to chant every morning before school.

 

  1. “I pledge allegiance-”

This is the first and perhaps most important phrase in the Pledge of Allegiance because it reveals the true nature of the following statements. A pledge is a solemn promise and a commitment that should be made by an informed and willing individual. The problem is not that America may be unworthy of such a pledge, but that we condition children who can’t count past 10 to recite this pledge (and therefore make this commitment) without any thought. The Pledge of Allegiance, in its ideal form, should be a sacred oath — it should never be a required speech unless such an expression of loyalty and dedication to the nation has an important effect on one’s actions (i.e members of the armed forces or government officials).

 

  1. “To the flag of the United States of America-”

That’s right. Along with the American republic, we are pledging allegiance to the American flag itself. I’m grateful to be in America and I understand all the privileges and rights my country has given me, but I still feel a sense that something is just… wrong with swearing loyalty to a mere flag, even if it is a symbol of something greater. Furthermore, this is a direct violation of several religions’ decrees, which explicitly condemn the worship of relics. Some may not have this same holdup, but it is the right of students to make the decision NOT to make that promise of loyalty if we do not feel comfortable doing so.

 

  1. “And to the Republic for which it stands-”

A republic is a decent form of government, but what kind of republic does the American flag stand for? Is it one worth pledging to? We’ll pry further into these questions later in this examination.

 

  1. “One nation, under God-”

There are some who have more of a problem with this line than others. While the Supreme Court holds that the phrase “under God” refers to the general religious-ness that is indeed a major part of the nation’s heritage and does not violate the Establishment Clause, others believe that it is an instance of federal support for religion- particularly Christianity- and wish it removed. As a compromise, most places (including many schools) agree that this line is optional or can be edited to more authentically reflect a person’s alignment. Now, the conflict around this line is somewhat old news, but it begs a question — if people can opt out of saying part of the pledge that they don’t believe in or agree with, shouldn’t they be allowed to opt out of the whole thing for the same reason?

The Federal government seems to say yes, but Texas remains unconvinced.

 

  1. “Indivisible-”

Debatable, but not relevant to our analysis. Next.

 

  1. “With liberty and justice for all.”

Here’s what our dear Texan student and the rest of the sit-down pledge protesters have the biggest problem with and what makes the pledge such a powerful avenue for political protest. If someone believes that the United States does not, in fact, have “liberty and justice for all,” then why should they say this part of the pledge? Why promise their loyalty and support to a nation that they perceive to be rife with injustice, or violate their own conscience to be courteous to those around them? By sitting for the pledge, protesters make a visible statement of their dissatisfaction with the country. Whether it’s for a good reason or not, protesters do not hurt or disrupt anyone with this action. Nor does this action interrupt a learning environment, which, in the past, has been the determining factor for preventing political protest in schools.

While the Pledge of Allegiance may not be inherently problematic, the meaning it contains and the importance it carries provide ample reasons for people to be wary of repeating it mindlessly. As children, students are oblivious to the weight and true meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance, so they should not be trained to say it. As adolescents, students begin to understand the pledge for themselves and can decide individually whether they want to make that oath or not, and they should not be forced to make a promise that conflicts with their morals, religions, or political views. As adults, citizens have the right to do as they please – they can express their dissatisfaction with the nation and its wrongs in whichever way they see fit, so long as it’s peaceful. They cannot be forced to pledge loyalty to a country with ideals that they don’t believe in without violating the Bill of Rights.

Call it rude or ineffective, but the truth is, all people, even high school students in Texas, have the right and the justification to refuse to stand.

 

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Sierra Gutierrez, Staff Writer

My name is Sierra Gutierrez, and I am a staff writer for the Ubiquity. I draw, paint, and play volleyball, but my real passion is writing. I hope to improve...

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The Land of the Free… Or Not