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I am a former middle and high school science teacher pursuing a doctorate in Science Ed. at George Mason University, with a concentration in cognitive science and the evolution of cognition and learning. Postings on this blog represent my own views, not those of my employer or school. All writing displayed on this page is original work unless otherwise noted, and thus copyrighted.

02 October 2009

Patriotic Jackassery

Someone will disagree with this, but, hell, someone disagrees with everything else I write as well. At the outset of a school pep rally today, our athletic director threw out two male Hispanic students who refused to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They weren't disruptive or disrespectful, in fact they weren't even speaking, they simply didn't stand and say the pledge. I was told, by the athletic director, to take them to our version of in-school suspension for that "offence", which I refused to do. Rather, I let the students stand just outside the gym doors and watch until I could get the attention of an administrator who promptly took them back in to be seated. The AD is furious that I went over his head (and that I took the students' side on this).
As I explained to the AD, I also refuse to say the pledge, although not for the same reasons as the students. Unless our government sees fit to remove the blatant and unconstitutional endorsement of religion from that document, I will continue to refuse to say the pledge, and if that were to happen I would still have reservations in publicly swearing allegiance to a piece of cloth and the nation. I have no intention of betraying the nation in which I live, and there are a number of things about this country that I admire and support, not least the fact that I have the freedom/right to decide whether or not I wish to say something like the Pledge of Allegiance because of the way our government was constructed. The students actually refused because they aren't yet citizens of the U.S., although they are here legally. That two adolescents (17 and 18 respectively) chose not to swear allegiance to a nation, of which they are not citizens (and that, at times, treats those of their ethnicity rather unjustly, to say the least), does not offend me in the least as a citizen of that nation. The athletic director, on the other hand, was absolutely incensed both with their conduct and my failure to condemn it.
A little research turns up this gem: 1943 West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, in which the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the government, schools included, to compel speech in the manner of the Pledge. This at the height of World War Two, no less. Attempts since then to challenge the constitutionality of the words "under God" in the pledge, as they expressly support monotheism as a religious belief, have not resulted in Supreme Court rulings ( Newdow v. California was dismissed because the plaintiff was deemed not to have parental standing in the case). There are a number of more recent rulings that uphold the opinion that coercion of speech is not constitutional.
Basically, Wake Co. schools should be thanking me for saving them a lawsuit. Somehow I doubt I'll ever hear that thanks.


  1. My take on the Pledge is that it is, more than anything, a fuck-all waste of time. No one has ever become more or less patriotic because they were forced to stand and recite some boring Roman-style allegiance oath to a piece of cloth. I am of the opinion that the piece of cloth doesn't care much, and so if neither those reciting nor the recipient of the address are changed in any way, we might as well just skip ahead to the rally/lesson/meeting that was the point of everyone being there in the first place.

    That said, I wonder if your AD would have expected an immigrant from Europe or Asia at the school on exchange to say the Pledge? Does he think that this is a duty of all people partaking in whatever might be construed as the current bounty of America, or just citizens? One has to wonder what the ethnicity of the students, if anything, had to do with it, although we shouldn't jump to conclusions.

    But my own problem with the POA is that it is simply a lie: it is neither a nation (nations are comprised of ethnicities) nor under God (God is imaginary) nor indivisible (in human history, it will likely be parceled and re-parceled) nor, most importantly, does it feature liberty and justice for all. These are worthy, egalitarian goals and I support them ardently, but pretending that they have been accomplished advances them none at all.

  2. Well said. I'm not sure whether the ethnicity of the students played into it at all, and I'd prefer not to make that assumption without seeing other interactions. Stereotyping here is far too easy...
    On supporting the egalitarian goals I agree completely. The interesting thing to me is that the AD is a Christian dominionist, so it's not as if he actually does want those things.