Debate Forum: 1/30

Taking a stand

Should students be disciplined for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance?

By Sarah Sidlow

Violating the dress code, fighting in the hallway, wandering the halls – these are all things that will get an average elementary student sent to the principal’s office.

But what about refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance?

When 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, first took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance in late August, 2017, almost no one noticed. But his protesthe claimed, against the oppression of people of color and ongoing issues with police brutalityquickly grew into a movement that went beyond the arena of, well, arenas.

It wasn’t long before other celebrities, college athletes, and even civil servants would take a knee in solidarity with Kaepernick’s movement.

And while it didn’t do much for his football career, Kaepernick was lauded by many for exercising his free speech rights.

But when the movement reached the halls and classrooms of schools across America, some school authorities were not so eager to applaud their students’ commitment to civic responsibility.

So, is it fair to send a student to the principal’s office for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance?

For a lot of people, the Pledge is non-negotiable. It’s a way to show respect for our country, they argue, and students should be proud to stand up and recite it. Not only is it a relatively easy thing to dojust stand up, put your hand on your heart and say a few meaningful wordsit represents an important lesson for kids to have reinforced. People died for our country; reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is a way to honor their legacy.

Others argue that the punishment for refusing to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance should be severe, to make kids understand that just because a celebrity is making a public statement doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. Students in elementary school, for example, likely don’t fully grasp the meaning of sitting down in protest – they can’t possibly mean it.

Yet to many, the lesson of American libertyincluding Constitutionally protected free speechmay be more important than the Pledge of Allegiance itself. To them, sitting down during the Pledge of Allegiance is a sign of respect for our country – because in other parts of the world, citizens don’t have the luxury of dissident action.

Others argue that it’s easy to stand up and recite a few lines like a zombie; it’s a lot harder to draw attention to yourself for a cause you believe in. Should people, they wonder, be punished for saying the Pledge of Allegiance and not meaning it?

United we stand, divided we fall

Pledge of allegiance important in bringing
our country together, not ripping it apart

By Missy Mae Walters

Kids will be kids and often mimic what they see and hear without clearly comprehending what their actions actually mean. The understanding of the purpose of the Pledge of Allegiance is just one instance where as a country we have a duty to do what we can to engage youth in developing patriotism to our country and ultimately respect for one another.

Young people should be encouraged to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance for the same reason they should be encouraged to do their homework, to brush their teeth, and to eat their breakfast: it’s good for them.  And in the case of the Pledge, unlike their teeth and breakfast, it’s also good for our country. 

Standing for the pledge in classrooms has became a focus of debate after several agonizing weeks of dissension last fall involving numerous Nation Football League (NFL) player’s protest in taking a knee during the National Anthem. Seems those players’ actions did more than defile our National Anthem and became glorified cry babies, they also influenced our school children to mimic their poor behavior and engage in political theater in their classrooms. Now, headlines of students choosing to take a seat are filing headlines across the country. There sadly seems to be nothing off limits when it comes to the degradation of our flag and disrespect of our country.

To understand why this debate is so important, we must first understand the initial purpose of the pledge.

The Pledge was written in the aftermath of the Civil War.  More Americans died in the Civil War – more than a million, or one out of every 32 of us – than in any other wars before or since.  Scarcely a family was untouched by it.  To the generation who experienced the Civil War, promoting unity and fortifying patriotic feeling for our one nation, indivisible, served an obvious, worthy purpose.  When millions of immigrants began pouring into the U.S. who spoke dozens of languages, followed dozens of religions, and adhered to countless ideologies, preventing sectional, ethnic, or religious allegiances from fostering another civil war seemed an important, urgent priority.

This is as urgent a priority today as it has ever been.  Anyone who is living in America today can see that racial, religious, and political polarizations are rending the body politic as never before in our lifetime.  That’s not because people disagree with each other more today than they used to.  Rather, it’s because the shared patriotism that used to overshadow those disagreements has waned.  In the past, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans could look past their disagreements to a common love of country.  Today people just seem to hate each other.

The Pledge is an important step toward restoring the patriotism that can assuage these worsening divisions.  Our society has every right to insist on patriotism, to require a solemn, public promise of allegiance to our country as the first term in the social contract that makes us Americans.  And the schools, where young minds are habituated to norms of conduct at enormous public expense, is where that allegiance and patriotism need to start. 

Unless we have an appetite for more civil wars, we should not be silent in allowing students to sit down, kneel, or engage in other forms of political theater during the Pledge.  Patriotism cannot be conditional.  A student who won’t pledge allegiance to our country until police are nicer to black arrestees, or until anchor babies are allowed to legally remain in our country, or until Trump is out of office are putting their own pet issue, their own allegiance, ahead of this country.  Students should by no means be discouraged from caring about these issues; on the contrary, caring about issues is the surest path to a socially and politically engaged adulthood.  They must give our country their allegiance, even if their side does not get its way. 

If I’m still not getting to you, let’s use an analogy I am certain many can relate to. It’s like family. At times there are disagreements and in some instances, knock-down-drag-out fights but they are still and will always be your family. We are not able to choose our family. Many of us at times wish we had been able to.

Our country is exactly like a family. We might not always agree but it is our country and with the privileges and opportunities we each have, our commitment to country should not waver. The Pledge of Allegiance is a proclamation of the fidelity we should proclaim every opportunity we get.

Even former President Barack Obama, during a speech at the 2016 Democratic Convention, recognized the importance of the pledge of allegiance in bringing all people together. “I see Americans of every party, every background, every faith who believe that we are stronger together: black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American; young, old; gay, straight; men, women, folks with disabilities, all pledging allegiance under the same proud flag to this big, bold country that we love. That’s what I see. That’s the America I know!”

While I might not see eye to eye with the former President on much, I too, see the Pledge of Allegiance as part of the America I know and love!

Hypocritic Oath

Pledging problems

By Ben Tomkins

It is the obligation – by law, incidentally – for every school board in the state of Ohio to decide whether the Pledge will be said, at what time and in what manner. In essence, it is considered a potentially valuable part of the curriculum, which is to include (as outlined in the same law) discussions of “the principles of democracy and ethics wherever appropriate in all parts of the curriculum.”

The irony is nauseating. The Pledge of Allegiance is one of the bluntest tools imaginable for advancing the causes and principles of democracy and ethics in the minds and hearts of impressionable young people, and the manner in which it is applied typically kills off any residual bacteria or flotsam of republican idealism.

One can start just about anywhere in the Pledge and discover anti-democratic and anti-ethical screed, so the beginning is as good as anywhere to start.

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America”

We have the privilege of living in one of the only countries that was, until that time, founded on philosophy rather than the divine right of kings or some other religious nonsense. Call me old fashioned, but this seems central to the conversation of American democracy and ethics. It’s bizarre to me that, in the name of inscribing these great ideals in the minds and hearts of our young people, our school systems begin every day with a fetishizing chant about a bit of fabric. I understand that flags are symbolic and the pledge indicates that in the familiar following lines about our republic, but nevertheless, there is something mindless and apostolic about it. It is a sort of nod to the symbolist worship of the English monarchist thought from which we willfully severed ourselves, the papist dogmatism our Founding Fathers so wisely excised from our charter, and even a little hint of Stalinist iconography. I can easily picture young Soviet socialists beginning their day with references to their “Darling, guiding star,” which is not terribly far from our spangled field of blue.

The word “oath” is mentioned only five times in the Constitution, and it refers exclusively to oaths of office, disqualification from office because of an oath of allegiance to another power, or the famous pass on taking a religious oath. We will be returning to this one, but whereas these solemn oaths are concerned with the performance of democratic duties, the opening of the Pledge serves only to insult the intelligence of our young people who know damn well the difference between an ideal and a symbol. One would hope that the bit about this being a republic would clarify the confusion and produce something like the inculcation of a republican value, but to the contrary, “one nation, under God, indivisible,” teaches three things:

1. We do, if you didn’t know, live in a “nation”

2. There is a god, and our Constitution is somewhere underneath his authority (spoiler alert…)

3. and we are indivisible – a total negation of one of the best lessons of the Civil War about what happens when citizens neglect their philosophies and republican institutions.

Also, the awkward redundancy produced by the words “one nation” and “indivisible” betrays a bit of insecurity, made all the more obvious when God (capitalized, by the way) is awkwardly crammed into the gap.

On this business of God, a far, far more significant, elegant and – in case we’ve forgotten – legitimate expression of the nature of our democracy and ethics is the architecture of religious references in the Constitution. There are only two, and like the Pledge, where the phrase “under God” is placed between references to our republic and “liberty and justice,” they are an elision between the structure of our organs of state, and our rights and freedoms. The final word in the body of the Constitution before terms of ratification is the exclusion of religious tests as qualification for office. You are not allowed to force the question on our representatives as a point of service. Then, the very first sentence of the Bill of Rights begins with the religious freedom clause, banning the establishment of religion and forever partitioning worship and citizenship.

The use of “under God” in the Pledge is, from a textual, philosophical, democratic and ethical concern, the most contrary teaching – in form and design – I can possibly imagine. We are forcing our children to take a religious oath (why only one “God”?) in the name of instilling the ideals of “liberty and justice for all.” Which it doesn’t. It does teach them how to be a hypocrite, which, admittedly, is a kind of a virtue for a democracy these days, but perhaps one we should be trying to get rid of for future generations.

If people are desperate for chanting children, I would suggest the following if we want to make it a point of educating our kids about our national ideals: recite the Preamble of the Constitution. Everything you need to know about the foundations of our country is in there, and it’s a document that provokes discussion for entirely different reasons than the Pledge of Allegiance ever does.

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at

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