And I didn't. Day after day, week after week, I omitted those two words each time I said the Pledge of Allegiance. Soon, it wasn't enough to not say the words. I wanted something more. I started closing my mouth in a very goofy looking, animated way during those two words. I closed my mouth hard and even lifted up on my toes while the other kids happily chanted along. Boy, I was clever. So clever, in fact, that the teacher noticed my little one man protest. Apparently, those two words meant a lot to him, because he promptly marched me to the office.
I was a good kid. I had never been to the office for a disciplinary reason. I was scared. When we arrived at the office, my teacher announced my crime to everyone. I was not saying the Pledge "correctly" and my parents needed to be notified right away. It got worse. The principal decided they would be called into the school. The school was going to fix me right away.
I'll never forget seeing my parents walk through the door to the office. My father was in his police uniform and he looked really angry. When he saw me, however, he gave me a big smile. My mother did, too. They announced themselves to the secretary and the principal invited them back to his office. He offered them a seat, but my father said he'd rather stand. "This won't take long," he said. I was seated in the lobby area, but within earshot of all that was said. The principal began to speak, but my father cut him off right away. He told him without any hesitation that I didn't have to say any of the words in the Pledge. He added how angry he was to be called from work for such a ridiculous thing. The principal tried to "correct" him, but that wasn't going to happen. He told the principal the conversation was over. Dad walked over and told me I didn't have to say it and they weren't allowed to make me. I must have looked scared, because my father turned to the principal and announced that I'd had enough fun for one day. They would be taking me home with them. Stunned, the principal told me to go gather my things.
As we walked out of the building that day, I looked up at the flag outside of the school. I think it was at that moment that being an American made sense to me. I was free to believe what I want. No teacher, no principal, no government could take that away from me. My little protest had worked, and I was filled with pride as we walked to our car. My parents both hugged me before we got inside to drive off. Once inside, my mother began to cry, and all my feelings of pride and victory disappeared fast. I knew why she was crying. Her son didn't believe in god. My father told her it would be okay.
The lesson I really learned that day? Telling people you didn't believe in god caused a lot of drama. It made assholes angry and it made the people you loved sad. I promised myself that I would never tell anyone again. A promise I kept for a long, long time.