Saturday, August 24, 2013

Under god?

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

Not anymore, you jackass. I'm talking about when I was younger...better. School-aged. They made us say it every morning. But to answer your question, no...I don't say it anymore. I guess I could have changed that first sentence to "I pledged allegiance...", but that's not the line. Please hold your questions until the end. Thank you. Now, let's try this again...

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

It wasn't until the fifth grade that I starting paying attention to the words in this thing. Why were they asking us to pledge allegiance to an inanimate object, anyway? It didn't make any sense. I was as happy to live in America as the next kid in the room, but what did that have to do with pledging to a flag. It would make more sense if you were pledging allegiance to a flag... 

"and to the republic for which it stands"

Oh. Well, okay. That made it a little more sense, but what does it mean to pledge allegiance to a republic? Were they asking me to blindly follow the country, no matter what? And what did they mean by "country"? The people? In that case, I'd probably be okay with it. I'd met mostly good ones at that point. Of course, I'd only met my family, a handful of teachers, and a few cool kids that taught me how to do "the worm". I think it's safe to say that at ten years old, I hadn't met a bunch of people. Maybe I didn't know what I was talking about. I did know the government had done some awful things. What if they did something else that was really shitty? There were tens (even dozens!) of missiles pointed at the Soviet Union. Professor Boyd put Bonzo to bed and then somehow made his way to Washington. He had his finger on the scary buttons. (Okay, fine. Reagan probably didn't put his finger on any of those buttons. But they would have let him had he wanted to). There was more, though. I'd just seen a movie with Rambo (John J). The government screwed him over and left him for dead. Of course, he went on a one man killing spree and managed to survive, but it was still a shitty thing for the government to do to him. After all, we were supposed to be... 

"one nation under God"

Wait...what?!? Why is that in there. I definitely wasn't saying that part. I didn't know much at ten years old, but I knew there was no Spiderman, no Santa Claus, and there was probably no god. (I was still undecided on the Rambo thing). I couldn't be the only one that didn't believe, right? There had to be others, right? Come to think of it, I hadn't heard anyone else say they didn't believe in god. Surely others existed, right? And if they did, why would the government put those words "under god" in this stupid thing. Does that mean I'm not included? (When I said hold questions to the end...I was talking about you. Not me. I'll ask all the fucking questions I want). I mean, if we're supposed to be... 

"Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all.

...why the fuck were they excluding me. I really liked that last line, but isn't it null and void if this pledge thing only applies to people who believe "under god"? Fuck them, I'm not saying it! They can't make me. I'll say the rest of the stupid words, but I'm not saying those two.

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.


  1. Your parents were right. They can't make you say the pledge. I can sort of understand a teacher thinking they have to force kids to say it, but I'd expect the principal to shoot that teacher down. To have the principal call the kid's parents? That's absurd. And making the parents leave work to come to the school? I cannot wrap my head around how fucked up that school was.

  2. My son stopped saying "under God" around 4th or 5th grade. In middle school, he stopped standing for the Pledge at all. He'd already pledged, he figured, why repeat it over and over again? It was a joke. Nobody bothered him about it. Another kid or two copied him. No problem. Until one day his homeroom teacher was out on medical leave and the substitute was not happy. He made my son stand. Not being one to get in trouble, he stood, but he told me about when he got home.

    What is the law? I didn't know. Google is my friend though. I made it to the North Carolina statutes and found that the school is within its rights to make the Pledge a daily ritual, but they cannot force an individual student to participate. I copied the URL and relevant lines and sent off an email to the principal (I actually spoke to a lawyer friend about threatening a law suit, but he said not to go that far, so I didn't). The principal wrote back within the hour that he would talk to the teacher and it would not be an issue.

    That substitute was not in the room for the rest of the week, I don't know if that was related or not. The new substitute did not make an issue of it.

    My son and I discussed if we wanted to make a bigger issue over the law that makes him have to stand out as different, but we decided that North Carolina wasn't going to be the perfect state for that case.