Every morning, millions of students from kindergarteners to high schoolers across the nation stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance; however, a large proportion of these students choose not to participate. This issue stems from a long and controversial debate over whether schools should require that students recite the Pledge, or at least remain quiet while it is recited. Individual patriotism and the controversial “under God” lead to varying degrees of comfort with the tradition and therefore has been made voluntary. However, this in turn has introduced peer pressure that causes students to feel obligated to recite the Pledge when they are no longer required by law. Schools should put their best effort into eliminating this pressure in order to truly uphold each student’s freedom of speech and expression.
According to the Smithsonian Magazine, the Pledge of Allegiance was formally adopted by Congress in 1942. After mounting social pressure, the words “under God” were added in 1954. Initially, the Supreme Court ruled that schools could make recitation compulsory; however, they reversed that decision several years later in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, declaring that mandatory recitation of the Pledge is unconstitutional because it violates America’s core values of freedom and individual liberty.
The hypocrisy pointed out by the court in Barnette is undeniable. With required recitation, the Pledge would be less meaningful because students would only participate to avoid punishment. The Pledge praises America’s commitment to freedom and, in order to best honor that value, schools should recognize students’ freedom to excuse themselves from participating.
Although a Maryland law prohibits schools from making the Pledge compulsory, there have been several incidents over the years of students receiving punishment for refusing to stand during the Pledge. According to the Washington Post, in 2013 a Damascus High School sophomore had been scolded by her science teacher and sent to the principal’s office because she had remained seated during the Pledge. She later stated that, as a Puerto Rican, she wanted to show her disagreement with U.S. policies towards Puerto Rico.
Many students decide to stay seated during the Pledge in order to make a political statement, particularly about the inclusion of “under God.” While religion has no place in a declaration of patriotism, Christianity is an ingrained part of American culture that will remain the norm for years to come. But even though the “under God” is most likely here to stay, the rights of students to express their beliefs should always be an option.
Depending on school culture, students can feel pressure from classmates and teachers alike to recite the Pledge. In these cases, schools should make a conscious effort help students feel comfortable whether they decide to sit or stand. Instead of participation being an expectation, schools should normalize that reciting the Pledge is a choice.
Students’ individual backgrounds influence their willingness to participate in reciting the Pledge. Instead of forcing a single way to express patriotism, school administrations should recognize students’ independence and simply present them with the option. Faced with a choice instead of a requirement, students can better explore what allegiance and freedom mean to them on a more personal level.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Isabella Levine of Richard Montgomery High School