New Jersey Family Wants The Pledge Of Allegiance Out Of Schools – Good Riddance

By  | 

new jersey student under god pledge of allegianceYesterday, a judge heard arguments in a New Jersey family’s fight to kick the Pledge of Allegiance out of their child’s daily school routine, to which I say: good riddance. The family of atheists object to the “under God” phrase in the pledge, which as far as I’m concerned is only the first problematic aspect of a pretty troubling 31 little words.

For those from outside the United States, the Pledge of Allegiance is played over the PA system in many American schools first thing in the morning before classes start, and it goes like this:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Separation of church and state apparently only counts when you don’t have a captive audience of grade schoolers handy. And on top of the fact that teachers are leading students through a rote exercise that includes a reference to a deity that the kids may or may not believe in (let alone the teachers who are required to engage in this exercise – and yes, I’ve been the uncomfortable, godless, and oh-so-untenured instructor in this position), we have:

  • Encouraging kids to blindly swear fealty
  • Encouraging kids to blindly swear fealty to a piece of cloth
  • Suggesting that liberty and justice are things that everyone who lives here just naturally already has, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Part of the legal tangle in the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District case is that the state of New Jersey actually legally requires the school district to lead the students in the pledge every day. Students are not required to say the pledge themselves, at least per official policy, which figures into the school district’s argument that this isn’t an Equal Protection violation. Sorry, but requiring students to listen as the school officially endorses a particular theistic belief is a violation, too.

Look: if we want kids to be proud to live where they live, then let’s show them reasons to be proud. And if a pledge is absolutely necessary (which, by the way, it isn’t), why does it have to be a religious one? Why can’t it be one that where they them pledge to make their country a better place, one that offers allegiance to ideals instead of symbols? One that reminds them that liberty and justice are still being fought for, that these things are works in progress, and not great pieces of art that have been completed and can be safely placed in a museum to be admired from a distance?

Making them rattle off a pre-packaged list of (untrue) things they’re supposed to be bending the knee to is silly, it’s tedious, and it teaches them all the wrong lessons about civic responsibility. It teaches them to be cogs, not citizens. There is no better metaphor I can imagine for the lack of interest in politics demonstrated by today’s youngest generations than offering them a dry, rote rationale for patriotism in place of offering them the opportunity to find reasons for themselves.

Of course, the family in New Jersey is seeing some pushback on their fight from other students, who insist that they have the right to have their beliefs enforced on others as part of a matter of academic routine. Fox News‘ coverage of the story quotes high school student Samantha Jones as saying:

When I stand up, put my hand over my heart and say the Pledge of Allegiance, I am recognizing that my rights come from God, not from the government[.] If anyone wants to remain silent, that is their right. But it is not their right to silence me.

Actually, it kind of is! At least during official school activities. While I would argue vehemently for Jones’ right to hold her own prayer circle or pledge recital every morning in the school (as long as it’s not disrupting class time), the school and the state of New Jersey have no business inflicting this exercise on every student. Wherever you believe your rights come from, God or government, other students have rights too – and yours end where theirs begin. Or at least, they’re supposed to. That’s just one of the reasons this country can be so great – and understanding that fact is a much stronger basis for honest patriotic pride than something somebody else made you say.

(Image: Fox News)