Sitting down for what you believe in

in Opinion by
Regardless of the formality of a school setting, students reserve the right to exercise their freedoms without punishment in the form of peaceful protest. (Graphic/Zoe Persaud)

 A concerned mother rushes into the office of Windfern High School only to find that her 18 year-old daughter has been kicked out of school with little to no explanation all before lunch. Senior India Landry faced this reality after she refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. The school initially provided very few details regarding the reasoning behind the punishment, but the principal later told her mother, “She can’t come to my school if she won’t stand for the pledge.” Landry’s mother launched a legal battle against the school claiming her daughter had the right to exercise her freedom of speech by not standing. Landry sat during the pledge as a silent protest because she believes the supposed ideals of liberty and justice for all “do not [reflect] what’s going on in America today,” as she stated in an interview with the Washington Post. The mandatory recitation of the pledge creates a division in a supposedly “united” country instead of promoting patriotism across the nation.

With the fast-approaching 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in North America in, publication companies in 1892 scrambled to find a way to commemorate the occasion. In an issue of “Youth’s Companion,” the country’s largest circulation magazine at the time, the Pledge of Allegiance made its debut along with a complementary flag for those who bought subscriptions. The pairing of the flag and the new pledge quickly spread across the nation and became a tradition in schools, specifically. A long-lasting practice with no proper significance or message of patriotism that splits a supposedly unified nation simply began as a magazine marketing ploy. 

The Pledge of Allegiance did not begin as the thirty-one word mantra recognized today. President Dwight D. Eisenhower added the words “under God” in 1954 as a “unifying symbol for the nation.” This “unifying symbol” stood against the spread of communism, otherwise known as the “red scare” during this time period. When signing this bill, President Eisenhower stated, “From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country’s true meaning”. The phrase “under God” not only combats a no-longer threatening issue, but disregards the separation of church and state by forcing all children, regardless of creed, to acknowledge “God.”

The Pledge of Allegiance does not encourage unity and nationalism, but separates the citizens who make up the diverse population of the United States and creates tension in an already volatile political situation. The requirement of students to rise for the Pledge of Allegiance every school morning only ruptures the beginnings of a united community and should be abolished or reclassified as optional. People have the right to be heard whether by not standing for the pledge of allegiance or demanding justice. In the wake of recent events, our constitutional rights of expression allow us to demand change, if we choose to use them. George Floyd and the countless other victims of police brutality before him need us to serve as the voices they never got to use. To support the Black Lives Matter movement, participate in peaceful protests, keeping the cause in mind while protecting yourself. Stuck at home because of the pandemic? You can sign petitions, donate, and spread awareness through effective social media sharing. Exercise your freedom of speech without hesitation, stand up for individual human rights in the face of authority and aspire to once again call our nation “united.”

Students even younger than Landry spoke up about their freedom of speech and refusal to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. Mariana Taylor, a sixth grader at the time, defended her decision to kneel for the pledge during a school board meeting.

Zoe Persaud is a senior at American Heritage School in Plantation, Fla. Outside of her responsibilities as Assistant Editor-in-Chief, Zoe acts as the Vice President of Quill & Scroll and Key Club, treasurer of Girl Up and an active member of HOSA. As a third-year staffer and passionate writer, she looks forward to making her final year at the Patriot Post as great as possible.

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