Inspired by 10-year-old Will Phillips‘ refusal to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance, a slightly-older commenter said this:
I am a High School student in Alaska. For years, I have stood up, but not recited the pledge. My reasons being some quite similar to Will Phillips’. When asked why I don’t recite the pledge, I tell them. I’ve always stood during the pledge, just because that’s what I was raised to do. Never once did I consider sitting down for the pledge, and never once did I consider the fact that people who couldn’t see my mouth still saw me reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
However, that will be the last time. This kid has inspired me to join the group and be the first that I’ve seen at my High School (and even in all of my years of schooling) to refuse to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve researched, and have cited a few Alaska State Statutes in a notebook, to reference to in case that I am confronted by a teacher.
Wow. I think my eyes popped out a bit when I first read that.
I was curious to learn more, so I sent an email to the commenter to find out if he actually followed through with this.
It turns out Daniel Royston of Wasilla, Alaska (yep — that Wasilla) did what he said he would do: He didn’t stand up for the Pledge.
The pushback from the administration at his school was swift and harsh.
Daniel wrote me the following email. It’s lengthy but I urge you to read it. It’s a prime example of a principal not knowing the law and a student who does. Daniel’s not the first atheist who has to deal with this problem and he (sadly) won’t be the last. Daniel’s own emphasis is in bold. I’ve emphasized one bit myself with a yellow highlighter:
Thursday was the first day that I decided not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. That first day, no one noticed. I figured that was okay; as long as no one said anything, I wouldn’t have any trouble with my decision. On the second day, however, the teacher for that class told me after the Pledge that I had to at least stand. When I went to talk to her about it (respectfully), before I had a chance to say anything, she told me to go down and talk to my principal, because that’s what he told her to tell students.
Alaska Statute 14.03.130 states the following:
(a) United States and Alaska flags shall be displayed upon or near each principal school building during school hours and at other times the governing body considers proper. The governing body shall require that the pledge of allegiance be recited regularly, as determined by the governing body. A person may recite the following salute to the flag of the United States or maintain a respectful silence: “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.”
(b) A school district shall inform all affected persons at the school of their right not to participate in the pledge of allegiance. The exercise of the right not to participate in the pledge of allegiance may not be used to evaluate a student or employee or for any other purpose.
Now clearly, that’s not what had been going on. Students were being told that they had to participate by “at least standing.” I took my teacher up on her request and talked to my principal in his office. When I started to explain what had happened, he cut me off. He started to lecture me about my decision. He said that we didn’t need to talk about what “our right is,” but rather “what is right.” He said that standing for the Pledge showed respect to this country and the people that have died for our freedom. I told the principal that I was expressing my “freedom” by choosing not to stand. I told him that I did not want to be associated with the Pledge of Allegiance and standing was associating myself with it.
The principal then asked if I had talked to my parents about it. I told him that, yes, I had informed my mom (the parent I live with) that I had made this decision. He then called my mom, and put her on speakerphone. Before the call, I asked him to make sure to tell my mom that I’m not in trouble, and that I came to his office voluntarily. He did no such thing. The principal started talking to my mom like I was called down to his office, and that I was in trouble. He didn’t say those things, but the school district has a code they follow when calling parents because of disciplinary problems, and he was following it word-by-word.
During the conversation, my mom stated that it was her opinion that I should stand for the Pledge. The principal used that to say that, because my mother told me to (which she did not), I have to stand. I told him that this violated my beliefs, both political and religious, and he just cut me off to say that my mom told me to, so I have to.
One of the most shocking parts of the conversation was when he started talking about me. Specifically and personally, me. He said that he’s seen a lot of kids with a lot of talent, and that I was one of them. He said that he really didn’t want to see me go down a path where I use my skills for unproductive reasons, and that he wanted to see me make it through high school. I asked if my beliefs would restrict me from graduating. He then said, “Well, I don’t know. It’s possible.” I told him that I had formed my beliefs, and that I found standing for the Pledge of Allegiance to be offensive. He asked if my beliefs really found standing for the Pledge offensive. When I replied “yes,” he, without pause, said, “I don’t buy that.” He just said that he didn’t think I really had those beliefs. I kid you not, that’s what he said.
He went on, trying to persuade me that having the beliefs I have could bring me down at this school, that having these beliefs were wrong. When he said, “I really want to see you use the skills and intelligence that you have for good.” I said “And I am,” to which he replied, “Don’t argue with me.”
He concluded the meeting stating that because my mom told me to stand (again, she didn’t), I had to stand. When I asked “So, if I have my mom sign a note saying that I’m authorized to exercise my freedom of speech and of religion, then I can exercise my right to not participate?” He then said “We follow board policy” and sent me out of his office.
Now, I understand that my parents do have the right to make me stand, because I am, by law, a minor. However, I don’t think that that is the decision my parents will make. Although they don’t agree with my beliefs most of the time, they at least respect my views to a degree. The principal, however, did not respect my views even the slightest bit. I will be talked to and lectured by both parties, but my views stay, and I will not back down.
Can you give me any advice to deal with the school district on this incident? If my parents sign that childish note saying that yes, I can exercise my rights, I am more than willing to elevate this. I don’t know how far I’ll have to go to simply be able to express my right to not participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, the biggest, most blatant violation of the Separation of church and state in America today.
A few thoughts:
- That any principal could say what this one did is appalling. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about and he’s trying to scare Daniel into thinking he does. If he makes Daniel serve a detention, or any punishment, for not standing for the Pledge, this will come back to bite him in the ass. I encourage Daniel to keep doing what he’s doing and take the licks for now. It’ll just make for a stronger case.
- I have passed Daniel’s letter along to a few friends who can help with this issue. Normally, these things are taken care of with a strongly worded letter and no lawsuit has to be filed. I would hope the principal just takes care of this matter by apologizing for what he’s said and done, and then sending faculty members an email stating (as a reminder) that students do not have to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
- Daniel provided me with contact information for his teacher, the principal, and the school. I’m not posting them here right now. But that information is available in case it’s needed.
- I told Daniel to talk to his mother and get this straightened out with her. It’s important that she understand what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. Even if she doesn’t agree with his decision, nothing that transpires should come as a surprise to her.
- I’m amazed by the courage a student like Daniel has. Not standing for the Pledge, when everyone else around you is doing it, is an incredibly hard thing to do at that age. But he’s teaching other students a lesson in not straying from your convictions. I’m impressed.
If you have any words of advice or encouragement for Daniel, please leave them in the comments.
I’ll keep you all updated as to what happens with all this.
***Update***: Daniel spoke to his parents and they have told him they don’t want him to sit during the Pledge. He tells me he is going to respect their wishes — and I understand that decision.
But there are still many students out there who can take the stand that Daniel may be unable to. Let his story serve as inspiration.