The Teenager Was Right; the Teacher Was Wrong

In Maryland, a 13-year-old girl didn’t want to stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance and her teacher threw a hissy fit.

“The teacher in that class began to yell at her, began to shout at her,” said Ajmel Quereshi, the ACLU attorney representing the girl. “Other students began to jump in and mock her when they saw that he was calling her names and calling her stupid. She was feeling embarassed so, not knowing what to do, she stood up.”

The next day, the girl remained seated during the pledge again. This time she was marched by two school police officers to the office, said Quereshi.

All of this is uncalled for. No one has to stand up for the Pledge. Any halfway decent teacher should understand that. Students shouldn’t be disruptive, either, but sitting down is perfectly acceptable.

In this particular case, there is good news to report:

Dana Tofig, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Public Schools, confirmed that the teacher violated school regulations and said the student will receive an apology.

She deserves it. She also deserves our respect. Going against your teacher and your peers to do something like that takes courage.

I don’t know the student’s name, but I commend her for her actions.

  • Tim

    Apology? That’s it, an apology?

  • yhj

    Yeah, tell me about it, being in a place like Atlanta GA where sitting down and minding your own business during god pledging is considered “dangerous”…I wish there was a campaign supporting people like the girl, and me, – those who just don’t want to stand up and pledge to an uncalled for deity.

  • Ron in Houston

    Something sounds seriously wrong here. It was more than just the teacher since the district police were involved.

    For all the preaching schools do about being able to think and reason they sure seem to have a problem doing it themselves.

  • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leilani

    My best friend in elementary school never stood for the pledge. I guess when you have a reason like “it’s against my religion”, it’s okay not to stand, but when it’s against your personal beliefs… that’s when you get belittled by the class.

    I always stood and recited the pledge growing up, I never thought less of my friend who didn’t stand. It was a non-issue to me, I mumbled it most of the time anyway… why are people so pissy over something that’s so pointless?

  • Todd

    With or without the under God part, does anyone else find the Pledge of Allegiance salute creepy?

  • gski

    Quoting @leilani “why are people so pissy over something that’s so pointless?”
    I suspect it is because humans are a social animal. We instinctively need to be part of ‘the tribe’ and reject those that are not. The pledge, prayer, cheering for the home team are all tribal activities. When someone does not participate in the tribal rituals they are perceived to be foreign to the tribe. This leads to rejection or pressure to join the tribe.

  • Valdyr

    I’ve heard people from other countries without similar daily-enforced-child-loyalty-rituals say they find the Pledge a little spooky.

  • Derek

    yeah, I’m in high school right now and don’t stand for the pledge. I get lots of weird looks from people, and once even had a dude say “I should punch you in the face” and he also said “what are you, a white supremacist?”. It can be very uncomfortable.

  • Josh BA

    @Todd:

    Telling kids to stand and take a loyalty oath at the beginning of each day at a government facility which they are legally compelled to attend is beyond creepy to me.

    Young kids don’t have the maturity and mental capacity to understand what the pledge is about and it’s a bit sickening that people would ask them to take it anyway. The high school kids, meanwhile, have been repeating it by rote for so long that they don’t bother to think about what they are saying in making a pledge of allegiance. That kind of conditioning is utterly wrong in my opinion.

  • Tim

    Definitely creepy……….

  • http://www.iamnolemming.com Alexi

    No where does this article explain her sit-in as protest against God in the pledge, which there’s a time & place for. In the classroom isn’t one of them. I agree she deserves an apology, but she deserves no respect for her actions (or lack thereof).

  • Haley

    It seems odd to me that this girl was being mocked for not saying the Pledge when, in my current first period class in high school (the class in which we say the Pledge at my school), I am one of two people in a class of twelve who don’t say the Pledge. When the other girl who says it is absent, I sometimes consider not saying it just because nobody else is, but my Air Force brat habits tend to prevail in those cases. However, nobody has ever mocked the other kids for not saying it, and nobody has ever mocked either the other girl or myself for saying it–which is weird, because I live in South Carolina and go to a school dominated by rednecks.

    On a side note, when I say the Pledge, I personally just leave out the “under god” part entirely. It still sounds fine: “…one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Nobody has ever called me out on that either, even though they all hear it.

  • Josh BA

    @Alexi

    it wasn’t as if she interrupted the learning of the other students or disrupted class in session. She just didn’t participate in something she thought was wrong.

    When exactly would be the right time to to protest her participation in the pledge if not when she is told to participate? What is the threshold of severity of an action at which saying “no, I won’t do that” becomes acceptable if this isn’t one of those times?

    I am serious here. I see this all the time. People decry protests or complaints as being too over the top but never ever explain where that line is were it becomes acceptable to speak up (or in this case, sit down). I know that there IS a time where it becomes okay to do that because no one in their right mind would obey an order to murder someone and then, later, file a protest against the order. Where is that line?

    To answer that question for myself: there isn’t one. As long as the protest is peaceful and non-disruptive—meaning it doesn’t interfere in the ability of others to learn—it should be allowed (it is not the responsibility of the student to account for time wasted by the teacher overreacting to non action of a student). Not that there shouldn’t be consequences for non-action though. Refusing to do homework, classwork, or participate in class should earn you a zero for that activity. But something non-graded and not learning based like standing and saying the pledge, should really have no consequences for non-participation.

  • Slickninja

    The pledge of allegiance with or without god, still unnerves me as it reflects the irrationality of nationalism. Its this whole, “The best country in the world” propaganda, always spouted from the people who are least likely to open up to the rest of the world. Its quite frankly, ignorant, and even more so with the under God part.

  • Diqui

    About 5 years ago, I led others in not standing for the pledge of allegiance during our college’s graduation ceremony. It is the “under God” part to which I object. It is a public institution and should be subject to the separation of church and state.

    Last May, the college President (with whom the faculty have a whole host of issues relating to power plays) changed the format. Instead of everyone having a seat for opening remarks and then being asked to stand for the pledge, he went right into the pledge as soon as the last student walked in. I still sat, but others felt trapped into standing.

    The girl in the story was not being disruptive or trying to influence others. She politely and quietly did *nothing*. Not only does she deserve a very public apology, the offending teacher should be disciplined in some way.

  • Deltabob

    Kudos @ Haley

    It seems that you and your classmates have a very healthy view toward the pledge – those who want to say it, and those who don’t don’t.

    I also applaud that you follow your conscience and say the pledge in a way that doesn’t make you uncomfortable.

    This classroom should be a model. There is nothing wrong if people want to express their patriotism by reciting the pledge; just as there is nothing wrong with not doing so. It sounds like these students mind their own business while following their own beliefs.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/godless_monsters Godless Monster

    This is a case in which I definitely support the student’s right to be silent in class.

  • liz

    i didnt say the pledge of allegiance when i was in high school. not just because of the under god part (although that is definitely one of the main reasons).

    also because i don’t believe in nationalism being instilled into children’s minds when they aren’t even old enough to understand what exactly they’re saying or whether or not the agree with what they’re saying.

    surprisingly i never got shit about it from teachers…mostly just other students giving me dirty looks or asking why i didnt stand. a few kids actually came up to me and told me they wished they could do the same but were afraid to

  • Eliza

    I signed a loyalty oath to the United States shortly before I graduated from college.

    It wasn’t my idea. Signing the oath was one of the steps required for the government-funded graduate research fellowship I’d been awarded to actually be disbursed. This was during the Reagan administration (and the Cold War); I suspect that had something to do with a loyalty oath being tied to scientific funding money. In bio-organic chemistry, which of course was rife with secrets the Soviets wanted. ;)

    I objected to the loyalty oath, but figured that a principled stand would leave me as the one suffering the consequences, so thought “WTF” and signed it. (With Reagan in the White House, I found myself thinking “WTF” quite a lot.)

    It did seem highly likely that anyone who was planning to be disloyal to the US (not that I was) would not let a silly thing like having signed an oath stop them. But, whatever.

    True Patriots (TM) apparently get a good feeling when they require other people to take symbolic steps like these (saying the pledge, standing to say the pledge, signing loyalty oaths, etc).

  • mkb

    I live near the girl and thus read a fair amount about this in the newspaper. There was no suggestion that she did not stand on principle, rather she did not stand for a personal reason. Think about it, a 13 yr old girl who normally stands and then doesn’t for a personal reason — she could have had cramps and been too embarrassed to say so — the next day, embarrassed by what happened the first day, she sat again. I have no idea if this is what happened but any teacher of girls that age should have realized this as a possible scenario. Thus, the teacher was doubly wrong. He violated her rights and he was a total jerk. I think he should be removed from the classroom.

  • JJR

    It’s my understanding that in Texas kids now not only recite the U.S. pledge but also the Texas pledge (I don’t even know the Texas pledge!)…when I was in High School in Texas we did the U.S. pledge–I said the under God part even though I was an atheist because at that time I didn’t know the original wording DIDN’T have that part…would’ve been nice for the teachers to tell us. Then I would have left that part out.

    After the pledge, we had to continue standing while they piped a really crappy recording of the National anthem over the PA system.

    Since I was in ROTC, I stood at attention, and people would be confused why we ROTC people weren’t putting our hands over our hearts like everybody else. Apart from my atheism, which I mostly kept to myself, I was a goody-two shoes little conformist in High School. I considered myself a moderate-to-conservative Republican; but when the GOP lurched into Religious Right crazy land circa 1992, I found the party going down a path I just could not follow as an atheist; I was suddenly a moderate Democrat without really changing my own views much at all.

    Even at my conformist worst, though, I always respected the right of my classmates to ignore the pledge or sit down during the national anthem; I may have regarded them as unpatriotic and commie sympathizers (ah, the 1980s) but it was a free country and that was their right. I even understood the freedom to burn the flag as the right of free expression.

    I don’t know if any of my High School friends were closet atheists, though I did know that none of them took religion very seriously except for one of them (who today is an Episcopalian priest) but to him it was a private matter and we just didn’t go there. I remember I did make fun of him at first but he got mad and said “drop it”, so I did and never brought it up again. I have a feeling my best friend was probably atheist then, too and the rest were very lax, nonobservant Christians. It took living in Germany and getting to know Germans, being exposed to the other extreme, where the Germans in those days didn’t like seeing the West German flag waved around much and were pretty much allergic to national displays of any kind. I thought in my head there was a difference between Patriotism and Nationalism, but I could also see how My Patriotism could look a lot like any other Nationalism when viewed from outside.

    But this story…with the campus police and all…that’s downright small “f” fascism there.

  • Miko

    I’m glad to see more support for those who don’t say the pledge for anti-nationalist reasons than I’ve seen on previous comment threads on this subject.

    Alexi: No where does this article explain her sit-in as protest against God in the pledge, which there’s a time & place for. In the classroom isn’t one of them.

    Actually, you have it exactly backwards. There’s a time and place to say the pledge (or, at least, I won’t rule out the possibility that there might be), but it certainly isn’t in the classroom of a school that children are forced by law to attend.

    Derek: yeah, I’m in high school right now and don’t stand for the pledge. I get lots of weird looks from people, and once even had a dude say “I should punch you in the face” and he also said “what are you, a white supremacist?

    Never heard that one before. I suspect that if someone were to do a poll on the issue, they’d find that people of color are more likely to refuse to say the pledge. At least, many of them would have better reasons to refuse. But, that could be countered by greater fear of the consequences of noncompliance. (“Not saying the pledge, eh? Want me to call INS?” “But, I was born in this country.” “I’ve had enough of your lip. Someone get me a phone.”)

    In my experience, white supremacists tend to be fiercely nationalistic and patriotic to extremes. They sometimes dislike the federal government, but they overcompensate through their fervent desire to have other levels of government do terrible things.

  • Tizzle

    This has gone through the Supreme Court, in the 40s (Twice…first time, kids were required to say it, they reversed the decision a few years after).

    I have never once said the Pledge, because I was brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness. We chose not to. As an adult, it simply hasn’t ever come up. I stood though, but didn’t put my hand on my heart and didn’t speak.

    Side note: It both confuses and angers me that I’ve learned everything I know about separation of church and state from the religion I followed as a kid. As nutty as their beliefs are, they weren’t short-sighted about their rights.

  • Anyone

    I didn’t like having to say the pledge when I was 13. I didn’t know why, either; something just bothered me about it. I think it was the idea of blindly pledging to something. I held some sort of belief in “God” at that point, albeit weakly, but I’ve always been skeptical. Blind patriotism wasn’t something I could adhere to, even before I completely understood what it meant.

    It’s discouraging to hear that teachers are still harassing students for not standing, though. That’s why I stood, and I still wish I’d had the guts not to.

    If she did it two days in a row, I doubt she “had cramps.” If she was having cramps that bad that long, she wouldn’t have been able to go to school. It sounds like she knew what she was doing.

  • fritzy

    As an adult, I have a difficult time understanding the sense in pledging allegiance to a gaudy peice of cloth. As far as the republic for which it stands, I like it here and have to admit the freedoms afforded to me are nice but I’m here by accident of birth, had nothing to do with establishing those freedoms and my alliance is not unconditional. Having a grade schooler who exists cognitively in a pre-operational or concrete operational stage of development recite any pledge is a meaningless waste of time. Forcing them to do so is unexcusable. An adult in a position of authority calling a child in a state mandated institution names in front of a group of his peers is child abuse. If these allegations are true, an apology is insufficient. This teacher should be fighting to hold onto his job.

  • Unrein

    “PATRIOT, n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.

    PATRIOTISM, n. Combustible rubbish read to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name.

    In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit that it is the first.”


    - Ambrose Bierce, “The Devil’s Dictionary”

  • Jack

    She doesn’t have to say the pledge, the school can’t make her, the teacher can’t coerce her, the Constitution and Supreme Court protect her.

    Why she decided not to stand is beside the point, no one is in a position to make her say it regardless of her reason.

  • Guest Pest

    Sue the bastards! ;-)

  • Spurs Fan

    @ JJR — That is true. In Texas, our students do have both pledges. In my former school district, the rule was that the students had to stand as to “not cause a disturbance”, but they had the right to say the pledge or remain silent. Oddly enough, our state pledge has the phrase, “indivisible” in it, despite the fact that our state charter and constitution allow for us to divide into five autonomous states. Go figure (if this ever happens, I’ll be fleeing to the “state” that has Austin in it).

  • Isabel Jones

    I’ve always being a little jeoulous of the american patriotism. The place where I was born, isn’t a serious place and it keeps bugging me.
    But, only now, I realised that all this patriotism has its roots on religion. Sorry, but it creeps me out. Brazil is a very large country and catholic church rule it here. But, this country is such a mess that now even religion is taking seriously here, so I feel a little free from that forced control that is imposed on american people. I feel like I could have more motives for being patriot, I just don’t have any. The good thing is, very few people will notice if you don’t go to church or if you realy know the name of the president on duty. So if you don’t put your hand over your heart during the hymn on the Patria week or if you don’t know the words of the hymn. I’s ok, you wouldn’t be the only one.
    There’s another good thing. I asked Hemant about the obligation of swearing over a bible in an american court-of-law and he said that an atheist can refuse to swear. A small victory in a very big battle.

  • muggle

    Yes, Todd, I do. Enforced patriotism from minors who can’t even enter into a contract. Creepy and makes no sense. I’d like to see the whole thing done away with, not just the God stuff. But I’ll settle for the God stuff to begin with.

    These kids are brave. It wouldn’t even have occurred to me not to stand. I took a page from Paul Simon and pledged alleigance to the wall. I was religious as all get out in high school but didn’t trust the gov’ment one bit.

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  • CW

    Since when does the United States use armed forces to force it’s citizens to “worship” the flag that represents it?! Yes, there are religious groups that have gone to court to win EVERYONE in this country the right to chose weather or not they wish to show their respect to their government by standing or not. Weather it’s because you want the word “God’ removed from the pledge or because you feel you can honor your country, live by it’s laws and respect it’s people without making a public declaration, we have the right to make that decision. And no one, least of all someone who has authority and influence over young people, has the right to impose their views on someone. That teacher has A LOT to answer for.

  • Jeff Dale

    And no one, least of all someone who has authority and influence over young people, has the right to impose their views on someone.

    And of course, the point so often missed is that the person refusing to stand or recite the pledge isn’t necessarily doing so because of any form of disrespect or disloyalty. Pledging to a flag is simply misplaced loyalty: we support the principles on which the country was founded, but it’s those principles that makes the country worthy of support (as long as it holds to those principles). By this light, the person refusing to stand or recite the pledge is actually doing better at modeling those principles than the folks who see red at his/her refusal.

  • Teacher Meg

    I’m a public high school teacher and I haaaaate the pledge. I hate it for the Under God part (atheist) and for the enforced patriotism, which I don’t consider true patriotism. However, I have come to terms with the court decision that says leading the pledge is part of my job requirement. The way I see it, it’s my prerogative to find a different job if it bothers me that much (not likely!). I am pleased that students have the option, though. I don’t think most of them know that, and at the beginning of the year I inform them of their court-given option to refuse to stand or say part or any of the pledge. Then I lead it with gusto… because I love my job.


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