There’s been a big brouhaha in my town lately about whether or not it should be mandatory to say the Pledge of Allegiance in school. The high school student leading the charge, to make reciting the Pledge mandatory, has gotten quite a lot of coverage for himself, and our town, in the local press. Not surprisingly, it appears that there already is a law concerning this very subject, the upshot of which is that it’s up to each school’s principal to decide whether or not time is allocated for this activity. While I am impressed by any young person’s willingness to hustle on behalf of a strongly-held belief, I get nervous whenever this subject comes up.
‘Round about third grade, I stopped reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I don’t honestly remember why. It could have been that it was the mid-sixties and there was something in the air. Or maybe I just didn’t like being told I had to say it. Whatever the reason, the school didn’t like it, so they called my mother. I don’t think my mother cared very much one way or the other, but the call from the school coincided with a visit from my beloved New York grandmother. She cared very much. I thought she would be proud of me, but alas, that was not the case. She was very, very disappointed.
I don’t, however, think anyone was unduly surprised. I started actively questioning authority at a young age. I wasn’t capricious; I was vigilant. I asked for clarification when things were unclear, or the authority figure contradicted himself. I pointed out inequities in portions, time allotment and seat assignments. I refused to be blown off if I didn’t understand something; I held the communicator responsible for making herself understood. This persistent behavior led to my being voted ‘Most Argumentative’ of my senior class in high school (which had, as I recall, upwards of 800 graduates). I was flattered to be singled out, but I didn’t see myself as argumentative. Apparently we didn’t have a ‘senior superlative’ for ‘hyper-vigilant.’
When I was little, it’s possible that my unwillingness to recite the pledge was driven by my early doubt about the existence of God and, therefore, I objected to saying the Pledge. My stance as an atheist was solidified when I was twelve. In response to my assertion that I didn’t believe in God, my Hebrew School teacher told me, “You’re too young to know what you believe.” If there had been any doubt in my mind before, that clinched it, I became a full-blown atheist.
My grandmother passed away right before I graduated from high school. To this day, I feel a small twinge of guilt when I think about her response to my third-grade rebellion. Painful as that memory is though, I wouldn’t do anything differently today. I still tend to stand quietly during the Pledge of Allegiance, worrying about how the rest of the world perceives us, and wondering if God really does exist. But I fully support your right to recite the Pledge. The fact that you and I can agree to disagree is what it’s all about anyway.