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Liberty and Justice for Some?

Grace Schmidhauser

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Forced expressions of patriotism just plain un-American

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We’ve all seen the front page stories regarding athletes taking a knee during the Star Spangled Banner, a trend which has become a phenomenon that has elicited both support and outrage.
Many see taking a knee as a way to take a stand against police brutality and the failure of the government to protect citizens equally. The refusal to participate in the national anthem is a way to say the nation must do more to protect all of its citizens before athletes and others will literally sing its praises.
When taken out of the national context and zoomed into the dot on the map that is McCallum High School, a similar dilemma is at hand—what is the place of The Pledge of Allegiance in public school?
The five-minute period of announcements at the end of first period brings about a familiar image to most students, most often a room filled with talking teenagers, with a muffled “I pledge of allegiance to thee…” far in the background, if at all discernible. Occasionally, you may witness a classmate or two standing proudly with a hand on their heart, reciting the pledge diligently. In other classrooms, some teachers enforce that every student at least stand to show respect for the pledge.
Some students and teachers have strong opinions regarding the issue. Some feel it’s unforgivable and disrespectful not to honor the pledge. Others feel it’s entirely appropriate, courageous even, to refuse to participate in a forced chant representing pride in a nation that they feel needs to do more.
In between these strong and opposed views, I suspect that most of us confront the daily pledge not with fervor but with apathy.
And in some ways that’s a shame. There are many things to be proud of regarding this country, and our right to freely express our ideas and opinions is what allows me to even write an opinion piece in my high school’s newspaper.
My mother grew up under Communist rule in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, and the fact that her family would be put in serious danger for expressing an opinion that contradicted Communist rulers reminds me to put things in perspective, and I deeply appreciate the privileges that I’ve been given as a result of growing up as an American.
But while patriotism is a valid thing to express, I am not sure that a mandatory pledge or anthem is the best way to show you appreciate your freedom.
The problem is that The Pledge of Allegiance is not an accurate representation of American pride if it’s it being forced upon students (just like the anthem is required of players and fans at a sporting event).
Mandatory expressions of patriotism contradict everything that we stand for as Americans. There is so much more to being an American than just reciting 24 words that were written 200 years ago, before women and people of color were even allowed to vote or have a voice in this country. How could this be an accurate representation of what it is to be American?
What makes us Americans is participating in society, doing community service, using our voices and fighting for our rights.
Thinking that saying the pledge automatically makes you a “patriot” is ridiculous, and it doesn’t require the action, effort, or individual voice that is actually vital in being a true citizen and utilizing all of the opportunities that living in this country gives us.
Though many teachers allow that the pledge be up to an individual’s discretion, there is technically a district law in place that requires for every single student to recite the pledge unless their parents explicitly give written permission for their child to refrain from saying it.
The fact that this law is even in place is incredibly unfortunate. If this policy were enforced, the many students who may greatly disagree with their parent’s political views are being forced to take part in something that represents ideals that they oppose.
I support protests of these recitations of American pride and also respect defenders of its honor, but the deeper root of the problem is reassessing if these symbols of patriotism are outdated or legitimate representatives of the values for which the United States of America stands.
Forcing people to recite an oath restricts their freedom and contradicts the very ideals upon which this nation was founded.

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Liberty and Justice for Some?