Have you seen the signs and slogans?
“Land of the free, home of the brave.”
“Freedom isn’t free.”
“Thank God I’m an American.”
“Freedom is not given, it is won.”
“I don’t say the Pledge.”
Come to think of it, I have not seen the fifth one, but it exists.
During the recent patriotic celebrations on the Fourth of July, we were inspired by thoughts of freedom, the wisdom of our forefathers and the hopes that are wrought in the Declaration of Independence. Most of us stood proudly as firework bombs blast in the air and Lee Greenwood sang “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free…” At gatherings throughout the fruited plains, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance or paid homage to our founding documents with overtones of sacred pride in the past and earnest hope for the future.
A few of us, however, dissented.
Some chose not to celebrate and some chose not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance when given the opportunity. I am not a dissenter, but I am an American, and when I celebrated the Fourth, I celebrated with dissenters in a weird sort of way. Dissent is one of our most important freedoms. Dissent is American.
This issue blasted its way into my life a few weeks back when one of my children mentioned to me that only about one third of her high school homeroom classmates stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. She reported that instead of remaining silent during this time, they often ignore the Pledge completely by catching up on homework or talking through the voice coming over the intercom system. I was a little dumbfounded. I remember arguments of this nature from my high school days and I remember the occasional dissenter, but I never imagined that dissent would turn into a two-thirds majority… who were also disrespectful to those people who both led and recited the pledge.
What’s wrong with this picture? Although I have not been present in the classroom, I think the thing that is wrong is that the dissent is not real or disciplined. The lack of action from the local high school students feels much more like laziness, rebellion, distraction, disrespect, a lack of leadership from the teacher, a weird social experiment in the politics of self esteem, or maybe just that age old teenage inclination to be unique and different from the previous generation. Whatever it is, it does not feel true.
There are good reasons to dissent from saying the Pledge of Allegiance when given the opportunity. Here are five that I can think of:
- Your faith leads you to believe that you should not give allegiance to any flag because your allegiance lies to a higher power beyond any political boundary.
- Your faith leads you to believe that God does not exist and therefore should not be claimed as a unifying factor for nationhood.
- You do not believe in a Republic form of government and think that some other form of government is more ideal or righteous.
- You do not believe that America is indivisible and you would like for the state or county you live in to separate itself from Federal rule.
- Your understanding of American does not include the ideals that America is a place of liberty and justice.
- You do not consider yourself an American and are planning to move soon.
We need to act to make sure that students with dissenting voices are respected in the classroom, but we also need to act to make sure that students show respect to themselves and others when they go about their dissenting.
I would like to challenge students, teachers and parents to discuss patriotic dissent.
- I challenge student who dissent to do so honestly and respectfully.
- I challenge teachers to push student who chose to dissent to articulate their reasons without punishing their behavior. Discuss the issue with them, privately, corporately; there is no need to embarrass them.
- I challenge parents to ask their student if they say the pledge at school and enter into a discussion with them. Parents, you might be surprised what you find out about your child, or your child’s homeroom class.
Dissent is one of our most revered rights and it is one of the things that make America truly the land of the free. Honest dissent should be respected. Dishonest dissent should be challenged at its core. When dissent is dishonest and it becomes simple disrespect for others, or laziness, it should be challenged precisely because of its lack of articulation, belief and character. Dissenters who carry the burden of dissent are the only ones who will gain influence with the majority… their dissent is genuine, honest, and respectful. Honest dissenters can change things for the better. Dishonest ones… well…?
I love this quote from Marilyn vos Savant, “What is the essence of America? Finding and maintaining that perfect, delicate balance between freedom ‘to’ and freedom ‘from.’”