To Pledge, or Not to Pledge?

A variety of opinions from students, teachers, and administrators about the Pledge of Allegiance.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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By Rebecca Collins

The West Virginia State Board of Education ruled that all teachers and students “shall be required to participate in the salute honoring the Nation represented by the Flag” in 1942. Walter Barnette sued the West Virginia State Board of Education for this ruling in 1943, and the case was eventually brought to the Supreme Court. In a six to three decision, the Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for public schools to require anybody to salute the flag or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Though this decision has already been made, there are still numerous opinions about the Pledge of Allegiance throughout the country and our school.

Senior Kevin Boodram, the president of Stuyvesant Young Democrats, believes that the Pledge of Allegiance should be said daily, even if one is not supportive of the government. He believes that the Pledge of Allegiance allows citizens to show that they are united, especially in times of political difficulty, like today’s America. “Donald Trump and his administration have achieved success by dividing the country at every opportunity possible,” he explained in an email interview. In order to combat this, Americans need to remind [themselves] of the things that we have in common. The pledge offers an opportunity for people of all races, genders, and classes [...] to set aside our differences and remind ourselves of the values that define us as Americans.”

In addition to helping unify the country, “refusing to say the pledge also hurts the Democratic Party. When Republicans display their patriotism consistently and Democrats don’t, it gives Republicans the opportunity to define the United States, which makes it seem like Democrats are inherently opposed to the United States.” Though he is not fond of the “under God” portion of the Pledge, which is a major concern of many Democrats, he does not think that it infringes on anyone’s religious beliefs.

Senior Mohammed Sarker, Vice-President of Stuyvesant Young Democrats, explained why the Pledge of Allegiance achieves the opposite of unity; Sarker relayed in an email interview, “Its defenders claim that the pledge is a means of unification amongst all Americans that transcends race, class, and creed, but I would argue that it breeds complacency and obedience to high authorities rather than true unity.”

Freshman Jonathan Schneiderman, taking on a different approach, thinks that the Pledge of Allegiance is not a binding statement, but rather a true pledge: he explained in an email interview, “For me, allegiance does not mean constant support of the government, but doing what I can to help the country.”

Even though Boodram thinks that saying the Pledge of Allegiance helps unify the country and helps the Democratic party, Boodram sometimes hesitates to say the Pledge of Allegiance when he is one of the few people standing, namely in Stuyvesant classes. Freshman Julianne Yotov agrees: “If nobody said the Pledge of Allegiance, I wouldn't say it either. However, if everyone else was saying it, then I would too.” Yotov and Boodram both would not stand if they were one of the only ones saying the Pledge of Allegiance. However, this problem only arises in Boodram’s classes—not Yotov’s, who reports that most people say the pledge in her classes. Freshman Agatha Edwards would not say the Pledge either, because being one of the few people standing makes her feel awkward. Schneiderman, however, would continue saying the Pledge of Allegiance even if he was the only one standing because his opinions on the matter do not change.

Boodram also claimed that it should be the teacher’s role to encourage students to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance. Perry Badgley, a Global History teacher, disagrees with Boodram and believes that once students reach high school age, they should be able to make the decision on their own, whether it is for good or bad reasons. Badgley explained why he thinks some might not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance: “They have their reasons: they do not understand history, they do not care, they are lazy. But it is up to them.”

Badgley recalls that when he recited the Pledge of Allegiance every day in high school, but never put much thought into it. Now, however, Badgley stands up out of respect for what the flag stands for (freedom, liberty, pursuit of happiness) and those who have died for the United States, but he refrains from reciting the Pledge. Boodram also believes that the Pledge of Allegiance allows him to show his respect for the flag and veterans.

Sarker explained that there are better and more productive ways than standing for the Pledge of Allegiance to help and respect veterans than saying words towards a flag: he relayed, “If you want to show respect to veterans, then why not go volunteer to help veterans? Intern at the Veterans Association? Fight to protect it along with any programs that you would directly benefit from?”

Badgley’s habits during high school, saying the Pledge of Allegiance without thinking about the content, is one of Assistant Principal Casey Pedrick’s worries. Pedrick, who recites the Pledge of Allegiance during public ceremonies, though not on a day-to-day basis in her office, believes that the Pledge of Allegiance is only meaningful when the student understands what he or she says. Additionally, Pedrick questions the wording of the pledge. She explained, “I am uncomfortable with the ‘under God’ portion that was added.”

Principal Eric Contreras has a slightly different take on the matter and contributes his favorable attitude towards the Pledge of Allegiance to his parents’ history. He explained, “My parents came from a country where there were very few freedoms, and there was a military dictatorship. The ability for them to say what they want here and critique the government meant a lot. I was always appreciative of knowing what could be. I did it because I felt that it was important to me. I think it is a personal choice.”

This personal choice seems to be largely determined by each person’s background. Chorus director and Music Appreciation teacher Liliya Shamazov grew up in the Soviet Union. Shamazov does not understand why people who had been horribly oppressed by Stalin were willing to fight for their country in World War II. Shamazov remembers asking herself, “This country did really bad things to them—the government did really bad things to them and their families. And I was always wondering: then why would you get up and stand and fight for the country? They weren’t fighting for the government, they were fighting for their homeland.”

While she understands that some people do not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance because they do not support the actions of the government, she thinks that one’s political opinions should not affect their view on the Pledge of Allegiance. Shamazov explained, “The country and politics are two completely different things. And in my view, children need to be taught that they are completely different things.”

Sarker’s background also influenced his views on the Pledge of Allegiance. He shared in an email interview, “I am opposed to saying the pledge because of my religious and ethnic background as a Muslim of South-Asian descent.” Both Sarker and his family disagree with some of America’s political decisions, particularly with the American cooperation with the Pakistani genocide of Bengalis during the 1971 Bengali War of Liberation.

Boodram, too, explains that his upbringing contributes to his opinion on the Pledge of Allegiance. “From a young age, my parents would tell me that we’re living the American Dream because they came from nothing, worked hard, and now my brothers and I have opportunities that our parents could have never even imagined when they were our age,” he explained in an email interview. “ Saying the Pledge of Allegiance is one way for me to remind myself every day of why I’m here, where I come from, and what I fight for.”

Most people seem to agree that the Pledge of Allegiance is pledging allegiance to the nation, rather than the governments and its politics. Despite the diversity of beliefs on the Pledge of Allegiance, one thing that everybody can agree on is our right to say, or refrain from saying, the Pledge of Allegiance. It is a privilege to live in a nation and be a part of a community where all choices on these matters are not only tolerated, but accepted.