A few days ago, my son told me that one of his teachers (he is in 8th grade), after decorating the whole school with American flags, announced that they will be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance every morning.
I was not aware at the time that this is a new State Law, snuck under the radar during the summer. But it is. It was enacted on July, 12th 2006, as a change in general powers and duties of the state concerning the educational system. You can see the history of how the statute was changed here and the final version of the bill here (PDF).
The press only noted this the other day. Some were good, i.e., using precise language of the law, e.g., the Raleigh News & Observer, which stated correctly:
A new state law requiring schools to schedule time each day for students to recite the pledge has revived a tradition right out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
A shortage of flags, questions about patriotism, and confusion among teachers have greeted a new state law requiring public school students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom.
The latter would be unconstitutional, according to this Supreme Court decision (which is a great read actually).
Apparently, the bill was snuck in so silently that even our local bloggers, who are usually very alert to everything happening at the state and local level, missed it. Only Dave commented at the time, with the predictable and correct outrage, and suggested an alternative version that reflects reality in a less ambigious way:
I pledge to honor and defend the flag, our nation, and the principles that make them great: the right to choose our leaders, freedom to worship, freedom of speech, and justice for all.
Even Will Raymond, who is a watch-dog and hound-dog of local politics missed it until this week. He provides more detail on the history of the way the bill was worded.
Not everyone is outraged, of course.
Although the NC House is controlled by Democrats, the bill passed with only one “No” vote. The lone dissenter is State Representative from Durham Paul Luebke (more here and here). I am assuming that he is in a very safe district and I am not sure if he even has an opponent this Fall, so he probably does not need campaign contributions (though you can ask). But you can send him a thank-you note if you wish at: paull AT ncleg DOT net.
As a naturalized U.S. citizen, I follow the stereotype of foreign-born citizens knowing American history, geography, civics and law better than many locals (because I had to study it, instead of just organically grow in it), so I was quite aware what the constitutional/legal issues are regarding the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.
So, I told my son that he has several choices: go along and recite it (with ot without the salute); recite the original version by skipping over the 1954 “under God” insertion; or remain silent (while either standing up, sitting down or exiting the classroom). I told him that the Constitution gives him the choice and that nobody could take that choice away from him. It is the “under God” clause that bothers him the most and he wanted to make sure that he had the right to omit it on the days he decides to say the Pledge, as well as right to not say the Pledge at all on days in which he is not in the mood to do so.
On Monday, after I picked him up, he was really distressed. He chose not to say the Pledge. He told the teacher that he is an atheist and does not believe in that stuff and does not wish to say a pledge that includes “under God” in it.
She threatened to made him call his parents if he does not shape up and he immediately went to the classroom phone and started dialing, but she stopped him. At the time, I was still at home and she would have gotten an earful from me, as you can imagine.
Then he told her that his Dad told him that he has the right to remain silent. In the end, after much questioning and threatening, both in front of his friends and out in the hall, she FORCED him to say the Pledge, every word of it. She was giving him mean looks for the rest of the first two periods.
Yesterday morning I went to school and talked with the vice-principal. She was appalled that such a thing happened in her school, apologized profusely, and reassured me that she will make sure that such a thing does not happen again. This made me happy – the system DOES work.
After all, one of the main reasons why people from the area, no matter if they work in one of the big companies or institutes in the Research Triangle Park, or at NCSU, UNC, Duke or other local colleges, choose to live in Chapel Hill despite outrageously expensive housing – the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system is the best in the state and one of the best in the country. This is an island of sanity in the ocean of irrationality. But this incident goes to show that such things can happen even in the most enlightened of places.
And I agree, my son’s school is excellent, I love all of his teachers of the past three years, and he is really thriving there. The teacher who did all this flag-waving is a brand new hire and you cannot really blame the school for not knowing she would be a frenzied, jingoistic nationalist and a rabid evangelical, frenetically worshiping a piece of cloth that stands as a symbol of the state instead of the people.
In the meantime, my daughter is in the 5th grade. Her teacher, who is just absolutely fantastic (she was my son’s 5th grade teacher as well), told the class in advance what their rights were. Some chose to say it, some chose not to. My daugther chose to stand up and remain silent – she could always have the excuse of being shy to speak out loud in front of other people.
Tuesday morning at Pledge time – I guess someone told my son’s teacher something in the meantime – she told the kids to exit the room if they did not want to recite the pledge and ALL but one kid went out, with my son in the lead (it’s a small elective class – so it is not like 25 kids walked out, more like 5). She is still not 100% right, though, as they had the right to remain inside the classroom if they so desired and remain silent. I will see what happens today, after she has been briefed by the vice-principal.
I am so proud of my son for thinking about the issue with his own head, getting the relevant information and acting according to his rights. All I provided was information and support – all choices were his. It takes guts to do so.
Also, see Ed Brayton’s take on this here and here.
Update: Will R, Lindsay Beyerstein, TNG, Timelady, Northstate Science, Alon Levy and Faux Real have commented on this and you should also check out what their comenters say.