In Dilworth, Minnesota, three junior high school students -- a boy and two girls -- were suspended for refusing to stand up during the recitation of the "Pledge of Allegiance." The principal immediately suspended the three eighth graders for not standing and saying the pledge. They were told by their teacher that it was disrespectful not to stand for the pledge while soldiers were fighting and dying in the Iraq War. For two of the students, refusing to stand was an act of protest against conformity; in the third case, the student simply didn't hear the intercom announcement calling on students to stand for it.
For those of you who didn't attend public school in the United States (or did attend, but have the good fortune of being able to block out the trauma of it), every morning students stand and place their hands over their hearts and recite the pledge.
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
I recited the "Pledge of Allegiance" over and over and over again from the time I was in kindergarten until my last day of high school. Few of us questioned what it meant or why we were saying it. Not a single one of us knew that it was originally written by a socialist, Francis Bellamy, as a pledge intended to be recited by the citizens of a cooperative socialistic commonwealth, or that it originally appeared in 1892 in a journal called Youth's Companion. The original version said: "I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." It was only later, in 1954, that Congress approved of a joint resolution -- backed by President Dwight Eisenhower -- to add the words "under God."
The suspension of the three Minnesota teenagers was by no means the first time students have been suspended for refusing to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance." For years, students have refused to take the pledge, and they're typically vilified for not being patriotically correct. In this case, however, the three Minnesota students were invited to return to school by the principal when she found out that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was going to take up their case, claiming the school had violated the students' Constitutional rights.
Now that I live in Canada, I must say that the thing I miss the least about the United States is the herd mentality -- encouraged by right-wing talking heads like Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, enforced by small-minded zealots like the principal of that junior high -- that if you don't shamelessly fawn over the very worst aspects of American society -- war and the arms race, unchecked corporate power, Orwellian conformity, blind flag worship, et cetera -- then you somehow don't love your country. Well, Blog pals, let me go on the record by saying that I love America. But I love it because of people like those three junior high school students. I love it because of the ACLU. I love it because of those decent Americans who soldier on every day there, in a thousand different communities, and who love their country enough to criticize injustice yet also embrace its finest qualities.
Those three junior high school students in Minnesota may not know it, but they've made their country a better place.