It's Every Parent's Right to Opt Our Kids Out of the Pledge of Allegiance

pledge opt out

I'm an American mom. The proud daughter, granddaughter, niece, and cousin of veterans who served this nation for which our flag stands, I was raised to stand at attention and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Stars and Stripes -- and I'm glad that my children say the Pledge at school every day. I'm also an American teacher. In my preschool classroom, I teach my students how to face the flag, salute it, and recite the words, explaining that it's one way to show respect to their country, whether they were born here or came from somewhere else.

And, I'm an American who thinks it's completely okay that some of my fellow Americans choose not to say the Pledge, and teach their kids the same.


I know I'll get flak for this from friends and strangers alike. I certainly won't get any love from Micah Brienen. He's the concerned uncle who's gone viral on Facebook for his picture of the waiver that his niece brought home from her Florida school a couple of weeks ago. The form allows parents to let their children be excused from participating in the familiar flag-salute tradition.

Appalled, Brienen wrote on the form, "This is the dumbest thing I have ever read and I am so ashamed of this," and made it public. The post has garnered more than 28,000 shares in the last two weeks, and inspired comments such as, "The education system is run by Marxists," and, "Just another example of 99% of us having to jump through hoops for the 1% who are offended. Boo hoo."

The outcry was so quick and passionate that the school immediately removed the form from the student handbook. (This has no effect on students' legal ability to opt out, which has been a right nationwide for 73 years.)

For those of us who proudly salute the flag and say the Pledge with no qualms, it seems baffling that anyone would have an issue with it. What could possibly be wrong with publicly honoring the symbol of the country we call home?

For some, it's a matter of faith. For instance, Jehovah's Witnesses believe that pledging loyalty to a flag violates the Biblical commandment against worshipping graven images. In 1935, a young Witness named Carleton Nichols was expelled from school for refusing to say the Pledge, which was the law in most of the country at the time. (This was a full 19 years before the words "under God" were added.) His action paved the way for a years-long court battle which ended in 1943, when the Supreme Court ruled in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette that mandatory pledging was unconstitutional.

During those years of litigation, Witnesses across the country were called "traitors," forced from their homes, jailed, tortured, and lynched -- all in the name of patriotism. Coincidentally, at the time, millions of other innocent people across the ocean were also being jailed, tortured, and murdered by a government that disagreed with their faith.

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For other Americans, the Pledge is an uncomfortable reminder that "liberty and justice for all" is still an unrealized goal for them. Jackie Robinson famously broke baseball's color barrier, but not before enduring death threats, discrimination, abuse, and hatred from both fans and fellow players. Shortly before his death in 1972, Robinson wrote in his autobiography, "I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world."

But don't the non-Pledgers do an injustice to the men and women of the armed forces who fought and died to uphold American liberties? Jim Wright is here to tell you otherwise. The navy combat veteran is getting just as much attention as Brienen is for his own Facebook post defending NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who's currently under fire for staying seated during the National Anthem.

Wright argues that true respect -- be it for a person or a nation -- is something that has to be earned by honest effort, not by anger, shame, or coercion. But for those who have been affected by discrimination, bias, or hate, America has not yet earned that respect. 

"You might force this man into the illusion of respect," he writes. But, he adds, "Is that what you want? If THAT's what matters to you, the illusion of respect, then you're not talking about freedom and liberty. You're not talking about the United States of America."

As a mom, I do my best to teach my children the importance of keeping the promises they make (and, boy, do they ever make sure I keep my promises to them!). The Pledge of Allegiance is just that -- a promise, a vow to be loyal to our nation and to uphold the values that have made it strong and admirable. But like any promise, the Pledge has to be kept. It's not enough to say the words without backing up those words through our actions.

If you've ever mocked, ignored, or physically hurt a fellow American because of that person's race, religion, disability, or sexual orientation, then you haven't kept your promise to your country, even if you snap to attention every time Old Glory is raised. If the vote you cast at the ballot box denies or revokes rights to a portion of the population, you've reneged on the Pledge, even if you sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the top of your lungs at every home game.

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You can fly the red, white, and blue from your house, hang it on your car, put it on your kids' clothes, and tattoo it on every inch of your skin, if that's the way you roll. But if you believe that your way of living and thinking is the only way to be an American, and that everyone who disagrees is unpatriotic and evil, then you're creating an us-vs.-them rift that pits yourself against your fellow citizens. (Let's review that "indivisible" part again, shall we?)

I hope to see the day when everyone in America wholeheartedly rises to pledge allegiance to the flag and the Republic it represents -- or even just stands up quietly when the Pledge is recited. But demanding that absolutely everyone in our land join in the ritual, even if their consciences or beliefs say otherwise, is the mindset of a dictatorship, not a democracy.

And if my children or students ever decide to stay silent while others salute the flag, I won't criticize or shame them. Instead, I'll make my own pledge to work harder to make this country worthy of their allegiance.


Image via Micah Brienen/Facebook



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