If you didn’t know it, America has always been a nation of profound patriotism. And by that, I mean that it tends to invoke an all-or-nothing attitude. Either you love and respect, if not worship, the U.S., or it seems that you resent and despise everything it stands for.
And while there is most definitely a middle ground, few seem to be able to find it.
Take a situation that has arisen in the state of Texas, for example.
Here, like in all other states, and most other school districts, students young and old are directed to recite our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance every morning to begin the day. At Klein Oak High School near Houston, Texas, this is no different.
And here, like everywhere else, participation in such activities is a choice and one that one specific female student has refused to take part in for years.
Now, I know, for a great many of you and even myself, the idea of not standing for the Pledge, just like not standing for the National Anthem, seems downright wrong, blasphemous even. After all, how could we not stand and honor the nation that continues to be the freest in the world?
However, for this particular student, those beliefs are not the same.
According to the group American Atheists, who has since sued the school for supposedly punishing the girl for her lack of participation, she is a “non-religious” or atheist student who does not agree that either “liberty and justice for all” are available in the U.S. or that it is “under God.” She believes that blacks and other minorities are often not given a fair chance and, therefore, not guaranteed justice in America.
And so, she has chosen, year after year, to sit and not recite the Pledge when it is spoken over the school’s loudspeaker system.
For that refusal, the girl claims that she has been harassed and even punished by teachers.
According to the Houston Chronicle, one, in particular, a 12th-grade sociology teacher, supposedly singled her out and belittled that choice in front of the whole class on a number of occasions. The teacher, identified as Benjie Arnold, is said to have also punished the girl by, then, requiring her to write down the Pledge as an assignment since she would not say it.
And when she refused, American Atheists claim the teacher was not happy. Apparently, he told her, “What you’ve done is leave me no option to give you a zero, and you can have all the beliefs and resentments and animosity that you want.”
The group filing suit also says that the teacher has been known to say things like ‘if you don’t like America, move to Europe’ in class.
Whether or not these accusations are true remains to be seen. However, they have caused quite a stink for the school district, which after a years-long court battle, finally just settled the case, awarding the student some $90,000 for her supposed troubles.
And with the lawsuit now officially over, it offers us a lesson of sorts.
The first is that it should have never gotten this far.
If this girl did, in fact, refuse to say, write, or even stand for the Pledge, that is her right, just as it is her right to believe that no god or deity of any kind actually exists. As I said above, it may feel wrong to many of us, but it is her choice and one that was given to her long ago by our Founding Fathers.
This means that if the teacher disagreed with her lack of participation, as I do, he also has every right to think that way. However, those rights, or at least the right to let those thoughts be known, stop when he stands in front of the classroom.
As Geoffrey T. Blackwell, legal counsel for American Atheists, said during the trial, “The classroom is not a pulpit. It is a place of education, not indoctrination.” He added that this case “serves as a reminder that students do not lose their First Amendment rights when they enter the classroom.”
And he’s not wrong.
You and I might not agree with what this girl believes or how she expresses herself. However, as our Founding Fathers and our Constitution say, we have to respect it. We can also hope that one day she will grow out of such ridiculous notions.