By Ethan Tiao
“One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” echoes through the halls of schools across the country. In each classroom, students exercise their First Amendment right to respectfully stand or remain idle in their seats -- a liberty solidified by the 1943 Supreme Court case West Virginia School Board v Barnette.
Amidst an era of extreme political polarization, not rising for the pledge evokes strong emotions from both sides of the political spectrum, and many believe that every U.S. citizen has a moral obligation to stand and pledge.
I firmly disagree with this statement. The act of pledging is a nebulous, but significant devotion. One that essentially binds oneself to our country’s flag: a symbol of the United States of America. If every person in this country carries a moral obligation to rise for our pledge, then instead of standing as a result of indoctrination, we must take a long hard look at whether everyone in our country can identify with the words manifestly stated in our pledge and whether our country’s leaders and society act in accordance with them.
And that’s where the problem arises. Our country does not hold itself true to the promises proudly proclaimed in our pledge. While I wholeheartedly respect those who stand in respect, the clear discrepancies between the words in our pledge and our country’s treatment of certain ethnic, social, and religious groups eliminate any moral obligation one may have to rise.
“Liberty and justice for all” ring throughout our school, but time after time, they fail to ring true for African Americans, immigrants, LGBTQ peoples, Muslims, and more. Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, and Emmett Till -- all stripped of liberty and justice in their dying breaths -- are only three names from an extensive list of victims whose fates were determined by our country’s innate prejudice towards African Americans; members of the LGBTQ community are still refused service in some areas of the country; and in 2016, Louisiana ratified legislation that prevented immigrants from joining in marriage.
How can we expect these students to love and pledge their loyalty to a country that fails to acknowledge its responsibility to reciprocate those gestures?
On top of that, our country is clearly not “indivisible.” To be indivisible is to be able to rise above difference. When our President vehemently pushes to ban Muslims from entering the country; when we commit hate crimes against one another based off of our identities; when anti-Semitic symbols like swastikas are found on the walls of our school bathrooms and in front of Synagogues; it’s evident that we, as a country, still have a long way to go before we can fulfill the promise of “indivisibility” etched into our pledge.
I also do not believe that sitting for the pledge is disrespectful to our veterans. By shifting the narrative to portray people who “sit down” for what is right as disrespectful, we are shifting focus away from the unchecked racism and xenophobia that plagues our country. When people look at the decision to not stand for the flag with such a narrow-minded view, they are rejecting the very freedom that this country is supposed to represent. Our veterans fought so that we could have the right to stand up and sit down for what we believe in.
If we truly are the greatest country in the world, then we must build upon the foundation our troops died fighting for and continue to grow together. If we settle for where we are now, then we will soon be unfit to carry our aforementioned title.
We do not have a moral obligation to stand for 31 words that fail to apply to so many people in our country - people who are the victim of our country’s inability to shed our discriminatory past. Instead, our moral obligation, as people who experience the wealth and happiness this country has to offer, is to fight alongside the oppressed people who, from the dawn of our nation’s history, have been denied the “justice and liberty” that our pledge promises them.
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