Last week the American Humanist Association launched its Don’t Say the Pledge campaign, encouraging Americans to sit out the Pledge of Allegiance when it’s said in schools and government meetings in order to draw attention to the divisive nature of “under God.”
The phrase is controversial for reasons obvious to humanists. For many fundamentalist Christians, it supports the erroneous notion that this nation was founded upon Christian principles. But for many, those two words marginalize humanists and atheists, calling into question their patriotism. Pledging loyalty to our country becomes an exercise in insincerity claiming that this nation is “under God.”
When the American Humanist Association embarked on this campaign, we knew that it would face some backlash. One Facebook commenter referred to the campaign as “total disregard for others” and “lawless rule,” while another called us all “ignorant” and suggested that we leave the country. Another accused us of “lining up to take away your religious freedoms.” One individual wished us, through the site’s contact form, “May God bless you and your warped and oppressive cause.” The right-wing media have also been quick to decry the campaign. The Blaze accused us of attempting to “dismantle a decades-old American tradition,” and The Daily Caller characterized us as “despising all religion.”
Despite this negative feedback, we’ve received an overwhelming amount of support from our members and social media followers. For instance, one sixth-grade student told us, through the DontSaythePledge.com website, that sitting out the Pledge to protest the phrase “under God” felt “pretty good.”
However, not everyone has had positive experiences remaining seated during the Pledge. One individual, who is currently a college student, sat out the Pledge in middle school until he was reprimanded harshly by a teacher. Reflecting back on his experience, he told us, “If only I knew then about constructing coherent arguments and the legal aid that is available…I would not have compromised at all.” Another college student informed us that after she refused to stand for the Pledge in high school, her principal told her that she “was not to be in the classroom for the Pledge.” As a result, she had to arrive late to class for the rest of the year.
One young woman with a stellar academic record and selfless involvement in her community reported to us the persecution directed at her by teachers in high school when she chose not to stand for the Pledge. In an email to us, she wrote passionately, “I am a member of the National Honor Society and the Rotary Club. I donate blood, time and money to charities and to the American Red Cross, but the moment I exercise my right to refrain from reciting the Pledge, I am insulted, badgered, questioned, scolded and threatened with discipline. I feel this treatment was unjust. I have received more trouble for not opening my mouth than I have for any word I have ever spoken.” Even though the U.S. Supreme Court guaranteed students the right to not participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, kids who take a stand for “one nation indivisible” by sitting down are all too often met with hostility and harassment.
Clearly, the Pledge in its current form is divisive. The anger that has been directed at students who simply sit quietly at their desks because they’d rather say nothing than recite a disingenuous Pledge serves to highlight the ways in which the phrase “under God” supports discrimination against humanists and atheists. But unless we take a stand for liberty and justice for all, the wording of our Pledge will never change, and the marginalization of nontheists will continue. Right now, we can all take that stand by sitting down.
What have your experiences been sitting out the Pledge? Tell us in the comments or go to DontSaythePledge.com.