Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Boy After My Own Heart

Very early in this blog's history, I revealed that I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance in high school, due to my discomfort with the "under God" clause. As a religious person, I found the Pledge demeaning of my faith -- implying that in order to be religious I needed government sponsored training wheels. Plus, being a religious minority, I was acutely aware of how non- or polytheists could feel excluded by hinging loyalty to America on belief in God. I felt it was wrong, and so I refused to participate.

Today, in Arkansas, a ten-year old boy, Will Phillips, is making the news for also not saying the pledge. His reasons are slightly different from mine -- the "liberty and justice for all" part doesn't cohere with continued state-sponsored discrimination of gays and lesbians -- but needless to say, I find it heartwarming. Phillips is apparently very civic-minded for his age -- he, like me, wants to be able to pledge allegiance to America that really does provide liberty and justice for all, and won't settle for the substitution of "some".

Of course, in taking this stand the young man, who is straight but identifies as an ally, is taking the usual barrage of homophobic taunts from classmates and others (along with, it must be said, at least some support from his friends). But so far he is staying strong, and he is being supported by messages of support from around the country (of which I am glad to contribute). In the meantime, he has a good idea of what he is standing for by sitting out:
At the end of our interview, I ask young Will a question that might be a civics test nightmare for your average 10-year-old. Will's answer, though, is good enough — simple enough, true enough — to give me a little rush of goose pimples. What does being an American mean?

“Freedom of speech,” Will says, without even stopping to think. “The freedom to disagree. That's what I think pretty much being an American represents.”

Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson smiles.

And here in Chicago, I do too.


PG said...

Hmm -- I always say the Pledge of Allegiance, but do so in the original terms ("one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all") rather than the McCarthyite revision. I agree with the commenters to your 2004 post that the Pledge is speaking in aspirational terms, and that a failure to live up to "liberty and justice for all" in every respect will always be with us because we are fallible human beings.

I think it's great that Will Phillips feels so strongly about LGBT equality that he will suffer the slings and arrows of his peers, but I don't like the idea of resigning the Pledge, or the flag, or any other symbol of our republic over to the right-wing.

chingona said...

I stopped saying the pledge in 8th grade, both because of the "under God" and "liberty and justice for all" reasons.

I think PG is right that it's aspirational, but my 8th grade self saw the world very much in black-and-white terms and was disgusted with what I was learning about the gap between our ideals and our actions.

My homeroom teacher was very "patriotic" in the sense of attaching a lot of importance to symbols like the flag. She was president of our town's Flag Day Society.

During parent-teacher conferences, my teacher told my mother how disturbed she was that I wasn't saying the pledge and that she hadn't realized I was "that sort of girl." My mother said she hadn't realized being "that sort of girl" had anything to do with saying the pledge.

Regardless of whether Will will have the same take on the pledge when he's 20 or 30, it takes a lot of courage to go against the flow for a political stance in a school environment. Best of luck to him.

joe said...

I think it has more to do with placing government in a subordinate position to "God," with "God" standing for cultural conservatism. With this hierarchy established, government is necessarily a culturally conservative force. And the more we put "under God" on money or statues or what-have-you, the more proof we can cite that this is a "Christian nation" (you might object that belief in "God" doesn't equal Christianity, but the it's synonymous to the Biblethumper elite that believes theirs is the only correct form of worship).

PG said...


"God" isn't synonymous with Christianity only, but using the singular does bolster the claim that only monotheism is legitimate.

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