And what better way to repay them than to take issue with one of their posts?
Mr. Mirengoff remarks that no one at his daughter's school, Walt Whitman High School stands for the pledge. As a former student, I can vouch for the accuracy of this claim, but I would hardly ascribe the nefarious motives Mr. Mirengoff does.
Mr. Mirengoff says there are three reasons given by the students for this:
Three main reasons are cited. First, school starts early, and kids don't feel like standing up. Second, Bush is evil and the U.S. is pretty bad too. Third, with hardly anyone else standing, some feel uncomfortable doing so.
First of all, I would bet money that the first issue is far and away the most prevalent. We're teenagers. Ergo, we are lazy. That's just the way it is. And I'd bet a sizable portion of the people in groups two and three are really "ones" but think that laziness is a pretty poor reason and are embarrassed to say so.
For the second, I can't speak for most Whitman students. However, I do know that I have not stood for the pledge for a LONG time, dating well back into the Clinton admin. It has nothing to do with my (very real) dislike of Bush, because I think it is very important to distinguish between a nation and its government. I'll admit that at the start I didn't stand for the pledge because, yes, I was too tired. Now I don't recite the pledge on principle (more on that in a moment). I think that, to the extent that people are really not standing as protest against the administration, that's an unfortunate expression. However, if you believe that this administration has made a mockery of "liberty...for all" (Federal Marriage Amendment) and "justice for all" (Guantanomo Bay, Patriot Act, Hamdi/Padilla/Moussaoui), then I can see where they're coming from. I don't agree with their methodology (hell, I don't even agree with all they're protesting against), but not everyone has the type of time or energy to craft sophisticated and eloquent protests against authority. Sometimes, simplicity works.
The third I think is very interesting. I am very much inclined to believe that there is a sizable portion of the student body at Whitman who would stand but does not want to ostracize themselves by being "different" from the vast majority of the student population. Mr. Mirengoff is ABSOLUTELY right to point this phenomena out. Unfortunately, I doubt that he would be so quick to embrace the flipside of his argument, that in regions where the vast majority of students stand for the pledge, those who would prefer not to (let's assume out of true political or religious conviction) would feel pressured into standing. In the words of Lee v. Weisman they (the students who would stand but feel pressured not to, and those who wouldn't stand but feel pressured to) are being "psychologically coerced." The same people who are ready to jump down the throats of the liberal pinkos who are making young patriots uncomfortable about honoring their country are utterly dismissive of claims that people who object (religiously or otherwise) to the content of the pledge are "coerced" into participating in it by the patriotic majority. Mr. Mirengoff aptly though inadvertently illustrates the power of the "participate or protest" dilemma faced by so many children and teenagers every day. It just so happens that at Whitman, the "protesters" are in the majority. And the power of this psychological force, now recognized by Mr. Mirengoff, forms the linchpin of my opposition to the pledge in general. This type of coercion can be a force for good or for evil, and we'd all do well to remember that.
Now moving to my personal reasons for not saying the pledge. Even before the Newdow case, I was deeply troubled by the mention of "under God" in the pledge (indeed, I wrote my college essay and my national merit scholarship essay on it. Since I got into college and got the scholarship, I must be doing something right!). This is not because I'm an atheist. Indeed, I believe in God and consider myself a fairly religious person. Rather, its the implications of including "under God" that I find troubling.
First of all, I have always been confused as to the outcry of religious persons in America when it seemed that "Under God" would be taken out. They honestly seemed to view it as a threat to their faith. But what kind of faith requires government training wheels to be expressed? Maybe its because I'm Jewish and my people have had a lot of practice doing this, but it always seemed to me that the true test of faith was ones ability to hold it even when it wasn't part of the status quo. If your faith is so tenuous as to require governmental mandates to keep it afloat, then I think the problem is with our religious institutions, not with the government.
Second, people express religion in different ways. Religion is a deeply personal matter, and there is tremendous variance amongst Americans, even those who do believe in one God, on how to articulate their faith. Even within the same religious tradition there can be cleavages (for example, Jehovah's Witnesses and the Southern Baptists fall on the extreme opposite ends of the Pledge Case spectrum). So when the government proclaims one methodology of expressing faith to be paramount or proper, it has the effect of commoditizing religion, of turning it into a "one size fits all" proposition. I think that is tremendously patronizing of the deep personal and spiritual bound that religion represents, and I think that's what Justice Hugo Black meant when he said that "a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion. The history of governmentally established religion, both in England and in this country...showed that many people had lost their respect for any religion that had relied upon the support of government to spread its faith. The Establishment Clause thus stands as an expression of principle on the part of the Founders of our Constitution that religion is too personal, too sacred, too holy, to permit its 'unhallowed perversion' by a civil magistrate." (Engel v. Vitale, 370 US 421, 431)
At root, I'm going to believe in God because I believe in God, not because my government tells me to. And I'm certainly not going to express my faith in terms of federally codified norms. That's not a celebration of religion, that's a mockery of it.