I Pledge Allegiance

Bailey Van Wagoner, Business Manager, Managing Editor, Web Editor

Every Tuesday, a staticky voice over the intercom prompts Copper Hills students to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance. The staticky voice does not, however, explain to students why they reassert their allegiance weekly.

Since its inception in 1892, students across the country have memorized and recited the pledge. In some schools, it was declared mandatory to participate. West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette changed that in 1943. The Supreme Court declared that mandatory participation in the pledge of allegiance is a violation of students’ first amendment rights. Since the decision, schools are allowed to say the pledge as often as they like granted that students have the option to refuse involvement.

In Utah, Utah Senate Bill 223 (“SB 223”) mandates that each public school across the state recites the pledge daily. Copper Hills, however, only broadcasts the pledge once a week. This raises the question of why Copper Hills doesn’t say the pledge daily. No matter the reason, students still stand once a week, every week. This causes a problem for students who don’t wish to participate in the pledge. These Grizzlies may wish to opt out for many reasons, but one of the most common complaints is about the phrase “under God.”

In the midst of the Cold War, the United States took every opportunity to distance themselves in ideology from the Communist Soviet Union. One such chance presented itself in adding the phrase “under God” to the pledge in 1954. President Eisenhower encouraged this change to differentiate the traditionally Christian values of the U.S. from the state atheism in the Soviet Union. This change incited an ongoing debate on the separation of church and state from the Supreme Court all the way down to the hallways of Copper Hills.

McKenzie Catten, a social sciences teacher, said that the religious phrase in the pledge alienates non-Christians. “I find it extremely problematic because we are a country of diversity, and it very specifically negates that by saying ‘under God’–God being the monotheistic God,” said Catten. The inclusion of a term like that upholds the country’s “foundations in Christianity” while devaluing its “current diversity.” One could argue that whether a person is non-religious or believes in a non-Christian religion, the pledge seems to imply he/she is less American because he/she doesn’t believe in God, with a capital G. This creates division instead of unification, which contradicts the original purpose of the pledge. Due to this divisiveness, Catten thinks that students are entitled to dissenting opinions and should be allowed to refuse participation in the pledge without being demonized in the process. “There’s coercion there. Whether it’s required or it’s optional, kids are probably going to do it because they feel uncomfortable not doing it,” Catten said.

Another perspective is that “under God” is simply an embodiment of one of three core American identities the country was built on: Classical Republicanism, British Enlightenment, and Protestant Christianity. Kyle Jensen, a social sciences teacher, explained, “The Christian God has been a part of the foundations of our country from day one.” Jensen asserted that the pledge is part of a larger lesson in patriotism every student should learn for two reasons. One being that everyone needs to discover what America means to them. The second is that the lessons give students an opportunity to question. Without this authority to question, students have no means of finding and fighting for their own ideals.

Jensen explained that protesting is not only an American right, but also “an important part of our democracy.” Dissent and protest are integral to the American identity as well as a right of students, according to West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette. Why, then, are students not aware of their right to opt out of the pledge?

According to SB 223, they should be. As a part of a yearly lesson relating to the flag, students must be informed the voluntary nature of the pledge as well as the respect that should be offered no matter a student’s choice. No such lesson has been given at Copper Hills. Not only that, but schools are required by law to post “a notice in a conspicuous place that [says each] student has the right not to participate in reciting the pledge.” As far as the students are concerned, no notices of this kind exist because they are not conspicuously displayed in Copper Hills classrooms.

Until Copper Hills takes measures to align the school’s pledge practices with Utah law, students should be made aware that they have the irrevocable right to choose whether or not to participate in the weekly ritual. However, this decision should not be taken lightly. As explained by Jensen, “It’s your right as an American to protest, and you should protest. But sometimes I think it’s really easy to protest without having understood the reasons why we have the ability to protest.” Copper Hills students have the responsibility as future voters and leaders to make informed decisions only after they have researched a problem fully. Jensen described it perfectly when he said, “If you’re going to be a dissenting voice, do it with a purpose and not just to follow a crowd.”