Teacher allegedly assaulted a student who refused to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance

I have a daughter in first grade, and she stands for the pledge of allegiance. As a Buddhist who doesn’t believe in theism and nationalism, what can I really do about it?

A five-year-old girl isn’t going to believe in God or national allegiance without indoctrination, but I don’t want her to be singled out in class for sitting during the pledge.

The words “under God” were added to the pledge during Cold War hysteria, but courts have refused to remove it, despite violating the separation of church and state.

My grandfather said he preferred the old pledge of allegiance, not because he specifically objected to the words “under god” but because the addition of those words really threw off the cadence. I feel like it’s an awkward thing to make the class recite every day

If you go back far enough in history, the original pledge of allegiance was written by a socialist, and didn’t specifically mention the United States as a country.

A hard choice! Can you sit down with your daughter and her teachers and talk about it? Sometimes these things can be easily solved. Not always, but sometimes.

It’s unfortunately but in the the case that from time to time some school teacher or school administrator violates the state and federal law regarding issues such as:

  • Religious freedom
  • Rights of students to meet in a religious centered club under the same rules as govern all other school clubs
  • Freedom of speech - such as wearing a tee-shirt, button, arm band, handing out literature
  • Freedom of speech for school news papers
  • Rights and rules regard home schooled children and parents (this is probably the area of the greatest harassment and ignorance.)

School professionals should know about these laws and policies but from time to time someone commits professional malpractice and acts contrary to the standards of their profession or official positions.

You should educate yourself on all the legal options in your state and your school’s policies.

I would explain to children that many people – including many Buddhists – follow rites, rituals, and practices. People have habits and in many cases they are good habits.

Playing games is how younger children learn how to relate well to others. You don’t have to stand up during the pledge but standing up would be like following the rules of a game even though you might not like that particular rule. So a child doesn’t have to think of standing up as meaning anything more than “when I stand up, I know I am standing up”.

The under god phrase has been interpreted many times by courts as meaning ‘god’ in the most general sense. God, higher power, or what phrase encapsulates wise behavior (8 fold Noble Path for instance). I think many devout Christians for example would be fine if someone understood the ‘under god’ phrase to mean the equivalent of being guided by the wisdom of the Dharma or the 8 Fold Path.

I can remember being in the 2nd grade and thinking that we were repeating a ritual that was probably above our heads to really understand and mostly something we just had to do. A pledge made under coercion or threat isn’t ethically or legally binding.

I sensed the pledge was a noble thing that our ritualistic recitation did poor honor to. By comparison, ritualistically saying “I take refuge” is not the same thing as taking refuge out of a deeper understanding and mindful appreciation. (I think I was a precocious 2nd grader)

The words “under God” … but courts have refused to remove it, despite violating the separation of church and state.

Whether or not you agree, you should understand that the majority of Americans students of the US Constitution, law professors, lawyers and judges do not agree with you. IMO the courts have properly refused to do something that is contrary to what they see as the right view on this question. But suttacentral is not the forum for discussions on the history, reasons and wisdom of the US Constitution.

Notes:

  • The Buddha sometimes deferred questions to the opinions of ‘the wise’.
  • If you don’t like the consensus of opinion on this matter then please remember that the next time you hear someone else invoking consensus (an argument from authority) about other matters of social concern.

Nice. Well, then, why don’t we just ask all Americans to pledge allegiance to the Buddha, and say it’s “Buddha” in a general sense of meaning anything you want it to mean? I’m sure that they’d be fine with that. Problem solved!

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Thank you for your response, Bhikkhu. That would just mean she’d be singled out as the weird kid, without being able to understand why, which I’m not sure would be a good thing.

I think it might be better for me to explain to her these things when she’s older, so she can make her own choice whether or not she will say the pledge.

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Yes it surely should be her choice. She’s lucky to have a parent who is so supportive and understanding.

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My French friends are Buddhists because of their own choice and live in a completely non-Buddhist environment. Their daughter —35 years old meanwhile—joined a group of scouts as a child and found herself in a similar situation there than your daughter. She had to recite something that mentioned God (I don’t know what exactly, I’ve never been with the scouts).

She was 10 at the time, and they discussed the matter a lot in their family. She then decided to formally take refuge to Buddha, Dhamma & Sangha in a little ceremony with her parents. And feeling as a “real” Buddhist now, she felt confident reciting together with the others, thinking “Buddha” in her mind instead of “God”. This was her own decision, and she felt comfortable with it.

Maybe for your daughter too there might be a way (appropriate to her age) that she can feel honest to herself without standing out too much from her classmates.

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Is that in France? I thought the French were aggressively secular.

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But the scouts aren’t.

Probably things are also a bit different in Alsace, the region where this occurred. In some respects the laws there resemble more the German ones than the ones in the rest of France.

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Friend @Kensho I really feel for you on this one! It’s hard to see our children complying to what we consider harmful.

Just few insights from my long experience with children:

You are very correct regarding the importance of not creating barriers between your daughter and “the rest of the world” (from her child perspective) at school. And it will only be little discomfort to her at that age, having to stand everyday to (god and nationalism) while she knows in her heart that these are questionable things, or even if she doesn’t know! Trust me, apart from playing and parental love, children despise everything that has to be done daily! Even “eating” is a suspect here! Let alone standing for … what? god national who?!

Also from my experience, it might give you some comfort to realise that children in situations like these eventually develop a kind of inward “resilience” regarding confusing matters of that nature, and sometimes actually it helps make them very observant and contemplative in ways which other children lack. Clash with society on the other hand does nothing other than draining so much energy and time, and causes a lot of anxiety to both child and parents.

It’s tricky to handle issues like that, because we do not want the child to become isolated, aversive, arrogant, suspicious, or scared, in relation with others and the world. Rather we want them to coexist and tolerate even those whom we may find objectionable, and cope with social problems even if they choose to fight them, without letting go of humility and kindness and openness within their hearts. This leads to the kind of emotional stability that is an ideal of mental health, by both Western and Buddhist standards. And as you note, it’s really important not to force our children into battles which “we” believe worth fighting! I have seen many cases where children grew to finally revolt at their parents because of this! They feel as if victimised by choices they never made, and they have a point! I mean life just by itself is quite a battle on its own! For some people, life is enough challenge!

Just some thoughts I hope may be helpful. Wish you and your family good luck! :slight_smile:

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Thank you for your good wishes. We don’t talk about God in our house, because I am Buddhist and my wife is an atheist. I don’t even think a six year old can understand the concept of God.

I think that, when she’s older, I’ll explain to her who the Buddha is, and why Daddy believes in the Buddha instead of a god.

I just hope that, in the mean time, she won’t be lifelong indoctrinated into theism because of standing for the pledge. I have nothing against having appreciation and gratitude for one’s country.

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The indoctrination didn’t ‘take’ on the tens of millions of American school kids who grew up to be atheists and agnostics! Myself included. But metta on you for your loving concern.

Not that I was considered a normal child … but for reference consider that in the first grade I had a meeting with the principle of the school over my criticisms of my teachers pedagogical methods. During the meeting I realized that a tactical retreat in the face of overwhelming state power backed up by the local police was probably in my best interests.

Not surprisingly, as an adult I became an advocate for school reform and school choice.


I note in passing: Nothing has been said in this exchange about what the 5 year old in question thinks about all this. Or has said about it.

Just a reminder that the story is not about a student who didn’t stand because he didn’t want to be compelled to acknowledge a belief in God, but rather it’s about one who didn’t stand because he didn’t want to pledge allegiance to a flag.

It’s probably worth noting that this event takes place in the context of a raging national debate here in the US about the refusal of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick to stand for the national anthem, which customarily begins football games. Kaepernick chose this course as a way of expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and other associated causes and protests related to the treatment of black Americans by the police, and the persistence of white supremacism in the US. Kaepernick has been followed by a number of black NFL players, and now some prominent white ones as well. But, as a result, he has been effectively blackballed from the NFL by its owners.

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The student is quoted in the article:

“The teacher consultant comes up behind me and snatches me out of my chair violently,” Stone said. “I was so confused. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Stone said he doesn’t stand because he doesn’t “pledge to a flag.”

“I pledge to God and family,” Stone said.

I don’t know what else is going on in the background of this story, but some religious people regard the flag pledge as a form of compulsory idolotry.

The incident puts me in mind of my favorite e.e. cummings poem. [For those of you who are not native speakers of English, don’t be puzzled by the contorted and non-standard syntax. That’s part of cummings’s style.]

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but–though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments–
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
“I will not kiss your fucking flag”

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but–though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation’s blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat–
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
“there is some shit I will not eat”

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

When I was in High School going through the usual rebellious phase, my quiet rebellion was to omit the “under God” part and emphasize “indivisible”:

…One nation, (silence), indivisible

The “Enlightenment” ideal that underlies freedom of religion is actually a concept called “freedom of conscience” which is naturally inclusive of the religious and the non-religious, the theistic and the atheistic.