Besides those of us who will go on to be teachers, no one really thinks about the pledge of allegiance. But if we really examine the pledge, its wording, how it is used and what it means, we find an issue we should be thinking about in great detail. Anyone who said those words, be it one time or every day throughout their schooling, pledged to support a nation ""under God."" For a campus that values diversity of opinion and freedom of choice, this is a startling realization. We all gave our allegiance to the idea that our country is guided by the hand of God with his principles influencing the way we run our state.
For atheists or agnostics, the effect of these words is very dramatic. Should they have to choose between supporting their nation and upholding their beliefs? A small but growing portion of the population finds this to be an infringement on the separation of church and state. Their argument is especially strong because of the nature of the pledge: it is taught at a very young age and used almost exclusively by our youngest students.
Think back to the time when you first said the pledge. Everyone in your class said it without thinking about the meaning. In later grades it wasn't mandatory but it would be exceptionally strange for someone to sit out. This environment not only negates the purpose of the pledge since we say it mindlessly without deciding if we truly want to give our allegiance, but it creates an environment that is hostile to the liberty of those who do not support America or believe in God.
Even so, we are a democratic nation, and the vast majority of Americans support keeping the pledge of allegiance the way it is. Our nation was founded on Christian ideals, and far more than 50 percent of the population believes in a God. The minority who find the pledge offensive have the right to their opinion but they do not get to dictate policy. This means that a dramatic restructuring of the pledge of allegiance system, not the Pledge itself, is needed.
Students who are too young to understand abstract concepts like God and separation of church and state, or to make an informed decision about pledging allegiance should not do so. In high school students should study the history of the pledge, learn why God has been included and spend time thinking about how students who are not citizens or do not believe in God might feel. They should then decide if they want to pledge their allegiance to a country that may call on them for military service. This process will give the pledge validity and ensure it serves a purpose other than singling out those who do not wish to say it.
When students think about what the pledge means, they will realize God does have a place in our government and our nation. They will also realize that making the choice to pledge their allegiance means they not only support that system but also the liberty of those who have differing opinions. Through open discussion of the topic it will become clear that rather than being unpatriotic or against God, those who do not participate are exercising the rights the pledge supports.
Simply ignoring the current system not only misses the point of the American way of life, it goes directly against what we stand for. No one should give their support to the United States mindlessly and no one should be made to feel like less of an American because they do not believe in or support every aspect of our culture.
The next time you are asked, or in the case of our future teachers, ask someone to say the pledge of allegiance, don't ask them to recite it. Ask them to think about what they will say and what it means. If they decide to exclude ‘under God' or not to say anything at all no one can stop them. Deciding to pledge your allegiance is a personal choice which should actually mean something rather than a group tradition which will be forgotten by the time we get to college.
Andrew Carpenter is a senior majoring in communication arts and psychology. We welcome all feedback. Please send responses to email@example.com.