Beit Gamaliel

The House of Gamaliel: The confluence of knowledge and faith.

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Forced Religion and Forced Patriotism.

In a daft move this week, the Leon County School District in Florida sent out an OPT OUT form to parents so that students may opt-out of reciting the United States Pledge of Allegiance. The form is to be signed by the parent or guardian and returned to the child’s school. The form has one checkbox that states:

I understand my rights as a parent and I request that my child, noted above, be excused from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. This request includes standing and placing his/her right hand over his/her heart.”

The Florida Department of Education says the Leon County School district went “above and beyond” legal requirements. Apparently, the form was intended to fulfill a state law passed this past spring mandating that language informing parents of their rights concerning the Pledge of Allegiance be included directly in the student handbook. However, the DOE Director of Communications, Meghan Collins, stated “We want it to be abundantly clear that while yes, there is a law stating you need to notify parents, there is no requirement to create any type of form or waiver.”

In the wake of 9/11 there was a renewed interest for discussions on teaching citizenship and nationalistic ideals to our students. In 2002, EdSource noted: “In the wake of the events of September 11, America has experienced a patriotic revival. Schoolchildren are again reciting the Pledge of allegiance, flags are flying from front porches, and Americans are making record charitable donations to relief funds.”

I worked inside the beltway when 9/11 took place. We crowded hundreds of students into our lower floors for hours after the attacks as our location was considered a high-profile target. I consoled crying children in the fear that their own parents were lost in the Pentagon. Phone lines were silent. Cell networks were flooded and inoperable. Fears of a dirty bomb had begun circulating. It was horrifying.

After the 9/11 dust settled, none of us wanted to ever forget those whose lives were lost. Out of the ashes came the “Never Forget” campaign. The only bumper sticker that I have ever placed on my car was the “9/11 Never Forget” bumper sticker. Friends who were employed in the pentagon gifted the “Never Forget” pin. The message was clear: Never Forget!

Apparently we forgot.

I remember attending Lily Lake Elementary as a child, wide eyed and bushy tailed (as my grandma called it). I absolutely remember my first few weeks as Ms. Anderson patiently taught us the Pledge of Allegiance. Over and over we went until is was second nature. For Americans, that is how the vast majority of us learned it. But now we live we live in a world where the Pledge of Allegiance is an option.

The hypocrisy that I find in this position is thus: this form is not asking the child what their wishes are, but rather the wishes of the parent so that the school can impose upon the student the desires the parents have for that child. However, when it comes to religion, liberal educators hold that the beliefs of the parents should not be forced upon the child but that a child should be allowed to grow up and choose their own path in life. Renowned atheist Richard Dawkins is so adamant about it has says, “Forcing religion on your children is child abuse.” Apparently forcing our children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance is abuse as well. After all, how in the world can anyone fathom that morals might be absolute, and the greatest nation in the world might be the one in which I live? God forbid we maintain such a narrow, close-minded and bigoted posture!

Maybe families of faith should be able to complete a form concerning the parent’s wishes for prayer before meals. Then the school could enforce the wishes of the parents and ensure that my children are reminded to pray.

What parents want: Teach young people about American democracy and traditions

According to findings in the Public Agenda study (2002), parents strongly believe that young people must learn about the principles upon which this country was founded. Eighty-three percent of parents said they want schools to teach kids to appreciate the liberties guaranteed under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. In this same study, parents resoundingly called for schools to teach students traditional ideals of what it means to be an American. So can we teach what it means to be an American apart from the Pledge?

I was raised in a home mixed with English and German backgrounds. I can recite the German pledge. I can sing the German national anthem. I even spent a summer in Germany enjoying the culture of my ancestors. I fully understand what it means to be a German, culturally. But I have no idea what it means to be a German citizen. It is no my home, not my country, not my nationality. Why? Because I pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

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