In a nation very divisible, the Pledge is hardly invisible |

In a nation very divisible, the Pledge is hardly invisible

The voices of the children blended, making it difficult to understand the words.

“… One flag, under God …” I listened closely and find that for some 6-year-olds, the word “indivisible” comes out as “invisible.” That prompts a smile and I wonder to myself if, when I was in kindergarten nearly 45 years ago, I also confused those words.

It hardly matters. At that age it’s not the words but the symbols that have meaning.

If you quiz the children in this kindergarten class, they will tell you that the flag is a symbol for freedom. If you inquire further, they will tell you that America is a free country.

And if you ask why that’s important, they will tell you that in a free country people can live as they want and worship as they want.

When I asked, their teacher acknowledges all of the children don’t truly understand what freedom means – and I think to myself that far too many adults don’t know the meaning either. The teacher says the children are at an age where a foundation is being laid for them to understand as they grow older not just freedom, but patriotism and honor and responsibility.

In Washington this week, the justices of the United State Supreme Court heard arguments that the Pledge, which since 1954 has included the words “under god,” violates the rights of those who do not believe in the existence of God.

When those 6-year-olds recite the pledge, they may not understand every word, but watching them it’s clear that every utterance is absolutely sincere. I wonder if I could fast forward to when those children are high school seniors, if the lilt of their voices will be tinged with the same sincerity when they say the Pledge.

When I was 18, I was labeled a radical in my hometown for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I hadn’t planned on being labeled a radical.

It happened because our principal – and in the interest of honest reporting I should acknowledge he was someone whom I frankly did not like – decreed that every student would stand in their homeroom class and recite the Pledge.

The principal would lead us via the public address system. To this day I don’t know why he decided back in 1972 that was something we should do.

Being a teenager and a bit rebellious (they go together don’t they?), and having just completed a term paper on civil rights, I questioned his decree and got into an argument with him in the middle of the hallway in front of the office.

In retrospect it probably wasn’t a good idea to do that in front of everyone. The conversation sort of went like this:

“Why do we have to say the pledge?” I asked.

“Because I say you have to say it,” he said.

“That’s not a good enough reason,” I said.

“If you’re going to go to this school you’re going to do what I tell you (He was poking his finger in my chest for emphasis at this point), and if I tell you to do something that’s a good enough reason for you to do it,” he said.

“You can’t make me say it,” I said.

“Yes, I can,” he said.

“No, you can’t …”

That went on for a while. It wasn’t a particularly satisfying or enlightening debate, more, like a couple of children arguing. So the next morning, when everyone else rose to say the Pledge I stayed seated and I got booted out of school.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God, country and the flag. I just didn’t like the principal’s dictatorial attitude and his stomping all over my rights.

Had he said something like, “you need to say the Pledge because it’s the patriotic thing to do and it would be good for students to be reminded of the freedoms we enjoy as Americans,” then I probably couldn’t have argued with him.

Instead, he stuck out his chin, poked me in the chest and told me if I didn’t do what he said, he’d toss me out of school.

One of the moments for which I’m most proud of my dad is when we met with the principal the next day.

Why he did it I don’t know, but the principal tried the same in-your-face-posture with Dad, who wasn’t a small guy, and then foolishly questioned my father’s patriotism. That’s when Dad decided he’d had enough, pushed his finger into the principal’s chest and said the reason he’d fought in World War II was to protect America from Nazis like him.

Way to go, Dad.

Of course, on the way home, Dad told me in no uncertain terms that I would say the Pledge because it was the right thing for me to do regardless of the principal’s attitude or mine.

I came back to school the next day prepared to do so, but funny thing was there was no Pledge to say. The principal rescinded his decree.

Publisher Jim Morgan writes a Tuesday column in the Summit Daily News. He can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 240 or

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