One of the defenses put forth for leaving the reference to God in the current Pledge of Allegiance is that no one is required to participate even when schools are required to lead classes in a daily recitation by state law. When it’s pointed out that kids who decide not to participate may be coerced or humiliated by others for a supposed lack of patriotism the response is to brush such concerns aside as not being likely. Yet news reports of just this sort of thing happening continue to pop up. The latest involves an eighth-grader at Silverbrook Middle School in Wisconsin named Rachel Morris who found herself being questioned first by her teacher and then the school principal when she refused to stand for the Pledge at the start of the school day.
When she refused to stand on the first day her teacher repeatedly questioned her as to why after class was over. Rachel explained that she didn’t have to provide a reason. After refusing to stand on the second day she was summoned to the Principals office.
Principal Cindy Guell said she called Rachel to her office on the second day partly to discuss the pledge but also to make sure everything was going OK for her. This is Rachel’s first year in the district.
“She said it was against her religion to say the pledge. I said, That’s fine.’ I told her that basically, we stand anyway as a way to honor our nation.”
Guell said Rachel was never told she had to stand. However, Guell acknowledged that, at her instruction, a statement was read over the intercom Wednesday and Thursday before the pledge that said, “The reason we stand is to honor our country.”
The statement was intended to clarify the issue for students, not to needle Rachel, Guell said.
Said Rachel: “It was embarrassing because people kept looking at me like I didn’t honor my country.”
The Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, which intervened at the family’s request, said the school officials’ actions amount to intimidation.
“They were putting psychological and authoritarian pressure on her to conform,” said foundation spokeswoman Annie Laurie Gaylor.
While it’s true that the Principal never specifically said Rachel had to stand, the implication in the statement she did make and the announcement read before the pledge made it clear that she fully expected Rachel to do so regardless of whether Rachel had to or not.
“She said that even if you don’t recite the pledge, you can at least stand to show respect for your country,” Rachel said. “She said I should just stand and try it.”
Guell said Rachel may have misinterpreted concern for her well-being as an attempt to change her behavior. “I personally feel really bad that she feels this way.”
Guell may have had good intentions, but whether she realizes it or not she was applying pressure on Rachel to conform as was the teacher. What the hell is wrong with just letting her sit quietly in her seat without question if she doesn’t wish to participate? Why bother “clarifying” anything to the rest of the students unless you’re trying to draw attention to the person who isn’t conforming? Whatever reasons Rachel may have for not participating are hers to reveal or not reveal as she should choose and if she isn’t required to participate then she shouldn’t be required to explain why she chooses not to. It’s none of your damned business why she doesn’t want to participate.