We Don’t Live in North Korea and Other Reasons Why I Don’t Make My Kids Say the Pledge or Stand for the National Anthem

The elementary school auditorium is full of five to 12 year-old children and their families. An American flag is carried out and proudly placed center stage. Everyone stands, places their right hand over their heart, and begins to recite familiar words in creepy unison:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Everyone except me and any of my children who would rather not participate.

What’s the big deal? Do I hate America? Do I want people to think we are freaks? Let me address these important questions.

What’s the big deal?

I don’t believe in forced patriotism or indoctrination. Period. R’amen. If my children grow to love our country and want to pledge their allegiance to our flag, cool, but I am not going to tell them they have to, nor do I think public schools should force this activity on young children. It’s creepy. C-R-E-E-P-Y. And just like other things we learn to recite as young children, the meaning behind the words becomes lost to rote memorization.

As I type this, the words come flooding back. The pledges, prayers, and creeds – statements of belief I once said weekly or nightly as a child.

Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, 
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory. Amen.

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost; Born of the Virgin Mary; Suffered under Pontius Pilate; Was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; On the third day He rose again; He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father; He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; The holy catholic Church; The Communion of Saints; The Forgiveness of sins; The Resurrection of the body; And the Life everlasting. Amen.

I can recite all of these verbatim. It’s almost eerie the way they are etched in my brain. As a child, I had no idea what I was saying, and if I had really thought about them, I probably would have asked WAY more questions. I asked too many as it was. I want to raise my children to be critical thinkers and to have a healthy respect for authority. But, when it comes to expression of blind allegiance or belief, they get to question and critique, and if they choose, to opt out. And we are lucky to live in a country where we have the beautiful freedom to do so.

Also, there’s the matter of that pesky phrase: “under God,” added to the Pledge by Congress in 1954, at the urging of President EisenhowerWe are not one nation under god. We are one nation, with a rich, amazing diversity of peoples and beliefs, living together under a sky full of stars; one nation, which was founded on the ideals of personal and religious freedom. As an atheist, whose children attend public school, there’s no way in fictional hell that I am going to say the phrase under god or encourage or require my kids to do so. They have actually gotten delightfully creative with the their own interpretation of this phrase. I have heard “under glob,” “under dog,” “under god(s),” and my favorite, “under clouds” in place of the official words.

pledge of allegiance waiver_1471983236593_1898567_ver1.0Recently, schools have started becoming more progressive about the pledge. Last week, Micah Brienen, a Florida man, shared an image on Facebook of a waiver his niece’s Tallahassee elementary school sent home:

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

Brienen disagreed with the waiver and wrote:

My niece brought this home from school today…What is happening to our country?!?

What is happening? Awesomeness. This is great. I see this as a sign that our country is becoming more inclusive and accepting. Let’s not just tolerate disobedience when it happens, let’s let people know that they, and their children, have the right to opt out of things contrary to their beliefs or which make them uncomfortable. Go Florida! (I think this is the only time in history that Florida has been more progressive than the rest of the country).

Do you hate America?

This is a really difficult question to answer. At a time when two Presidential candidates are debating whether we should “make America great again” or stay strong, because “America is already great,” I’m over here thinking that we need to make America great for EVERYONE.

That means people of color, women, immigrants, members of LGBTQIA communities, people who are poor, people with disabilities, and other people who often have no voice or place at the policy table. If we define greatness that way, I think we have a lot of work to do.

San Francisco 49er's Quarterback
San Francisco 49er’s Quarterback Colin Kaepernick protests racism in the Star Spangled Banner by staying on the bench while it was sung.

When I see people like Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas and San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick not stand or place their hands on their hearts during the national anthem, I see people who epitomize the land of the free and the home of the brave. I am glad to live in a country where we have the freedom to make that choice. I don’t believe a song that celebrates war, bombs, and literally killing black slaves and servants celebrates the America I envision for my children. And although I have sung The Star Spangled Banner at least 1000 times, I honestly had no idea what the lyrics of the other verses were until Kaepernick educated me and the world about them. Another example of blindly reciting something and not really thinking about the message or the meaning.

We live in an amazing time when movements like intersectional feminism, and Black Lives Matter allow those of us who are willing to listen and sit on the sidelines to learn about how American history has been whitewashed and spoon fed to us and our youngest citizens. To question beliefs and truths we were taught from an early age. To use our privilege to stand up for others, instead of ignoring injustice, while whining under our breath “but, it’s not about me.”

In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue…and killed native people who refused to trade with him.

Passed by Congress June 4, 1919, and ratified on August 18, 1920, the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote…but Jim Crow laws, segregation, and racism made it nearly impossible for Black women to vote in some places.

Why are more people upset about acts of civil disobedience that are deemed unpatriotic, than they are about systemic racism and oppression and a country that simultaneously honors military personnel as heroes and ignores the basic needs of veterans and their families?

Do you want people to think you are freaks?

The America I envision celebrates diversity and independence. I want my children to know that I support them in growing into amazing individuals. Which means that I don’t celebrate blindly following the crowd. If they want to recite the pledge or bow their heads during prayer, out of respect for others, I support that too. As long as they know that they don’t have to remain silent when the crowd is doing something they fundamentally disagree with. If someone tells a racist, sexist or homophobic joke, and everyone laughs, I expect more from my kids than a polite chuckle. I want them to feel empowered to ask – “Can you explain to me why that’s funny?” or to say – “That’s not okay. I’m out of here.” If that means being called freaks, I will hold them and teach them about the awesome dissenters who have worked to shape our country’s past and future.

If more people taught their children to value caring about others and the world over fitting in and fighting wars, perhaps a great America is possible, which reminds me of another song I learned in elementary school.

This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.


Steph is a mom, stepmom, freelance writer, and advocate. When she's not busy writing, chasing kids around, cleaning up messes, and trying to change the world, Steph enjoys snuggling, making pies, politics, reading paranormal fiction, yoga, and fitness. A fully recovered natural parent, Steph now trusts science, evidence, and common sense to lead the way. She has been actively involved in the reproductive and women's rights movements for more than 20 years and is a passionate pro-choice feminist. Her writing can be found on Grounded Parents, Romper, The Cut, and other print and online publications

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  1. Beautiful post, but I do have one quibble. If that school were being progressive with that form, it wouldn’t look as though without a parent exercising “parental rights” and excusing eir kid from the flag, kids are still required to stand.

    Instead, the school could have directed its message at the students, explaining that they have a legal right not to stand for the pledge and that the school is committed to providing a safe environment for them to exercise that right.

    A kid’s right to not engage in obedience rituals is not dependent upon eir parents’ recognition of that right, but the school form above implies that such is not the case.



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