It’s hard enough for atheists teachers to deal with the Pledge of Allegiance and saying “Under God.” If you don’t want to say it, you may very well lose your job depending on where you work.
But it’s just as tough if you’re the child of atheist parents. If you don’t stand up for the Pledge or you sit outside the classroom while others say it, you could be subject to teasing, taunting, and possibly worse.
David Niose, President of the American Humanist Association, shares some of these stories in Psychology Today — stories of children who are taught one thing by their parents and something else entirely by their teachers, and of parents whose patriotism is called into question:
Nevertheless, in the eyes of some, there is reason to question the patriotism of Lisa and John. Their flaw, it seems, is that they don’t conform to official government doctrine on the existence of a divinity. “Our six-year-old daughter came home from first grade very confused,” Lisa explains. “In school she was taught to stand up each morning and declare that we are a nation under God, but she knows that mommy and daddy don’t believe in any gods. She wanted to know, why does the school say there’s a God when mommy and daddy say there isn’t?”
Lisa expresses concern that the “under God” wording strongly implies that nonbelievers are less patriotic than those who believe. “This is a patriotic exercise, let’s be clear about that,” she says. “So if this official patriotic ceremony, conducted every day with hand over heart, declares that our country is under God, then obviously the inference is that true patriots must believe in God. That’s always made me uneasy, but now that my kids are getting to school age it really worries me.”
For what it’s worth, some atheist parents are still working with Michael Newdow on a lawsuit to rule the Pledge unconstitutional.
In the meantime, we’re stuck with it. It’d be nice if every teacher made clear to their students that no one is required to say the Pledge — because no one is — but we all know most teachers don’t know that and wouldn’t say that even if they did know it.
What would you advise students to do?
One suggestion in the article is to replace the offending phrase with something else, but that doesn’t really help resolve the issue:
Most atheist and Humanist children indeed participate in the Pledge, though many parents report that their kids discreetly remain silent while the words “under God” are spoken. (Melissa’s daughter quietly, and cleverly, says “under law” instead.)
Most secular parents are not thrilled with such compromises, but realize that there are few better options. “By participating, even if you don’t say ‘under God,’ you are validating the religious language, because nobody knows that you aren’t saying the religious words,” John says. “By standing and participating, you give the appearance of unanimity. It perpetuates the ridiculous idea that all patriotic people believe in God.”
I don’t want to perpetuate it. That’s why I don’t say the Pledge at all in my classroom. I just continue on with my business, silently, while students who want to say it are welcome to do so.