High School Student Fights to Stay Seated During the Pledge of Allegiance… and Wins! June 7, 2012

High School Student Fights to Stay Seated During the Pledge of Allegiance… and Wins!

Chelsea Stanton, a student at Collingswood High School in New Jersey, just took a stand on account of her atheism and won.

She didn’t want to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance at school — we’re not a nation “under god,” after all — but the district’s Code of Conduct (PDF) says that all students have to stand because it’s the “proper” way to show respect:

“I couldn’t bring myself to recite it anymore, because I felt like it didn’t respect me,” Stanton said.

So every morning, she sits silently as fellow students stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance.

“I don’t think any student anywhere should have to stand up for this,” she said.

“That’s the beauty of America — that you don’t have to follow the same religion the majority does,” Stanton said.

Stanton said that, because she didn’t stand for the Pledge, she “faced possible disciplinary action” from her teacher. (The news report doesn’t mention it, but it’s also worth considering the consequence of classmates talking shit about her for going against the grain.) Of course, it’s completely illegal to impose any penalty to those who stay seated during the Pledge. Stanton knew that. The people who wrote the Code of Conduct and the faculty members and administrators who blindly followed it did not.

Once the whole situation was brought to the attention of district superintendent Scott Oswald, he did the right thing:

After having [looked] into the matter, Collingswood Schools Superintendent Scott Oswald said Chelsea is right.

Now, she has been allowed to sit during the Pledge with no problems.

Oswald said he will likely look into revising the student code of conduct this summer.

Way to go, Chelsea!

Hey, Freedom From Religion Foundation, are you accepting nominations for your $1,000 Student Activist Award? Because Chelsea deserves to be a recipient.

On a personal note, I’m a teacher who doesn’t stand for the Pledge, either. I never talk about my reasons for doing that, but I know that other students in my classroom have also chosen not to stand. Is that because of me? I don’t know. But as far as I know, they don’t get harassed for it. I hope they don’t stand for the Pledge when there’s another teacher in front of them. I bring this up because none of this should even be an issue. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is an unnecessary and (frankly) pathetic way to inject a false sense of patriotism into the students. If they got rid of the tradition altogether, students wouldn’t be any less patriotic or respectful.

Also, kudos to the totally professional way reporter Todd Quinones introduces the Code of Conduct manual at the 1:08 mark of that news clip…

(Thanks to Brian for the link!)

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  • Honestly, it’s the crap from peers that would scare me most…. and the blind eyes turned by adults when they agree with the bullies. 

  • firefighter1

    Wouldn’t she have been better served by fighting to remove “under god” from the pledge? It won’t be long til we aren’t even acknowledging the flag in schools anymore. Everyone can sit then. It’s okay, all of your military personnel and their families will keep standing up for it. I understand what she is saying, I get the point. If we don’t stop every attack on the non religious, we will lose the battle.I once said, why do we have to pick on everything and got torn up for it. I don’t think your Nation, or The Pledge, is disrespecting you. It’s the lack of insight and fear from the people that decided the pledge needed to define our nation as “under god” Rally for your school to dismiss these words from the pledge, so that ALL students can take pride in their school, in their country and in a soul student brave enough to stand up for everyone, not just herself. If he was willing to let her sit, maybe he would have been willing to allow the words to be removed from the pledge? It deserves more than a soul act of willful selfishness in my eyes. BUT that is just MY opinion. As someone who has lived in a military family and is now a naturalized citizen, this doesn’t seem like a victory, it seems like it will just lead to a bunch of teens who don’t want to stand in the morning. I’m just not sure how positive this will be.  Standing may be unconstitutional, but she still has to hear the words as she sits at her desk. I think the bigger fight is to have the wording deemed unconstitutional. Forcing people to acknowledge a faith to accept their country is wrong, making them stand up for their country is not. Just my opinion. I am not a scholar. 

  • Blah

    Or better still, remove the pledge.  I thought brainwashing was for Communist North Korea.

  • Desertman

     As Hemant pointed out at the end of the article, “Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is an unnecessary and (frankly) pathetic way to inject a false sense of patriotism into the students. If they got rid of the tradition altogether, students wouldn’t be any less patriotic or respectful.”

  • David McNerney

    Excuse my ignorance – but does the teacher not lead the pledge?

  • I agree. It transcends patriotism and becomes nationalism. My allegiance to the United States is neither blind nor does it have a 24-hour expiration. It’s also idol worship as you are not just pledging allegiance to what the flag symbolizes but also to the flag itself (“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America ****and**** to the republic for which it stands.”)

    I also don’t see “Under God” as violating the Constitution nor do I find it offensive, although I did when I was in high school.

  • Yukimi

    We stopped doing that in Spain years ago and I don’t think we are any more or less pratiotic than before but what we sure are is less hypocrit imho.

  • NickDB

     From an outside perspective the whole (often daily) reciting of the pledge seems rather forced.

  • NickDB

     If the only thing making American teenagers and children patriotic is The Pledge, then you have bigger things to worry about than The Pledge.

  • Alan Williamson

    I think the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag is totally lame.  What is it’s function?  Why do they even have it in schools?  Outside of school, no one does it.

  • astroboi

    I doubt if little kids even know what they are saying. Way back in third grade I thought the pledge said “one nation, in the visible” like ok, you can see our nation or something. It wasn’t until middle school I actually read the thing. One post I read years ago was from a teacher who found kids reciting “one nation in a dirigible”.  Kids will recite anything phonetically if they are forced to. That doesn’t mean they know what they are saying.

  • revaaron

    Good for her.

    I’m glad I was raised in liberal Minnesota- don’t think we did the pledge past elementary school. Always seemed like something you make little kids do, not teenagers.

    Come to think of it, I’m not sure we said under god in the pledge. When I dive deep into those memories, the next natural thing to chant is indivisible, not under god. I wonder if that it post-hoc redaction?

  • I’ve heard atheists complain about the pledge for religious reasons, but never because it’s just idiotic to have a bunch of students recite things to, as you say, “inject a false sense of patriotism.”  Thanks for saying that.  

  • sunburned

    “Forcing people to acknowledge a faith to accept their country is wrong, making them stand up for their country is not.”.

    Perhaps it’s the whole *forcing* people part that is wrong.  Forced fealty never quite works out the way it’s intended to anyway.

  • Freak

    “Under god” was only added in 1954.

  • nic

    You’re exactly right – that’s how indoctrination works. 

  • nic

    When I was a kid the pledge was recited over the PA system, I assume by the principal or various teachers. In any case, a voice from the sky was telling us that we’re in one nation under god.

  • Gus Snarp

    nic’s experience is the same one I’ve had in four different elementary schools, two junior high’s and one high school: it’s led by the PA system voice. So I assume that’s pretty standard, unless you’re at a very small school.

  • Many of us know your stance on “ceremonial deism” and how it’s totally OK because it’s been done for so long that it’s become watered down, despite many Christians using it as an argument for shoving religion into our laws and government.

    I’m only half-teasing you, of course. 😉

    Then again, wouldn’t a “reasonable observer” see children being indoctrinated into believing that some entity named God oversees our nation and protects us? Tell me again how that’s not religious intrusion?

  • Gus Snarp

    Yeah, it really creeps me out. Recitations of all kinds do. When I find myself in a church (usually for a funeral) and some call and response section of the ceremony begins I get very uncomfortable. I used to take part in those things when I was a Christian, but now they just seem creepy. I guess I see a cult like design to them, an intent to manipulate the congregation psychologically. Plus, it is nearly identical to every creepy satanic cult meeting in a bad movie.

    I think my feelings about the pledge now are related to that. It would be interesting to translate the pledge into Russian, or German, or any language that sound sufficiently alien to American ears, put up a fictional flag in the room, and kids in standard school uniforms reciting it while doing the salute that originally went along with the pledge and see what ardent pledge supporters thought they were seeing and how they felt about it.

  • Gus Snarp

    I wouldn’t have watched the video if you hadn’t mentioned the introduction of the code of conduct. Hysterical.

    And I expect your example gives at least some courage to kids to not stand for the pledge. But having learned from you what’s possible, perhaps they carry it on to other classrooms.

  • CelticWhisper

    Doubly so because you know that some school officials will use student reaction as a bludgeon to be brandished in order to keep the would-be dissenters in line.  It won’t just be “Well I don’t see what the big deal is” – they’ll make a conscious point to turn a blind eye to harassment if the harassment is directed toward a “dirty pledge-sitter.”

    Then, when called out on it, they can feign ignorance and try to deflect questions with “We have so many more problems to worry about with (pick one: drugs, budget, gangs, sports, events, Rob Sherman) that we can’t POSSIBLY keep track of all the ‘petty squabbles’ (quotes mine) of the kids!”

    And so the blindly-obedient flag-worshipers are allowed to run rampant and the ones who made a principled stand are up a creek with no aid.  Nice lesson there – don’t rock the boat or you’ll be made persona non grata and the “fair and blind” system turns out to be just plain blind.

  • Sindigo

    As an outsider (I’m British) I’ve always seen the pledge recitation as weird. We had to recite the Lord’s prayer at our twice-weekly religious assembly and its mindless parroting failed to convince me there was a god but we have no equivalent to the pledge. I think any attempt to do something here would be met with a cacophony of derision.

  • Fsq

    Good for you and stand your ground Chelsea! Don’t let the perr pressure and shit from your classmates hold you down either. NO BULLYING IS ALLOWED!

    Good job Chelsea!

  • Fsq

    Don’t you dare try the old “our troops are dying for your freedoms” bullshit.

    That is a canard and a true strawman in the argument. The pledge is ridiculous and forced indoctrination.

  • Rodger

    We need to lose the pledge entirely. Only Germany during the reign of that Asshole and the US have had a pledge to a flag. It’s brainwashing, pure and simple.

  • revaaron

    Heh. I suppose I should’ve said that this was in the 1980s. 🙂

  • Rhstevens

    Props also for the superintendent who did the right thing when he learned about the situation! More educators need to be like that.

  • Hemant

    They do it over the PA system at my school.

  • Johannsone

    If you have to make kids practice patriotism, they aren’t choosing to be patriotic.  I am not sure why we started doing it, but as we grow and diversify as a nation, I would like to think we could revisit these weird traditions. As to the comment about soldiers and their families standing for you, I am grateful that they do. It allows all of us to voice our disdain for silly rules and at times, harmful laws. If we are not benefiting from a law, it should be changed. Hiding our heads in the sand does not help us grow. I have learned so much over the last 10 years. I’ve seen a lot of things I’ve done for dumb reasons in the name of some sort of religious or patriotic obligation . I would like to see more support for those people trying to change their perspective. You know the one where everyone says religious people have their heads up their asses. If I had to grow out of religious indoctrination, will having kids not say the pledge push them away from patriotism? Sounds silly, right? Because it is. Educating people never weakens anyone, ever.

  • “It’s also idol worship”

    No, it isn’t, because it isn’t worship.  But even if it were, I’d much rather have people in the US engaging in idol worship than Judaism, Christianity or Islam.

    Oh, and “Under God” does violate the Constitution (or should, if we had supreme court justices who, themselves, weren’t part of the problem), as it a constitutional enactment which asserts the existence of a god.  That is flat-out a violation. 

  • I think that the kids in Collingswood would be okay with it.  This isn’t some rural backwater hellhole where the religious lunatics infest the place.  It’s suburbia in an area where people have a pretty laid back, and in some ways progressive attitude. 

  • That was pretty funny.  SLAP!!! 

    Also, I thought it very bizarre that the school is flying the flag of South Vietnam, a country that hasn’t existed for almost 40 years…

  • You are pledging allegiance to an inanimate object. How can you be faithful to an inanimate object? Imagine pledging allegiance to a toaster. Yes, a toaster doesn’t symbolize anything, unlike the flag, but as I said before, you’re already pledging allegiance to what the flag stands for as well.

    I’m not saying that Americans believe the flag is an actual deity, but many do revere it to the extent of worshiping it.

    The Establishment Clause is rarely cut-and-dry. I believe “Under God” (and “In God We Trust”) are constitutional mainly for the reasons outlined by Justice O’Connor in her Elk Grove concurrence.

  • scinquiry

    Re: recitations.  One of the first questions I openly discussed with my dad about religion was when I was about 10 or 12 was if we were in a cult (I was raised Catholic).  The night before church we had watched some B movie with a scene of some sort of pagan cult chanting.  I asked my dad why they were chanting and he said it was some sort of ritual to appease their gods and added that it was a cult that most people do not share their views.  The very next day at church, guess what?  We were chanting in nearly the same fashion as those pagan cult members in the movie the night before.  Growing up in a small college town I was exposed to classmates with varying religious backgrounds to no religious background.  I could only conclude then that if I was a member of one group of theological thought that wasn’t shared by others, was it possible that I was in a cult?  The questions started flowing….

  • Thackerie

     This is how I heard it:

    I led the pigeons to the flag,
    where the Republican Richard stands.
    One nation under ground invisible,
    With libraries and Juicy Juice for all.

  • Andromeda

    My son told me he stopped standing for the Pledge of Allegiance in sixth grade.  No one ever said anything until 11th grade, when his teacher said he was a bad american, but didn’t make him stand. 

  • Mary

    The pledge does much more than “inject a false sense of patriotism into the students.” When started young enough and continued everyday, I bet the pledge makes children and young adults more “obedient” and respectful to authority, perhaps even more fearful of authorities and of the crowd’s opinion about them when they question authority. I wonder if there would be as many young people signing their lives over to go fight wars “for this great nation” if they didn’t get that flag stuff in their heads so young. We should be teaching kids to question and think, not to recite the current culture’s norms/values/dogmas. 

  • I refused to cooperate with the ritual way back in 1967. No big deal.

  • The pledge is a silly ritual anyway. Free men don’t pledge allegiance.

  • The point is that worship and pledging allegiance are different things.  Further, even deep reverence for a flag (or other patriotic symbol)  is just that.  There is no point at which deep reverence turns into worship.  Worship is a specific thing, and this ain’t it.

    And those cases which found the nonsense of “ceremonial deism” to be an actual thing were wrongly decided.  In fact, they are laughingly bad, because to reach the result that the judges wanted to reach, they had to avoid not only fact, but logic as well.  (Just to clear, I don’t contest that the cases found what they did.  I contest that those decision were well-decided.) 

    There is simply no way — short of 5 judges wanting to protect their own religious notions — that the adoption of specifically reglious symbolism into the pledge, specifically stating that the US exists “under God” (which, itself, is a statement favoring monotheistic religion), specifically to draw a contrast to the Soviets as they were supposedly “godless” cannot run afoul of that Clause, fairly viewed.  It was simply a matter of a couple of old religious people not really caring that the provision can preclude government expression that even they believe in.

  • As a teacher, I’ve had to stand up for students’ rights to not participate in the pledge at our middle school. Usually the perceived threat of me bringing the issue beyond our team meeting is enough for them to drop it. I feel a lot of pressure from my school community to stand for the pledge, however, I NEVER say “under god.” Some students notice, but nobody has ever said anything to me.  I’m afraid of career suicide if I make a bigger deal about it, even though I want to.

  • J Dixon14

    Imagine that though, that would take a HUGE amount of work/money.  she would need a lot fo backing to do that in a high school, much less a state or country. but hey, everything starts small right?

  • I grew up in New Jersey, and under the same law, was forced to pledge allegiance to the flag daily in school.  At least among my generation, the law had quite the opposite of the intended effect: it ensured we lost all respect for the pledge, and for many of us, for the flag as well. I remember more of my classmates recited the Bart Simpson version of the pledge (“I plead alliance to the flakes…”) than the official words.

    I remember my senior year class trip to Germany. Somebody’s mother called the school and fretted at them about making sure we’d recite the pledge daily, so we were forced to recite the pledge every morning on the tour bus in Germany. Our teacher made us learn and recite it in German… let me tell you, that freaks people out like nothing you’ve ever seen. Go to a public function in the US and recite the pledge in German, and all the old people around you will give you dirty looks. Recite the pledge in Germany, and the Germans express shock that Americans would do such a horrible thing and compare it to the Hitlerjungende.

  • judith sanders

    As a veteran, I have a different take on what ” allegiance” actually means.  A minor has very limited legal standing, so this oath basically boils down to “Gosh, I really like the only country I’ve ever known. ”  It only makes sense if the person reciting it has the option of taking up arms for another nation or has access to state secrets. Spend that 5 minutes learning an actual fact about the US government, instead.

  • judith sanders

    Thank you.  During the Cold War phase of my enlistment, I never believed that the Soviets were capable of coming over here and establishing Amerika.  Neither did the Cuban adventure in Grenada, Sandinistas, “Pineapple Head,’ or Saddam Hussein pose any threat to our freedoms.  Civilians defend freedoms with their votes; the military carries out foreign policy objectives.

  • I stand for the pledge of allegiance.

    I recite it loudly.

    I do not recite the words “Under God,” and if I am leading the pledge, I omit them.

  • Due to the 13th amendment, contract law does not require specific performance of a personal service.  I know this isn’t a contract, but it seems requiring someone to perform any physical activity that has no purpose would be a breach of their 13th amendment rights.

  • The text of the code of conduct reads:

    Flag Salute

    New Jersey law requires students to show respect for the flag of the United States of America.  If they are conscientiously opposed to the pledge or salute, they may abstain from these ceremonies, but they are required by law “to show proper respect to the flag by standing and removing any head dress”.

  • Patricia

    Speaking as a student at your school, there’s a lot of peer pressure in some other classes to stand up for the pledge, especially if the teacher stands. I think the fact that you sit for it makes kids feel like it’s okay not to. My teacher last year during announcements was very Catholic (not in a way she imposed on students… just in a way that made analyzing James Joyce easier because she knows every single Biblical reference/Catholic tradition and then some) and she stood, which I think might’ve been the biggest reason everyone in our class stood. 

    (Fun word game: try saying only every other word of the Pledge. It’s harder than it seems!)

  • Tagesabo

    They want her to “respect” the flag yet they are displaying it incorrectly in the school. the field of blue is always in the upper left from the point of intended observation, not just rotated when it hangs vertically. (with certain exceptions of course, over a street for instance)

    reference; United states flag code, title 36, chapter 10:175. Position and manner of display.
    and 10 years Marine Corps color guard experience.

  • r.holmgren

    “it will just lead to a bunch of teens who don’t want to stand”

    Didn’t you read the above comment? That would never happen because the ones who choose to sit are atheists who are “the ones who made a principled” decision to stay seated. Only those who stand to show allegiance are “a bunch of teens” who blindly do what they are told without thinking through their decision. None of them put any thought into it.

  • Pureone

    If everyone else doesn’t do the Bellamy salute, them why should they expect anyone to stand? After all, the salute was an old tradition encouraged by Francis Bellamy.


  • Stev84

    Like the Pledge of Allegiance, much of the Flag Code is a load of BS though. It simply has too many minor and irrelevant points and rules. A certain respect for the flag is needed of course, but the Flag Code is a great example of mindless flag worship. It becomes all about ritual for its own sake instead of actual respecting the principles and ideals the flag stands for.

  • A certain respect for the flag is needed of course


  • amycas

     The pledge made me feel very uncomfortable, even when I was in elementary school. By fifth grade I stopped reciting it and just stood there. It wasn’t until high school that I learned they couldn’t legally force me to stand, so I would just remain seated. Patriotism is all fine and good, but forcing children (or leaving the impression that it’s forced) to recite a nationalistic pledge is just creepy.

  • amycas

     yeah, that canard in particular is very annoying. Seriously, we are not at risk of losing our freedoms to foreign enemies. I’m more worried about some right-wing groups within the US taking away my rights (which, they already have in some states).

  • Baby_Raptor

    I did 4 years, 2 deployments.

    I wasn’t fighting for a flag. The flag is a symbol, that’s it. You can respect America without paying devotion to the piece of fabric with America’s design on it.

  • amycas

     Yeah, the texas pledge is really stupid.

  • Baby_Raptor

    It was always said over the PA system when I was in school. Texas, and I graduated in 04. 

  • Keulan

    “Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance is an unnecessary and (frankly)
    pathetic way to inject a false sense of patriotism into the students.
    If they got rid of the tradition altogether, students wouldn’t be any
    less patriotic or respectful.” I agree with this. Even if it were changed back to the pre-1950s version without “under god”, I still wouldn’t see the point in saying it.

    Also, it’s nice to see a school official taking a reasonable response to this, instead of doubling down like the morons at other schools (Cranston, for example) have done. Kudos to Chelsea for standing up for her rights, and to the superintendent for admitting that the school district’s policy was wrong.

  • Enough reasons here for anyone, liberal or conservative, religious or atheist to have the
    Pledge of Allegiance removed from public schools:

    1. Meaning lost in endless repetition, no explanation given, no history provided.

    2. Comprises an ideological viewpoint that is forced on little kids by authorities to
    whom they are dependent.

    3. The two above, taken together, is the definition of brainwashing.

    4. The absurdity of having to repeat a pledge daily that apparently is only good for 24

    5. The conforming routine of it, which makes you feel like a brain-dead robot sheep as
    opposed to a citizen of a free country who enjoys individual liberty.

    6. Subordinates the people to the government, which we are told on good authority was
    created by us, with allegiance to us, not us to it.

    7. Exalts nationalism over federalism contrary to the basic principles of our Republic.
    Subsuming states and individual rights to central government is a necessary pre-requisite
    for a centralized, socialist government to gain traction. This was an explicit goal of
    Francis Bellamy, the socialist author of the PofA.

    8. Encourages jingoism. Antagonistic tribalism. No other countries have their citizens
    swear a loyalty oath to their government (except Mexico and the Philippines, mimicking
    the U.S).

    9. Concocted by a company that sold flags as part of a plan to compel schools to buy more
    flags while instilling socialist-style nationalism in American children.

    10. Unsavory connection with Nazis. The Pledge originally featured the Nazi-style salute.
    In fact, Hitler got it from the Italian fascists who much admired, that’s right, kids in
    America doing it while saying the Pledge. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bellamy_salute
    (Man, if that doesn’t give you chills)

    11. Is patriotic lip-service in place of, even at the expense of, actual civic engagement
    and action. (Symbolic patriotism)

    12. Is uncritical patriotism at the expense of maintaining oversight over government.
    (Blind patriotism)

    13. Considered by many Christians idolatry, taking the name of God in vain, swearing
    oaths, serving two masters.

    14. Divides the nation (and the classroom) along religious lines. Only those represented
    by the Judeo-Christian “God” need apply as patriots (Ironic that “under God”, comes right
    before “indivisible.”)

    15. Is hypocritical on the part of adults, bullying little kids into doing something that
    adults themselves don’t do. (You say the Pledge every day, do you, and on a government
    mandated schedule?)

    16. And last, but not least, pledging allegiance to a flag is just stupid.

  • Kristin

    When I was in high school, two of my classmates were given detention for not reciting the Pledge. One refused to stand entirely; the other stood after the teacher (actually, it was a substitute teacher) threatened detention, but he still didn’t recite the words, so he was given detention anyway. I stood and mouthed the words to avoid getting in trouble (except for “Under God”). It made me so angry and just reinforced the absurdity of it all for me.

  • Chelsea92

    Thank you for the support everyone.  It is nice to know that I have some.  Most of my own family has stopped talking to me since the TV debut.  It is okay though because I know, with or without their support, I made a small difference, at least in this community.  Now no one will ever have to go through this again at Collingswood High (hopefully).

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