We took our seats and watched the kids pour into the gymnasium and I was struck with how different it was from when I was in elementary. My elementary school was for kindergarten through 5th grade, but Patrick's school was from pre-K through 8th. Where we would be lead into the gymnasium in an organized fashion, each grade separated into sections, each class separated into two rows - one for boys, one for girls; this school had children running around the gymnasium, no teachers were seen for the older children who came in first, and the lower grades' classes all sat on the floor in a disorganized group.
But that is where the dissimilarities ended. The first item on the agenda? The Pledge of Allegiance followed by a moment of silence. Everyone was told to stand until the moment of silence had ended. Now, back in elementary I had bought into Christianity and wasn't bothered by the Pledge - though, I don't think I really understood what it what it meant until at least middle school.
I know that they recite the Pledge every day in Patrick's class and I have told him countless times that he does not have to stand for it, and he does not have to recite it, and he says that he sits it out. However, today he stood. I was too far away to see if he actually recited it, and he's still in class now, so I can't ask... yet. His father and I remained seated during the Pledge and
I'm not sure if he felt pressured because it was the principal leading the proceedings that made him stand at attention, or if he just tells me that he sits it out every day, but says it anyway. Whatever it is, I can't blame him or get upset with him for caving into the peer pressure. As I sat there while everyone around me, except for Barry, was standing, I felt extremely uncomfortable. I felt like an outsider - like I wasn't welcome. Oh sure, I could have blended better - I could have stood up, repeated the Pledge, or at least stood there "respectfully" - but why should I need to? Why should my son feel pressured in repeating something that he does not understand? Why should children pledge allegiance to ANYTHING?!? Why should adults?
There are around 400 children in Patrick's school. Certainly, the majority are Christian, or at least, would consider themselves Christian, as the majority in this country is Christian. But not all of them are. Patrick is not - technically he would be an atheist, as he does not believe in a god - but he is much too young to have that definition thrust upon him. However, he is a child of atheist parents, and as atheists we are trying to raise him to be a rational, logical, decent human being.
Every child and adult in his school is protected by the constitution. A constitution that should protect him from a state sponsored religion. Coercing him into reciting something that states that this is a nation under God flagrantly violates those rights. By being neutral - by not stating the pledge, or by not having a prayer - or the prayer's legal substitute - the "Moment of Silence" - protects his rights and the rights of every person.
A public school's first priority should be education. Religion should be kept in your home, your churches, and your religious private schools and institutions. And, with the pledge, it's not just about religion, it's about nationalism and brainwashing children into accepting things that they do not understand. It is about conforming - pushing the belief that this nation is the "best" because it is protected by God. It leads to an unquestioning acceptance of the status quo - just look at the Jessica Ahlquist case, and look at how many people say that the prayer should stay "because it's been there for years". It is this mentality that NEEDS to change if this country has any chance in progressing and succeeding.