I Pledge Allegiance…

Leah Shea

“Hi son. I’m calling just to check in. See how you’re doing,” my grandma says through the phone to my dad.

“Hey mom, I’m good. Driving home from work,” he responds, making casual small talk.

“I was wondering what Leah’s opinion is on the football players kneeling during the national anthem,” she questions. “I find it disrespectful, people have lost their lives for our country, generations of your family and hers have served for this country. They should be thrown off the teams for that behavior,” my grandma continues.

He quickly shuts her down. “Yeah, but they have the right to protest peacefully. It’s their first amendment right.” 


My dad comes home and tells me about this interaction. I remember the time I spent in South Carolina with my grandma. I remember the car ride when I was yelled at because I didn’t immediately stand for the pledge of allegiance. I remember crying, no way to escape, wishing I knew how to duck and roll out of a car door, with no solitude.

I had spent the school year not standing for the pledge. Not understanding why for twelve years we say the pledge every day, only to stop the second we leave the structured educational system with the exception of special occasions. I never understood why we pledge to God in a secular environment, or why it is mentioned at all in a culture that is said to support the freedom of all religions.

Bob Greene wrote for CNN a brief history of the pledge of allegiance, and apparently the pledge wasn’t associated with schools until 1892 when the Youth’s Companion started selling American flags to schools to support patriotism after the Civil War. Then they added the “under God” part in 1954, because “Eisenhower declared: ‘In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.’” This was largely contributed to by McCarthyism during this time in order to establish a more patriotic way, due to the fact communists were mostly atheist.

People have told me to just not say “God”, but we are taught from our youngest levels of education to pledge allegiance to “one nation under God.” Although it may be seen as childish, I am exercising my first amendment right of freedom of speech. I should not be forced or guilted into saying something I do not want to, that I find does not belong in the school system.   

There are many different forms of protest. There are the kinds that start peacefully and end peacefully, start peacefully and end violently, and the kind that start violently and end violently. My not standing for the pledge was of the peaceful kind.

When people think of protests, they think of the ones that have started and ended violently, the ones that outside of the bounds of the first amendment right that allows citizens to protest peacefully. Due to these kinds of protest, the ones that require outside involvement to de-escalate, people have become afraid of any type of protest. This fear has caused problems for those who are protesting peacefully, because due to the violent protest the police have become more cautious of protesters.

People have been seeing those protesting, standing up, or kneeling to support their beliefs as unpatriotic, when in actuality it is more patriotic to utilize their first amendment rights. I read an article written by Lindsay Jones from USA Today on how football players have been criticized by our president Donald Trump, and are being told they should be fired, and how this has caused fear in many players that they may lose their jobs.

The football players are not the first to be prosecuted for exercising their rights. The ACLU reported on a situation in Phoenix, Arizona where people were protesting peacefully outside a convention center the president was giving a speech in. The protesters were then involuntarily removed by use of chemicals and brutality. This is another example of many where people have been protesting peacefully, but have been put down and scared away by government forces.

The day that I exercised my right to freedom of speech in front of my grandma, she used the authority she has over me to reprimand me for exercising my first amendment rights, no matter how small. There are days after that I become afraid she will somehow know I didn’t stand for the pledge, and call me just to yell at me even more. It feels like she is hovering over my shoulder, compelling me to stand and put my hand over my heart. The memory of her yelling at me haunts me each time, forming an uncomfortable pit in my stomach.