Each school day during my 3rd-period Marketing class, I stand with my students, hand over heart, pledging 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.
This simple moment of national patriotism is a requirement in Nebraska, a rule passed by the Nebraska Board of Education in 2012 stating that all public schools must provide time every day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in order to receive accreditation or state funding. Already a common practice in elementary schools and many districts, it was a new practice for most high school students.
After the rule passed, teachers took an inventory of classrooms that needed flags—many were old and torn, more had been discarded over the years and with tight budgets, new ones hadn’t been purchased. The first several weeks, hand over heart, we stood facing an 8 ½ x 11 colored photocopy of the flag until a generous alumni donated enough American flags for every classroom.
Reciting the pledge is voluntary for students and teachers. We can recite the pledge either standing or sitting or remain quiet showing respect for those who do participate. After five years, I am still surprised when there are a few students that don’t stand to say the pledge. I’ve wondered why. This semester every student stands.
Regardless of our different political views or opinions, it feels like the one great gesture we can make together is agreeing to pledge allegiance to the flag. We have so many other opportunities, especially this past year, to take a stand (or sit), to disagree, to voice an opinion, to protest or resist. But I’ve also come to the conclusion, and I respect, that not everyone feels the same and that perhaps they have good reasons for not standing or reciting the pledge (besides it’s their constitutional right). In the words of Pope Francis, who am I to judge?
For a few years, I showed a short video clip with Red Skelton explaining what each line of the Pledge meant to him (if you are old enough to know who he is, likely you stand without question for the Pledge of Allegiance). Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I will continue to stand in spite of my disappointment, even shame, at what has become of our United States. I have faith in the words of our Pledge and faith in the meaning behind the words.
As I say the Pledge, I take the time to breathe, slow down and really think about the words I’m saying. I hope and pray that my country will live up to the words that each day we profess. There are far too many days lately when I’m uncertain what America really stands for, but when I say the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, it is this in which I believe:
I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE, promising to speak my truth while remaining committed, TO THE FLAG as a symbol OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. I pray, even when we seem so divided, that we are united in, and take seriously, our responsibility to all people within and beyond our borders, especially those who flee their own country seeking a place of peace and promise. I hope we are not so proud of our country that we forget about others, that our desire for unity does not become exclusion.
AND TO THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH IT STANDS, a country that is a worthy and wonderful place to live, grow and be, representing a land of opportunity and a chance to always begin again.
ONE NATION that represents a diversity of opinions, beliefs, ethnicities, lifestyles, socioeconomic and educational groups, yet a nation that comes together and is unified in times of tragedy and trial;
UNDER GOD, through our faith, hope, and prayer, in the spirit of our founding fathers and mothers, guided by a morality that resides within;
INDIVISIBLE, without division, united with wholeheartedness of spirit;
WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE, in gratitude for our freedom, with a duty to be fair and honest, and respectful of all we encounter.
FOR ALL. In God’s eyes, there are no borders—we breathe the same air as the refugee, immigrant, gay, straight or transgendered, Muslim, Hindu or Christian, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, Protestant or Catholic. We breathe the same air as those we disagree with and those we live with. We are one world. Oceans cannot be divided, this part belonging to Europe and that part belonging to America. The air cannot be split—Mexico breathing this air and America breathing that. No, we breathe the same air. We are connected to all people, all countries. All means all.
This I pledge. This I stand up for. This I place hand over heart for and recite every day of the school year. This I pray.
Our words matter, so how can we live what we profess and believe, as individuals and as a country? Each of us must reflect on what it is that we place hand over heart and stand up for.
“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.”