Lesson in democracy Pledge of allegiance: Flap at Bel Air High School raised issues of patriotism, freedom

April 03, 1996

THIRTY-ONE WORDS that get recited millions of times a day, to town meetings, school days and sporting events, the Pledge of Allegiance is a quintessential symbol of pride in being an American.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America....

So when Bel Air High School in Harford County sought to resume a daily pause for the pledge last fall, and some students enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union to block school policy that they stand at attention for it, the resulting community furor was predictable. This was months before a pro basketball player made headlines for refusing to stand for the National Anthem. In Bel Air, folks were asking what was wrong with these impudent children, and worse, how could the school principal back down in the face of the ACLU?

...and to the republic for which it stands...

Of Harford's 49 public schools, only two did not have students stand to say the pledge each morning: a special ed school, where the mental or physical limitations of some students caused complications, and Bel Air High, As best as folks could recall, the pledge was discontinued in the early '70s, as it was at other institutions in that era. But most schools had reinstated it, especially during the Persian Gulf war.

Though the pledge is often recited, one wonders how often Americans think about what they're saying. It may be patriotism's equivalent of teeth-brushing: Regularly done, rarely contemplated. Some citizens probably mumble through it without knowing the words.

...one nation under God, indivisible...

The standoff at Bel Air High may have a happy ending. After a cooling-off period, the school recently resumed the pledge, with occasional "celebrity" guest reciters and informational tidbits, such as the fact that the vow is 104 years ago or that "under God" wasn't added until the mid '50s. Principal William Ekey says the controversy, though disconcerting, taught his students about laws that "even school principals must obey." That some folks simply felt the teen-agers should be forced to recite an oath to a free society was an irony lost on them. Actually, this rift and resolution may have accomplished more to instill in these young people a love of country than the 31 words themselves.

...with liberty and justice for all...

Pub Date: 4/03/96

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