The edge of allegiance: The right to say nothing at all

By Lally Gartel

Once again, the Pledge of Allegiance is under assault by Godless socialists.

This time, as much as I disagree with portions of the Pledge and its mechanical recitation in schools and public events, I think much too much of a big deal is being made of something that is easily remedied at best and irrelevant at worst.

The student board of trustees at Orange County Community College, located in a heavily conservative area outside of Los Angeles, has banned the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance from board meetings. Wearing what Reuters cites as “berets,” the student trustees are no longer reciting the Pledge at meetings since it does not bear on the functioning of the meetings.

This sounds reasonable. A majority vote decided that the Pledge of Allegiance would not be recited before student trustee meetings. This does not affect the recitation of the pledge anywhere else on campus, nor does it really dictate the recitation of the Pledge in any way except prior to a student trustee meeting.

Nevertheless, a furor has evolved. Some, most likely conservative students, are not happy. Several students recited the pledge loudly at the meeting; other students waved the American flag and accused the board of “radical views and anti-Americanism.”

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    It is unfortunate that this mundane amendment of the activity of a student board is so hotly contested. The decision was reached by majority; the administrators of the college have admitted they have no business directing the day-to-day functioning of the board; nevertheless, patriotic students have gotten unbelievably upset. One of the most common conservative retorts to rejections of the Pledge is that the people who reject it are unappreciative of the rights this country affords them. If they were appreciative, they would pledge their allegiance to the country that lets them reject the pledge of allegiance in the first place.

    This is a fatally flawed argument on its face. It is clear that this country does indeed afford a resident the right not to do or say anything they do not expressly want to (with the exception of taxes and other civic duties). The idea that someone must then, to respect these rights, vocally profess allegiance just does not follow. If anything, these students are exercising their American-given rights to not have to pledge allegiance to anything, thus embodying what conservatives love to give lip service to until it interferes with their ideology: liberty.

    To address another seemingly implicit fear, the fact that the most vocal anti-pledge students at the Orange County college are self-proclaimed socialists and atheists seems to provide some evidence for the pro-Pledge students that evil, radical things are taking place on the board of student trustees.

    I, in my naivete, thought the Cold War was over. I know atheists are disliked, and so are socialists, but there is a long history of very American men and women who were either socialists or atheists who posed no threat to the greatness of this country, save helping to organize and enact important civil rights and other reforms. This includes but is not limited to Martin Luther King Jr, Bayard Rustin, Upton Sinclair, all of whom held or enacted socialist ideals. These people helped improve America, not rob it of its values. And today, I am sure that these people would advocate a view that allowed each individual or group to decide what or whom they pledge allegiance to, be it God or nation.

    Today, the legal status of the Pledge is ambiguous, but it is absolutely clear that any individual may opt out of recitation. Moreover, it is (and should be) legal for students who choose to do so, by majority, to abandon the practice. Students who do not agree may recite the pledge on their own, but they may not insist that anyone be forced to do so.