Evincing the West’s alarming push toward authoritarian nationalism, a Mississippi lawmaker has now sponsored a bill to fine any school $1,500 for failing to make students recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag within the first hour of classes every day.
State Representative William Shirley apparently deigns the matter so critical to children’s schooling, as the Sun Heraldreports, he’s seeking to amend the 1972 Mississippi code dictating treatment of the U.S. flag on school grounds and guidelines regarding the Pledge of Allegiance to include a $1,500 penalty for errant schools.
While it seems Shirley’s bill constitutes coercive, forced nationalism — pledge your allegiance to that flag, or literally pay the consequences — a provision in the proposal provides a loophole for any objectors, as “any student or teacher who objects to reciting the oath of allegiance shall be excused from participating without penalty.”
However, language elsewhere in Shirley’s House Bill 205 suggests that provision might not have teeth:
“The failure of any school or school district to require the teachers under their control to have all pupils repeat the oath of allegiance ... shall result in the school or district being assessed a fine for such violation. Any school district found not to be in compliance ... shall be fined in an amount of $1,500 for each violation.”
If schools fear being docked with such a harsh penalty, it would be conceivable to imagine administrators pushing educators to enforce the code strictly and beyond what the express stipulations — even punishing students who refuse to recite the Pledge for any reason.
Last year reignited ongoing controversy surrounding the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national song in protest of the epidemic of police brutality in America disproportionately affecting minorities.
While laudably intended, Kaepernick’s silent protest spiked hypernationalism across the country, as those in support mimicked the move by sitting or kneeling during the anthem — or refused to stand for or recite the Pledge — offended those who see such actions as patriotic or even treasonous.
Schools even joined the frenetic return to symbolic patriotism — in remarkably Orwellian ways — as one in California began academically punishing Native American students for refusing to pledge loyalty to the national piece of colored cloth.
Consider that: a teacher found the protest by Indigenous students — whose homeland was invaded by the European predecessors who established the country the flag represents — so abhorrent as to mark down their academic work as a penalty.
“She says that it represents the military and that they risked their lives for us,” explained Native American pupil Leilani Thomas of the offended teacher. “And I always tell her, ‘Well, my people risked our lives for our land, for our freedom. For our rights.”
Thomas astutely understood the teacher’s personal beliefs should not dictate how student’s work was graded, and chose to surreptitiously record the explanation provided for lowering grades. On that audio footage, the teacher could be heard saying,
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“Here’s the deal. If you really, really have an argument and feel so strongly about, then I need to see it written out — your argument — in an essay form. Like, why? Why, because here’s the thing; those people, they’re not alive anymore. Your ancestors.”
Flag frenzy could be found in many other examples — even in Mississippi, where Shirley wants to enforce monetary penalties against Pledge of Allegiance ‘violators.’
A student at West Harrison High School found himself suddenly threatened with disciplinary action for refusing to stand for the Pledge — even though he hadn’t done so for years.
In late October 2016, the Sun Heraldreported,
“Principal Dana Trochessett threatened him with demerits and suspension if he did not stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and questioned the boy about being a Jehovah’s Witness, the ninth-grader’s mother said.”
As the mother, who wished to remain anonymous, explained, her son’s actions had nothing to do with the Kaepernick protest and he was not seeking fame or notoriety by sitting out the Pledge, but,
“He was doing this before any football player decided it meant something. My son hasn’t stood for the Pledge since the fourth grade. None of my kids have.”
Civil rights advocates sided with the youth’s decision, regardless of his motivation, as they have with the other examples of Pledge and anthem protesters around the U.S. Mississippi Safe Schools advocate Anna Davis explained,
“It is one thing to disagree with what someone says, but to use your power within the school to punish, threaten to punish or imply punishment is an abuse of that power. It is definitely not creating safer schools and communities nor encouraging young people to think for themselves. A teacher and especially an administrator has the ability to intimidate whether or not they mean to, which just makes these kinds of abuses that much worse.”
Now, should Shirley’s bill be written into law, ‘Pledge Allegiance to the flag or else’ will officially declare intimidation an acceptable method to enforce hollow patriotism.
A flag or pledge to it does not patriotism make, however, and the authors the Bill of Rights sought to preserve the right of the American populace to protest governmental policies and actions they deem unacceptable and intolerable. Although purely a symbolic oath, pledging one’s loyalty to the flag of a country whose government hasn’t acted in their interest is actually more offensive to the idea of patriotism than not standing up and reciting that vow.
If freedom is indeed everything the United States stands for, as many hyper nationalists claim, then forcing schools to include strict policies about the Pledge of Allegiance — under threat of financial penalty — is as antithetical to freedom and liberty as it could possibly be.
Patriotism should ideally reflect organic pride in one’s nation — not the fear of retribution for protesting its authoritarian laws.