One nation. Indivisible. For All.
The Pledge of Allegiance reads like a unity document but a proposal to have it recited daily at all has some wondering if doing so might actually prove divisive.
At Tuesday’s meeting, newly elected Board of Education Trustee David Holden proposed that all Saline Area Schools students begin the day with the Pledge of Allegiance. Holden said it was an idea that received unanimous support from people as he campaigned during the fall.
The Pledge of Allegiance is recited in Saline’s elementary schools, but not in the middle school or high school. Board policy currently states that classrooms may open the school day with activities like the pledge or patriotic songs. The policy also states that a student who expresses a religious objection to repeating the pledge shall not be required to participate, though they are not permitted to disturb the participation of others.
Holden said reciting the pledge would provide brief lesson in history and citizenship for every student, each day. He also said he didn't think it should be a controversial proposal.
“A lot of people focus on ‘one nation, under God.’ I prefer to focus on the back end of the pledge: ‘with liberty and justice for all,’” Holden said. “I think it works very well with some of the things we are trying to do to discourage bullying. It was the original diversity document before people started talking about diversity.”
The proposal drew praise and criticism from several Saline High School students at the meeting.
Aaron Mukerjee, the Saline High School student representative on the board of education, said he surveyed fellow students on Facebook and after 160 comments, and he believes the policy might prove divisive. Mukerjee, a senior, said students who choose not to stand and say the pledge may be ostracized.
“Although I believe the intentions are excellent and personally have no problem with saying the Pledge of Allegiance, I think this could be divisive and roll back the efforts made to unify the student body,” Mukerjee said.
During public comment, students spoke in favor of and against the proposal.
Student Paul Popa said he thought that making the pledge optional ensured that the activity would not be divisive. Popa said he understood that that the “one nation under God” line concerned some, but said he thought the overall message was one of patriotism—something he said was lacking at the school.
“When I walk in halls and talk with friends, I never see anyone talking about about how happy they are to be American. In fact, when I look at the dress they are wearing they actually have clothing that is more supportive of other countries,” Popa said, talking about clothing featuring flags of other nations. “I am proud to be an American citizen. The Pledge of Allegiance pulls together the ideals and morals of what it means to be an American Citizen.”
Another student took to the podium and voiced disapproval with the proposal.
“Myself, I don’t mind saying the Pledge of Allegiance. I am an Eagle Scout. But not to be disrespectful, I don’t think this is really the board’s decision,” he said. “I think it should be up to the students.”
The proposal also was addressed by residents in the audience.
“We do live in a free society where we are not required to make pledges. We need to make clear to the students that while this is something that is kind of nice, and you can say it if you want to, you are not required to do it. So put me down as a no,” said Mary Lirones.
Board President Lisa Slawson said the proposal would be forwarded to the policy committee for further study. The board could get beat to the punch. In November, the state Senate passed a bill that requires all Michigan public schools to start the day with the pledge.
State Rep. Mark Ouimet, R-Scio Twp., told the board that he expects the House will take up and pass the bill this year.
In an interview prior to the meeting, Holden said that he plans to work with area organizations to ensure that every classroom in the district has a flag. Holden said the effort would be funded privately so that no money is diverted from the classroom.