Last October, after nearly 13 years, the Pledge of Allegiance was reinstated at Boston Latin Academy. The recitation of the pledge will now occur daily over the intercom during homeroom. For many BLA students graduating high school in 2020, this patriotic act has not been a daily practice in school for several years.
At one point in time, it was a tradition that seemed second nature, a subconscious following of a practice. Students would stand in class, place their hands over their hearts and recite the pledge whilst facing the flag in the room. Some students would even go to the main office as a volunteer to recite the pledge, which felt like a big deal, and they were proud to hear their voice over the loudspeakers.
The push to have the pledge reinstated at BLA was initiated by a band of parents who took their concern to the superintendent. Per Massachusetts law, BLA was breaking the law by not having students recite the pledge. Massachusetts General Law Title XII Chapter 71 Section 69 states that every school should have a flag in every classroom and “each teacher at the commencement of the first class of each day in all grades in all public schools shall lead the class in a group recitation of the ‘Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.’” The law also outlines how the pledge is to be recited and consequences for if it is not carried out each day in public schools.
In 2010, an atheist family sued the Acton-Boxborough Regional School District arguing that “...schools conduct a patriotic exercise that ‘exalts and validates’ one religious view — a belief in God — while marginalizing their ‘religious views’ on atheism and humanism,’” reported Education Week. In the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision, former Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote that no Massachusetts student is required by law to recite the pledge. The court also rejected claims that the inclusion of “under God” in the pledge violates “the state equal-protection rights of atheist and humanist students.” This was ruled in a 7-0 vote.
Jenny Tran, a 17-year-old senior at BLA, chooses not to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. “My family is also Buddhist, so I can’t really relate to the ‘under God’ part,” she said.
Jeffrey Isen, a teacher of 13 years at BLA, says that he hates the Pledge of Allegiance. Isen is an immigrant from Canada and as a child, he would sing the American national anthem. “I remember, as a child from a minority religious group, feeling uncomfortable because the national anthem made a reference to God. And I knew that it wasn’t my God. It wasn’t the God of the religious group that I was a part of at the time,” he said.
This discussion of the pledge and even that of the national anthem have been a topic amongst teenagers and young adults for a long time, even more so with Colin Kapernick’s “take a knee” movement. However, this conversation has not been properly addressed in our schools. Boston teenagers need to know their rights: they can say the pledge — or not say it — and they have the right to express how they feel about it.