USGA Meetings to Now Open with the “Pledge of Allegiance” Each Week: Why This Makes Me Uncomfortable

Elizabeth Field

Don’t call me un-American. I love my country. I believe deeply in the dogma and principles in which this country was built on.

The amendment I hold nearest and dearest to my heart is the First, which grants me the right to say as I please. More importantly, it grants me the power not to be forced into saying something.

At last Friday’s Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA) meeting, a motion was made to begin each meeting reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. As a proud member of UNH’s culturally and nationally diverse community, I find this as an act of insensitivity toeing the line on bigotry. I have no problem pledging loyalty to the country I love and call home, however, I will not be participating during these public meetings.

To understand my decision, it is important to understand the history of the Pledge of Allegiance and how the oath has become so convoluted and distant from the original idea of pride and equality that it is no longer evocative of the words it represents.

Francis Bellamy originally composed the Pledge in 1892, but Congress did not formally adopt it until 1942, during the midst of World War II. It was intended to originally include the phrase “equality,” but those in favor of the pledge knew that education leaders were against equality for women and African Americans, so the word was omitted in order for the bill to pass.

The pledge originally used the phrase “my flag.” It was changed to “the flag of the United States of America” during 1923, a period characterizing an influx in immigration. This was only one of the many initiatives used by the U.S. government to force new immigrants to sever ties to their home country.

The phrase “under God” was added in 1954 during the Cold War to differentiate the United States from the atheist-communist state of the USSR. Not only is this a blatant unconstitutional promotion of monotheism, but the inclusion of this phrase also completely goes against separation of church and state, prized especially at a private institution.

In regards to the phrase “Liberty and Justice for all,” whom are we talking about? I’m a woman, a Jew, and an unabashed supporter of gay rights. If someone could honestly tell me how this nation was showing me the same liberty and justice as my Christian, white, heterosexual male counterpart, I would gladly stand up in a crowd professing my undying allegiance. But, sadly that isn’t the case.

We are a part of a diverse community at UNH. We have a large international community that is not American. Yes, they are attending school in this country, but that does not mean they are automatically filled with American spirit and pride. Many people brought up the singing of national anthems at professional sporting games and the Olympics. Singing or listening to a national anthem of another country is in no way similar to a PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE.

Break down those words. A national anthem does not compel a person to distinguish all ties with other countries and swear undying loyalty to the United States. Imagine yourself in 1943 Germany. How would you feel in a room of German nationalists pledging allegiance to the Nazi flag? While this may be a slightly exaggerated example, it is just that: only slightly exaggerated.

The United States has been a belligerent nation in many wars and conflicts. We do have enemies. The prestige associated with the United States carries little weight outside of North American or the western world. This means that some students will not feel comfortable pledging an oath to a country in which they don’t belong. And if it does happen to be the first time they attend a USGA meeting, it will deter them from coming back. (I’d like to quickly add that the American flag has never been present at any USGA meetings. Don’t ask me to be the person to acquire one!)

Seventeen states have laws requiring students to stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. Connecticut is not one of these states. I understand that no one would be compelled by the authority of USGA to stand up and pledge allegiance to a country that they may not belong to, a country that may not represent them, or a country that does not provide them with liberty or justice. However, after some of the rhetoric that was used at the last meeting, I cannot help but feel that those who do not give this oath each week will be alienated and judged.

One of the main focuses at the USGA retreat was how to make these meetings less intimidating, how to get more diverse students to attend and keep coming back. Inclusion of nationalist rhetoric in meetings is taking seven steps backward.

More importantly, it must be remembered why we attend these meetings. Nearly all of us there are representing an organization. We are constantly reminded to remain unbiased in voting scenarios. “Don’t vote personally, make sure you vote as your organization would choose,” we are told. We are there representing the organizations. Not ourselves. When I attend I am not just Elizabeth Field. I am Elizabeth Field, voice of the Charger Bulletin just as others are the voice of the Gaming Club, voice of the Caribbean Students Association and all of the members of that organization. If I were to stand up and pledge allegiance to the United States I would be doing so on behalf of the Charger Bulletin and our entire staff. That is something I am not comfortable doing.

So each week I will respectfully stand, however, I will not be reciting the pledge. I will be saying a silent prayer to whichever God(s) I choose. I will pray for the well-being and safe return of our American troops who are overseas risking their lives to preserve my freedom and liberty to NOT to be forced into reciting an oath forced upon me and my peers.