Freedom of Religion: An American Attribute
Frick International Academy
Each morning at 8:55 a.m., I remind (and sometimes prod) my eighth grade students to stand for the pledge.
All comply. The loudest hush down their conversation. The latecomers stand still at the doorway. A few even
hook their thumbs over a shirt button. But most flop back down into their seats just as the phrase "with liberty
and justice for all" comes crackling over the loudspeaker. I always stand alertly facing the flag, and recite the
pledge with my hand over my heart along with our morning reader. The students think that I am corny, and
some think no doubt that I am crazy, to insist that they too recite the pledge. I speculate for their reasons: Rote
recitation since their kinder years has rendered the pledge a meaningless statement. Their savvy adolescence
has perceived the pledge as a means toward social conformity against which their hormonal throes and
burgeoning identities rage. They are collectively lazy. I’ve suggested my musings to them and the complex
response I received actually credits their public education to date. "It’s got the word "GOD" in it, Mr. Chmiel.
And in case you haven’t noticed this is a public school. You know, it’s like the separation of church and state.
You can’t talk about God here."
As a public educator, I know what they mean. I’ve purged from my own speaking that which would cue my
own deeply held religious beliefs. I’m certain to wish the students a "Happy New Year", or if I’m feeling
daring, I urge students to "have a Holy Holiday," as they depart for winter break. I perceive it as my role to
model behavior that promotes no one religion and conveys respect and inclusion for all of the religious beliefs
and practices that are represented in an American Public High School. To accomplish this task I’ve done what
most educators have done: I’ve opted to avoid the issue. And the students---not for laziness, or growing pains,
or boredom-- have seemingly done the s