3RD EPISODE-14yr old who wouldn't say the pledge
In an upcoming episode Sam Smith will be joining us. Sam is a 14 year old from the home state of the Rational Responders, Pennsylvania who recently refused to say the Pledge. I've seen Sam portrayed poorly in two publications now, and Sam will come on to give us his side.
Owens: Pledge invites allegiance, allows dissent
Sunday, February 05, 2006
The fallout Thursday was predictable.
Anytime a newspaper article focuses on the American flag or the Pledge of Allegiance or defiance shown to it by Americans, expect the topic to evoke emotions from all corners.
In this case, a 14-year-old Nazareth Area High School freshman decided he didn't want to stand during the school's Pledge of Allegiance each day. A teacher in the district invoked a policy requiring his parents to sign a permission slip if he wanted to continue with his snub of the morning ritual.
The student, Sam Smith, of Stockertown, won the support of the American Civil Liberties .Union in his insistence that he has the right to ignore the call to pledge. The ACLU -- God bless 'em -- in turn confronted the school district, maintaining that the permission slip requirement was a First Amendment violation.
School districts by their nature aren't thrilled about taking a stand unless it involves raising taxes. A lawyer for the school district reviewed the ACLU claim and advised administrators to back off. Smith reserved his right to stay seated during the pledge regardless of whether Mom or Dad said it was OK.
Like it or not, everyone played by the rules and democracy will live to see another day. That doesn't make Smith's protest right or the backlash of angry pledge supporters wrong.
What it does is give a 14-year-old a moment to express himself in a way he believes is right, and the ACLU another chance to grandstand.
With any luck, Smith will grow out of it.
If you have a 14-year-old son -- I do -- you'll agree that there are 100 reasons to worry about his judgment. I can think of 75 different ideas that he thinks are great and I know are stupid. If I work up a fuss over all of them, I'll do nothing else all day. Instead, I'm determined to chip away at some and recognize that he'll come to a realization of his own on others.
In this case, young Smith objects to loss of life -- Iraqis and Americans -- in a military operation that would appear to have no end. He's right. It's terrible. The conflict in Iraq needs resolution, our country needs leadership and it would appear as if neither is close to happening.
Unfortunately, Smith's argument has a fundamental flaw.
"By pledging allegiance, you're saying that you're agreeing with what the country's doing," Smith said.
What Smith needs to understand, and what he might come to realize at some point in his life, is that he should pledge allegiance to the flag for the very reason that he's able to disagree with President Bush and everyone else who believes we need to be in Iraq. That flag and everything it stands for provides him the ability to speak out and disagree without fear of official intimidation.
Of course, that's only half the battle and Smith deserves credit for taking a stand. Intimidation of the unsanctioned variety has already fallen upon him. One reader last week admitted as much.
"In my day," the angry reader said, "we would have kicked the crap out him and that would have been the end of it."
Call it the death of enlightenment.
Joseph P. Owens is editor of The Express-Times. He can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at .
Posted on Wed, Feb. 08, 2006
A teenager's rebellion against God and country
By Jeff Cox
Sam Smith had a rough day in school last Thursday.
Being a 14-year-old media celebrity will have that effect on you.
That morning's papers brought Sam's face, along with his inflammatory political and religious views, into the local spotlight and under the heat of some of his classmates' parents.
"He had two kids come up to him and say, 'Now my parents hate you,' " Sam's mother, Anita Smith, was saying over the phone while her son was in school absorbing the verbal blows, along with some accolades, that his comments generated.
All the hubbub came from a pitched battle between Sam and the Nazareth (Pa.) Area High School administration. The boy from Stockertown had been refusing to stand to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. And when the school tried to make Sam get a permission slip from his parents to sit out the pledge, he refused and called in the American Civil Liberties .Union, which was only too happy to plead his case.
Sam's civil disobedience stems from strong opposition to the war in Iraq. He doesn't believe in nationalism, and while he holds no hatred for America, he also finds no particular pride in being one of its citizens. Oh, and to top it off he is a teenage atheist.
While Sam did in fact win his battle against the school, it's not hard to imagine why he has been the target of such vitriol and, yes, hatred from other kids' parents.
"That was kind of a funny comment," Sam said after putting in a hard day at school and then watching a story about himself on the news that evening. "A lot of people just do what their parents tell them to do. They just go along with what they have to say."
No doubt that Sam will never fit into that category.
He's established himself as a full-fledged rebel with little respect for the societal conventions that most kids - and their parents - find to be routine. His throwback secular humanism and card-carrying liberalism suit him just fine, regardless of how others feel.
"I don't think of myself as an American," he says. "I think of myself as a human being."
But judging by public response so far to the controversy, there are those who think of him as something less than human. Letters in the local papers have been decidedly against his position, a reaction he's likely to face often through his life should he hold true to such maverick beliefs.
At its core, there's nothing particularly illuminating about what Sam has to say.
He's against the Iraq war because it was launched under false pretenses. He thinks President Bush lied to the American people. Only extreme right-wing conservative Republicans favor the war and support Bush.
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Pretty standard stuff straight out of the liberal Democratic playbook.
It's always a tricky business figuring out just how much weight to give to the opinions of teenagers, especially when it comes to politics, religion, and matters of the heart. More often than not, people that age base their beliefs on unvarnished opinion and the rash impulsiveness of youth.
So while there's some comfort in seeing a thoughtful 14-year-old take a skeptical view toward the things that conventional wisdom sometimes holds too close to its bosom, there's also something sad about this particular case.
Sam Smith is an intelligent young man who unfortunately seems to know only what he doesn't believe in, not what he does.
And while rejecting God and country might seem fashionable to him now, there's likely to be a price to pay somewhere down his life's long road.
That will happen the day he realizes he needs both in ways he can't even imagine right now.
Jeff Cox (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer based near Easton.
Feel free to write to the two douchebags above. But Sapient, calling them douchebags isn't very rational... I beg to differ.
Hopefully Sam will be joining us in this thread soon as well.